While the Stanley Cup Playoffs are starting Wednesday for 16 teams in the NHL, 14 other teams are looking to get a head start on their offseasons. Whether it’s the draft, decisions with coaching staffs or planning which pieces are part of each respective teams’ future, the offseason is often busy for clubs. Even for teams that narrowly missed the postseason, decisions have to be made. It’s part of the business, but it also might be the hardest part of the job.
Tuesday marked the start of some legitimate change in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings made the first splash by relieving both Dean Lombardi and Daryll Sutter of their duties as the president and general manager and head coach of the team respectively. The decision was not entirely shocking, though it still created a stir. With the Kings stumbling in the last three seasons – missing the playoffs twice and losing in five games in the first round last season, changes had to be made. Still, when a general manager and coach who were as tenured and successful as Lombardi and Sutter are removed from the equation, it typically makes headlines.
When Success Turns to Failure
One thing that the Kings did so well over the years was icing a consistent team. It’s the reason that Los Angeles was the winner of two Stanley Cups in three seasons and lost only to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Finals in the year in between. Keeping the core of the team together worked wonders for the Kings. Unfortunately, however, that same core was unable to sustain the same success over the last three season. While Lombardi’s tactics once worked wonders, they may have been his ultimate undoing in the long-run.
…last night several Kings players went to his house to console him after his firing. Not ruthless enough? I'd rather live like Lombardi.
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) April 11, 2017
As reported by TSN’s Gord Miller, several Kings’ players visited Lombardi following his firing. In professional sports, the line between loyalty and sustained success is hard to draw. When players make impacts like some of the Kings did in their Stanley Cup years, it’s hard to not reward them to some extent. Still, the mark of a good management team is defined by making the right moves regardless of how hard it might be to do so. For Lombardi, his tenure with the Kings will end with respect and a long-lasting legacy for bringing the franchise their first two Stanley Cups. The same can be said for Sutter. His legacy will always be remembered in Los Angeles – still, the decision was made to remove him and start fresh with Rob Blake – the team’s new vice president and general manager, and Luc Robitaille. the team’s new President.
Changes Coming for Other Teams
Outside of Los Angeles, other teams have also started to make moves. For the New York Islanders, the decision to keep Doug Weight on as the team’s head coach was made Wednesday. After struggling mightily early on under Jack Capuano, the Islanders made a change midseason. Capuano was relieved of his duties and Weight was given the interim head coach title. Under Weight, the team went 24-12-4 in their final 40 games, narrowly missing the postseason – their first missed playoffs bid since 2013-14.
The removal of the interim tag comes as no surprise after the positive vote of confidence he received from his players throughout the season coupled with his success. When talking about Weight and his official promotion as the team’s permanent head coach, Islanders’ president and manager Garth Snow had the following to say:
Doug has earned this opportunity from the tremendous work he has put in over the past five seasons in our front office and especially from the time he took over as interim Head Coach earlier this season. His leadership and experiences from both playing and behind the bench are valuable intangibles that not every coach can translate into a winning formula. He’s gained the trust and respect from our entire team, making him the best choice to become Head Coach.
– Garth Snow
In addition to the Islanders making their moves, the Dallas Stars brought in a piece of their franchise’s history Wednesday.
Hitchcock Back in the Fold
After being fired by the St. Louis Blues in February, Ken Hitchcock has found himself a new home. New may not be the best way to describe it, though. Hitchcock was hired Wednesday by the Dallas Stars to be their new head coach after the team and Lindy Ruff parted ways. Hitchcock, however, was the head coach of the Stars for seven seasons from 1995-96 until 2001-02.
Though the Stars finished sixth in the Central Division 1995-96, it wasn’t until Hitchcock’s first full season that he made an impact. Hitchcock coached the Stars to a first-place finish in five consecutive seasons before being fired in 2001-02. His impact, however, would last a lifetime. In a sequence of three seasons, Hitchcock’s Stars lost in the Conference Finals, won the Stanley Cup, and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. Getting to the Stanley Cup Finals isn’t easy, but Hitchcock coached the Stars to two consecutive bids and won the Stars their first and only Stanley Cups in history in 1998-99.
Hitchcock is one of the most respected coaches in the entire National Hockey League. With the team looking for experience at the head coach position, the decision still comes with questions. Hitchcock is known as a defensive specialist. He now joins a Stars’ team that prides itself on offensive ability – as it should, given the firepower that the team possesses in Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and company.The team’s defensive abilities have been questioned, however, as has their goaltending. While Hitchcock might not maximize the team’s offensive ability, he could still play a role in shaping the team’s defensive future with his knowledge and experience. The Stars could certainly use it as they gave up the second-most goals-per-game this season behind only the Colorado Avalanche.
More to Come
As it stands, The Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights are all without head coaches. Additionally, the playoff-bound Boston Bruins are operating under an interim head coach with Bruce Cassidy who has coached his team to an 18-8-1 record in 27 games this season. There will be more changes and dominoes to fall as the offseason progresses. Not every team has the luxury of competing in the playoffs.
While there are many teams that won’t make changes to their coaching staff of management teams, personnel decisions must still be made. Whether it’s dealing with free agents – both unrestricted and restricted, prospects looking for promotions, trades and the draft, teams will have decisions to make. The offseason may not officially be started, but that that doesn’t mean that some teams aren’t taking the time to get a head start.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.