Keeping track of the NHL’s coaching carousel
St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock felt a little sheepish arriving in Buffalo for a game this week.
In greeting two members of the Sabres’ new coaching staff, he mistakenly snubbed another.
“I forgot to say hello to Dave Barr, because I had forgotten David was here,” Hitchcock said with a laugh.
After eight teams changed coaches since the end of last season, it hasn’t been easy keeping track.
“How many are there?” said the Sharks’ Peter DeBoer, one of the coaches who landed in a new spot. “It’s a tough league to work in. And success is expected.”
An increase in competitive parity and the introduction of the salary cap are credited for being the driving forces behind the lack of job security among NHL coaches. And yet, the numbers haven’t entirely changed.
According to STATS, there have been 54 NHL coaching changes since the start of the 2010-11 season. There were 57 changes that occurred in the five-year span preceding the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.
“Teams make decisions on coaches based upon history: How long has he been there? Are we getting better or not?” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I don’t think teams make decisions on coaches based on just eight or 15 games. You want to have patience because you believed in the coach in the first place.”
Though not all changes work, Sabres GM Tim Murray noted there are enough examples of coaching shuffles providing a spark.
It happened in Ottawa last year. Once Paul MacLean was fired following an 11-11-5 start, the Senators went 32-15-8 under Dave Cameron to qualify for the playoffs. In 2009, the Penguins fired Michel Therrien, and Dan Bylsma led Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup title.
The latest change has so far paid off in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets are 8-7 under John Tortorella after opening the season 0-7 under Todd Richards.
“It’s the mentality. He’s come in and not really cared about what’s happened in the past. This is his standard now,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “We always knew we were a good team. That’s evident by the players we have. It’s starting to come around.”
Of the eight teams that changed coaches, five are off to better starts to this season than a year ago — including the Blue Jackets.
COACH CHALLENGED: Though the calls keep going against his Sabres, Bylsma remains a supporter of the NHL’s introduction of coach’s challenges.
Bylsma kept his cool following a 3-1 loss to Dallas last week in which the Stars successfully challenged Buffalo’s goal that would have tied the game at 2 with 6:07 remaining. Replays showed Sabres forward Tyler Ennis was offside entering the zone before Sam Reinhart scored.
“I knew it was offside before the puck went in,” Bylsma said. “It’s disappointing that it’s hurt us three times. I’m glad they’re getting it right.”
The Sabres have had three goals disallowed by challenges, and Bylsma has failed on his two coach’s challenges.
Overall, there have been 37 challenges for goalie interference, with just nine calls reversed. Of the 14 times an offside call has been challenged, eight have been reversed.
STREAKING: San Jose became the sixth team — and first since the 2010-11 Bruins — to sweep a road trip of six games or longer. In winning all six games, the Sharks capped their run by scoring four times in the final 13:47 and overcoming a 3-1 deficit in a 5-3 win at Columbus on Sunday. ... Honorable mention to the New York Rangers, who have gone 12-1-2 in their past 15.
STREAKING II: Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is riding a career-best, 16-game point streak (10 goals, 16 assists). It’s the NHL’s longest streak since Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis had 10 goals and 12 assists during a 17-game stretch from March 7 to April 7, 2012.
SLUMPING: The Vancouver Canucks have gone 2-6-2 in their past 10, allowing three or more goals in each game. Though the Sedin twins are leading the team in scoring (Daniel has 10 goals and 23 points, while Henrik has seven goals and 21 points), Vancouver’s secondary scoring has dried up. Radim Vrbata, who had a team-best 31 goals last season, scored just his fourth goal in a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on Sunday to snap a nine-game drought.
ODD NUMBERS: Dallas is 11-3 against Eastern Conference opponents, with two of those losses coming against 13th-place Toronto. The Maple Leafs are 5-2 against the West, but just 2-8-5 against the East.
GAME OF THE WEEK: The Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens travel to play the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Rangers on Wednesday.
AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage in Detroit and AP freelance writer Craig Merz in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.