In 2013 the Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette three games into the season and they went on to make the 2014 playoffs with 94 points. In 2008 the Chicago Blackhawks fired Denis Savard four games into the season. They went on to make the playoffs with 104 points. It is rare that NHL teams fire their coaches quickly, but it might be to their detriment because by the time they act, they are usually too far out to make a run at the playoffs.
Coaching changes upset the makeup of the team for a while as the team has to learn a new system and unlearn old habits. When it comes to a league where teams rarely move into playoff spots after American Thanksgiving, it is vital to make moves before things get out of hand and there is a tall mountain to climb.
Why do NHL teams take so long to fire their coaches? First of all, most general managers are incredibly loyal to “their” guys. They do not want to show themselves as disloyal especially since teams fail partially because they do not have the right players in the right positions which is on the general manager. If they fire their guy, it reflects badly on them. Most general managers only get a couple of coaches before they find themselves in the line of fire.
The other reason teams appear to take so long to fire coaches is that the teams can often find other reasons as to why something is not working. Sometimes it is because there are a lot of injuries, sometimes it is because there outside forces like a really strong division, or maybe it is because the team was not supposed to be good so why bother anyways. Maybe the most frustrating one to watch as a fan is a team that is fine, but could be a lot better if they had a different system or coach.
NHL coaches have long shelf lives and are given a lot of time to end a team’s season. Because of the nature of making the playoffs in the NHL, teams should look at firing their coaches earlier in the season as it gives the team time to recover from their poor start and stop playing catch up. However teams have decided that it is far better to let the slow start fester and taint the season for far longer than it should and not make any major changes until after the trade deadline. At this point, it is far too late to recover and the team is clearly not making the playoffs that season. They might have had a chance if they changed coaches early in the season. Coaches are not the be all, end all in hockey, but they have enough of an impact that general managers should seriously look at making fast changes to their coaching staff if their team gets off to bad start and not wait until the trade deadline.