Coaches are beginning to fall like dominoes throughout the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings fired John Stevens on Sunday, making him the first casualty of the season. Just a couple days later, on Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks relieved legend Joel Quenneville of his duties.
Stevens and Quenneville tell alternate coaching tales, yet their circumstances align. Stevens was beginning only his second season as Kings coach, while Quenneville was starting his 11th with Chicago. The former Blackhawks coach led the team to three Stanley Cups over his tenure, and helped the franchise overcome a 49-year Cup drought.
Quenneville’s tenure was rich of confetti and champagne, provoking a turnaround of a historic organization, lifting them from demise to glory. The span of 2010-2015, when the Blackhawks won those three Cups, are labeled a modern dynasty of hockey.
But Chicago missed the playoffs under Quenneville for the first time last year. The Blackhawks are on a deadly decline, a nearly unavoidable consequence of putting together such an everlasting run of championships under the same core of players. With salary cap restrictions, the Blackhawks could not retain their depth. The stars that they did keep, such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, are aging as they continue to eat a huge chunk of the team’s cap space. They are currently 6-6-2, not terrible by any means, but with the team struggling over the last couple weeks, management decided it was time for a change.
In Los Angeles, the Kings have also played sluggishly out of the gate, sitting dead last in the Western Conference at 5-8-1. After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last year, expectations were for the Kings to improve and once again vie for a playoff spot. The arrival of Ilya Kovalchuk raised expectations for Los Angeles this season, but so far, results have been poor.
Upon landing the Kings job, Stevens replaced Darryl Sutter, who helped the Kings win two Stanley Cups. Los Angeles, like Chicago, is on the decline from their reign as perennial cup contenders. It is hard to blame Stevens entirely for the Kings’ struggles, as they have been putting band-aids on a team that will need to rebuild sooner rather than later.
It is the nature of coaching in sports to assume responsibility for team results. Stevens and Quenneville, regardless of their coaching prowess, could not keep their teams from falling into irrelevancy. The franchises are holding onto bits of glamour from their winning season, refusing to let go of the past. This mindset keeps teams close enough to contention to potentially make the playoffs for years, but never allows them to return to championship form. Simply, coaches often take the fall for poorly-constructed rosters, despite other factors.
While two coaches have already been fired this season, last year there was not one axed prior to the end of the regular season. Now, the dismissal of Stevens and Quenneville could ignite a string of teams letting their bench bosses go.
Quenneville is the second winningest coach of all time, so his services will certainly be in high demand. It is only a matter of time before he finds a new endeavor. The move could cause the Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues or another struggling team to pull the trigger on firing their coach.
Teams will be looking to beat each other out in order to land Quenneville, who is seen as one of the NHL’s best coaches. Blues coach Mike Yeo is certainly on the hot seat with their mediocre 5-5-3 start to the year. Meanwhile, Panthers coach Bob Boughner is in a similar boat with his team starting the year 3-5-3.
It could be chaotic if the coaching dominoes continue to fall, as failing teams hope to save their seasons with the spark of a new voice behind the bench. And as names like Quenneville fall into coaching free agency, there will be a frenzy to scoop them up. Regardless of who loses their jobs and who stays put, the past week has made it clear that coaching positions are not as secure as they were one year ago.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.