Top 5 Coaches of the Decade

The pressure placed on NHL coaches to succeed is enormous, and the turnover rate is as high as ever. However, the league’s five best coaches during the decade between 2010-2019 found ways to lead their teams to success. Coaches like Mike Sullivan and Joel Quenneville established a winning brand over periods of sustained success with one organization. Coaches like Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube provided a spark of short-term energy that catalyzed their teams to deep playoff runs. However, all of them have found ways to master a position of intense scrutiny and extreme consequences with almost no job security.

5) Peter Laviolette

Despite not winning a Stanley Cup during the decade, Laviolette helped his teams achieve a great level of success nearly every season. To begin the decade, he led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final after taking over behind the bench for a struggling team 25 games into the regular season. His demanding style and respectable track record as a former Cup winner with the Carolina Hurricanes helped push his team back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. They finally earned a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season.

Substack Subscribe to the THW Daily and never miss the best of The Hockey Writers Banner

Laviolette’s Flyers caught fire and advanced to the Final as the seventh seed. The clock finally struck midnight when they were eliminated by a much more talented Chicago Blackhawks team in a heartbreaking Game 6 loss. He also led the Flyers to series wins in the opening round of the playoffs the next two seasons. However, his disciplinarian style faded in a disappointing season in 2012-13. Philadelphia fired him three games into the 2013-14 season.

The Nashville Predators hired Laviolette in 2014. His coaching tenure changed the franchise forever and helped turn Nashville into a fully-fledged hockey town. He led the Predators to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons at the helm. He won five playoff series for a franchise that had only won two in the entire span of its existence before he got there.

Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette
Former Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Laviolette’s most memorable season in Nashville came in 2016-17. The Predators snuck into the 2017 Playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference with just 41 wins in 82 regular-season games. They rode the momentum of an opening-round sweep over the heavily favored Blackhawks and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. They ultimately fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

Laviolette’s impact on the Predators franchise and the Nashville market was tremendous, helping transform a non-traditional hockey market into one of the league’s top fanbases and a top destination for free agents. He is now in his second season with the Washington Capitals after the Predators let him go midway through the 2019-20 season.

Decade record: 374-226-82, .603 points percentage

4) Gerard Gallant

Gerard Gallant did not have the same outstanding coaching record as other bench bosses on the list between 2010 and 2019, but he was exceptional in maximizing the talent on the teams he coached. In 2015-16, he led a perennially underachieving Florida Panthers team to the top spot in the Atlantic Division. His success in Florida did not last long, as he was infamously fired at the beginning of the following season.

The Vegas Golden Knights hired Gallant as their first coach in franchise history in 2017. He led the team to unexpected and unprecedented success for an expansion franchise when they finished in the top spot in the Pacific Division and tore through the Western Conference Playoffs with 12 wins in 15 games. Gallant masterfully utilized lesser-known players like William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault in top offensive roles.

Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights
Gerard Gallant, former head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Golden Knights ultimately fell to the high-powered Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Their torrid success continued the following season, and they likely would have made another deep playoff run if not for a very questionable call in Game 7 of the first round. Vegas fired the former 1980s bruiser on Jan. 15, 2020. He has led the New York Rangers to a tremendous turnaround in 2021-22 in his first season at Madison Square Garden.

Decade record: 190-121-39, .594 points percentage

3) Mike Sullivan

The 2015-16 season did not begin the way the Penguins intended. Mike Sullivan was thrust into head coaching duties to replace Dan Bylsma just 28 games into the season. He quickly took control of a supremely talented yet underperforming team who had suffered disappointing playoff exits in six consecutive seasons. His success would forever change the history of the franchise.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Sullivan
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

He became the fourth coach in 17 seasons to lead his team to a Stanley Cup after taking over midseason and successfully guided the Penguins to a repeat in 2017. He was able to unlock the superior talent Pittsburgh had with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and helped build the dynasty that many felt was long overdue. Despite his inability to replicate playoff success following his second Stanley Cup, he will go down as the greatest coach in Penguins history.

Decade record: 174-92-34, .638 points percentage

2) Barry Trotz

Barry Trotz used to hold a reputation as a good coach who could never get his team over the hump. He missed the playoffs in the final two of his 15 seasons in Nashville before they let him go in 2014. He led the Capitals to the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs in each of his first three seasons in Washington. However, three exits, two at the hands of the rival Penguins, brought up serious questions about whether Trotz and superstar Alexander Ovechkin could ever succeed in the postseason.

Related: NHL’s Top 10 Coaches for 2021-22: Midseason Update

Trotz finally silenced the critics when he led the Capitals to the promised land in 2018. He reversed the narrative of Pittsburgh as Washington’s kryptonite by toppling Sullivan and the Penguins in the second round. After the Capitals shed the monkey off their backs against Pittsburgh, they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games and the Golden Knights in five games to finish off their dream season. The franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup ended over four decades of misery in the nation’s capital. While his success would continue, it was not with the Capitals.

A contract dispute made Trotz one of the rare coaches to leave his team immediately after winning a Stanley Cup. He signed a lucrative ticket to become the head coach of the New York Islanders instead. The departure of former captain John Tavares had diminished expectations on Long Island significantly entering the 2018-19 season.

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Trotz ignored the pundits and transformed the Islanders into a system team who functioned greater than the sum of its parts. They went from the worst defensive team in the NHL in 2017-18 to the best defensive team in 2018-19. In the opening round of the playoffs, New York stunned the high-powered Penguins in a four-game sweep.

He has had success with the Islanders since, helping them advance the league’s semifinal round in consecutive seasons. He remains the head coach of the Islanders in 2021-22.

Decade record: 446-253-87, .615 points percentage

1) Joel Quenneville

Joel Quenneville coached the legendary Blackhawks dynasty that won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013, and 2015. “Coach Q” withstood major roster turnaround due to salary cap constraints and placed his moving parts in the right positions to sustain a position as a contender for six consecutive seasons.

Joel Quenneville Blackhawks
Joel Quenneville, former Chicago Blackhawks head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blackhawks emerged as one of the NHL’s best in both the regular season and playoffs early in Quenneville’s tenure. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith were among the stars who helped build Chicago’s modern dynasty that made the playoffs in each of his first eight seasons behind the bench. Though they remained an elite regular-season team after the Stanley Cup in 2015, they could not continue their playoff success. Quenneville finally fell victim to an aging and cap-constrained team when he was let go just 15 games into the 2018-19 season.

The legacy of Quenneville should and will be questioned forever. He resigned from his position as head coach of the Florida Panthers in October 2021 after details of a sexual assault investigation involving former Blackhawk Kyle Beach emerged. Quenneville was complicit in a situation during Chicago’s playoff run in 2010 in which prominent members of the organization chose not to address a reported assault because of fear that it would become a distraction to the team.

Decade record: 407-227-85, .625 points percentage

Honorable Mention: Craig Berube

Craig Berube achieved tremendous success in a small sample size with the St. Louis Blues in 2019. He replaced Mike Yeo 20 games into the 2018-19 season on an interim basis. The Blues held the worst record in the NHL on Jan. 3, 2019, but they caught fire in the second half of the season thanks to the changes implemented by Berube and the stellar play of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington.

The Blues rapidly rose up the standings, eventually thrusting themselves into playoff position. They fought through the strenuous postseason grind with an opening-round win in six games, a second-round win in seven games, and a win in six games in a tightly-contested Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. Berube and the Blues capped off a miracle run with a victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.

Craig Berube, Jake Berube
St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Berube began the 2018-19 season with a head coaching track record consisting of two underwhelming seasons with the Flyers in 2013-14 and 2014-15. He shed the interim tag by bringing the first Stanley Cup in franchise history to St. Louis and earned himself a hefty pay raise entering 2019-20. He remains the head coach in St. Louis in 2021-22.

Decade record: 113-77-34, .586 points percentage