Oilers seek to win the Cup after coaching change

Firing a coach during the season is typically seen as a sign that a season has gone off the rails.

Based on recent history in the NHL, it also can been seen as a sign that a talented team might be ready for a turnaround.

The Edmonton Oilers are the latest team on that list, having made it to the Stanley Cup Final less than seven months after firing coach Jay Woodcroft 13 games into the season.

Kris Knoblauch took over a team that was 31st in the standings and helped them win the Western Conference as he tries to become the sixth NHL coach since 2000 to win it all after being hired during the season. That happened just twice in the NHL in the 20th century with Toronto’s Dick Irwin (1932) and Montreal’s Al MacNeil (1971) doing it.

Teams in the NHL have been far more willing to fire coaches than in most other major sports leagues with only five of the 32 teams having coaches who have been on the job more than two seasons.

If Knoblauch can finish the job and lead the Oilers to the title, the six times that has happened in the NHL since 2000 would equal the total times that has happened in the NFL (0), NBA (4) and Major League Baseball (2) combined in their long histories.

The NBA coaches to do it are Jack McKinney in 1980 for the Lakers, Pat Riley two years later for Los Angeles and again in 2006 with Miami, and Tyronn Lue in 2016 with Cleveland. The two managers to win a World Series after being hired during the season are Jack McKeon with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and Bob Lemon with the Yankees in 1978.

The five coaches who have led their teams to Stanley Cup titles since 2000 after taking over during a season:

Craig Berube, 2019 St. Louis Blues

Mike Yeo was fired 19 games into the 2018-19 season and replaced by Berube. St. Louis dropped to last in the standings in early January before putting together an impressive run.

The Blues finished second in the Central Division and rallied from a 3-2 series deficit in the second round to beat Dallas in double overtime in Game 7. They then overcame a 2-1 series deficit in the conference final to beat San Jose in six games to make their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970.

There, Berube led St. Louis to a seven-game series win over Boston for the franchise’s first championship.

Mike Sullivan, 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins were sputtering early in the 2015-16 season and looked poised to waste another year of Sidney Crosby’s prime when they fired Mike Johnston and promoted Sullivan from the AHL.

Fueled by some key midseason additions and brilliant play from Crosby, Pittsburgh surged into the playoffs and didn’t slow down from there. The Penguins lost three games combined in the first two rounds and then rallied from 3-2 down in the conference final to beat Tampa Bay.

They overwhelmed San Jose in a six-game series and hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second time in Crosby’s career.

Darryl Sutter, 2012 Los Angeles Kings

The Kings were mired in 11th place in the West in December and struggling to score when they fired Terry Murray and eventually brought Sutter off his farm in Alberta for his first coaching job in more than five years.

Sutter’s blunt style and attention to detail proved to be just what the Kings needed and helped them reach the playoffs as the eighth seed. They raced through the playoffs, upsetting top-seeded Vancouver in five games in the first round and winning 15 of their first 17 playoff contests.

Los Angeles eventually finished off New Jersey in six games for its first championship and the Kings’ four losses were tied for the second fewest in a Cup-winning run since the first round went to best-of-seven in 1987.

Dan Bylsma, 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins

After making it to the final in 2008, the Penguins were barely over .500 in February the next season, leading GM Ray Shero to fire Michel Therrien and promote Bylsma from the AHL.

Pittsburgh went 18-3-4 down the stretch to earn the fourth seed in the East. From there, the Penguins survived tough series against Philadelphia and Washington before sweeping Carolina in the conference final.

That set the stage for a rematch against Detroit and Pittsburgh came out on top this time, winning Game 7 on the road for the franchise’s first title since 1992.

Larry Robinson, 2000 New Jersey Devils

The Devils were in first place in the East and had the third-best record in the NHL with eight games left in the regular season when GM Lou Lamoriello made the shocking decision to fire Robby Ftorek and promote Robinson from his role as an assistant.

New Jersey had won only one playoff series the previous four seasons and were stumbling late in 2000 when Lamoriello decided a change was needed.

Boy, was he right.

Robinson increased practice time and stressed a commitment to defense that paid off in a playoff run that featured a comeback from 3-1 down in the conference final against Philadelphia and a 2-1 double overtime clincher on the road in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against defending champion Dallas.


AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl


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