Looking at the Recent History of Stanley Cup Finalist Coaches

Published on June 20th, 2014

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

I’ve seen a few questions circulating on twitter about how new coaches perform, how do coaches from the AHL perform, etc. in the wake of the Penguins never-ending coaching search. Since most people are trying to predict how quickly Crosby/Malkin can win another Stanley Cup before their window closes, here’s a look at all of the Stanley Cup Finalist coaches since 1999. I picked 1999 as an arbitrary starting date because it’s after Scotty Bowman’s back-to-backs with Detroit and the previous four Stanley Cup Final results were sweeps; there hasn’t been a sweep in the Cup Final since. As I said, arbitrary.

Here’s the raw data (summary after):

1999

  • W: Stars – Ken Hitchcock, 4 yrs in league, 4th with Stars
  • L: Sabres – Lindy Ruff, 2 yrs in league, 2nd with Sabres

2000

  • W: Devils – Larry Robinson, 4 yrs in league, 1st with Devils
  • L: Stars – Ken Hitchcock, 5 yrs in league, 5th with Stars (2nd Cup appearance, won previous year)

2001

  • W: Avs – Bob Hartley, 3 yrs in league, 3rd with Avs
  • L: Devils – Larry Robinson, 5 yrs in league, 2nd with Devils

2002

  • W: Red Wings – Scotty Bowman, 30 yrs in league, 9th with Red Wings (4th Cup appearance, 3rd Cup win with franchise)
  • L: Hurricanes – Paul Maurice, 7 yrs in league, 7th with Hurricanes/Whalers

2003

  • W: Devils – Pat Burns, 13 yrs in league, 1st with Devils
  • L: Ducks – Mike Babcock, 1st yr in league, 1st with Ducks

2004

  • W: Lightning – John Tortorella, 5 yrs in league, 4th with Lightning
  • L: Flames – Darryl Sutter, 11 yrs in league, 2nd with Flames

2006

  • W: Hurricanes – Peter Laviolette, 4 yrs in league, 2nd with Hurricanes
  • L: Oilers – Craig MacTavish, 5 yrs in league, 5th with Oilers

2007

  • W: Ducks – Randy Carlyle, 2 yrs in league, 2nd with Ducks
  • L: Senators – Bryan Murray, 16 yrs in league, 2nd with Senators

2008

  • W: Red Wings – Mike Babcock, 5 yrs in league, 3rd with Red Wings
  • L: Penguins – Michel Therrien, 6 yrs in league, 3rd with Penguins

2009

  • W: Penguins – Dan Bylsma, 1st yr in league, 1st with Penguins
  • L: Red Wings – Mike Babcock, 6 yrs in league, 4th with Red Wings (2nd Cup appearance, won previous year)

2010

  • W: Blackhawks – Joel Quenneville, 13 yrs in league, 2nd with Blackhawks
  • L: Flyers – Peter Laviolette, 9 yrs in league, 2nd with Flyers

2011

  • W: Bruins – Claude Julien, 8 yrs in league, 4th with Bruins
  • L: Canucks – Alain Vigneault, 9 yrs in league, 5th with Canucks

2012

  • W: Kings – Darryl Sutter, 13 yrs in league, 1st with Kings
  • L: Devils – Peter DeBoer, 4 yrs in league, 1st with Devils

2013

  • W: Blackhawks – Joel Quenneville, 16 yrs in league, 5th with Blackhawks (2nd Cup win)
  • L: Bruins – Claude Julien, 10 yrs in league, 6th with Bruins (2nd Cup appearance, won two years ago)

2014

  • W: Kings – Darryl Sutter, 15 yrs in league, 3rd with Kings (2nd Cup win)
  • L: Rangers – Alain Vigneault, 12 yrs in league, 1st with Rangers

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The 30 Stanley Cup Final teams since ’99 have been coached by 20 men. Leading the pack:
Darryl Sutter – 3 (’04, ’12, ’14), 2 wins
Mike Babcock – 3 (’03, 08, ’09), 1 win
Joel Quenneville – 2 (’10, ’13), 2 wins
Claude Julien – 2 (’11, ’13), 1 win
Peter Laviolette – 2 (’06, ’10), 1 win
Larry Robinson – 2 (’00, ’01), 1 win
Ken Hitchcock – 2 (’99, ’00), 1 win
Alain Vigneault – 2 (’11, ’14), 0 wins

Only two coaches since ’99 have made it to a Stanley Cup Final within their first year in the league: Mike Babcock (’03 Ducks) and Dan Bylsma (’09 Penguins). Both were AHL hires.

Another two coaches pulled it off in their second year: Lindy Ruff (’99 Sabres) and Randy Carlyle (’07 Ducks). Ruff had been an assistant coach with the Panthers previously. Carlyle was an AHL hire.

Seven coaches have led their teams to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year with that franchise.

  • Four Winners: Larry Robinson (’00 Devils), Pat Burns (’03 Devils), Dan Bylsma (’09 Penguins), and Darryl Sutter (’12 Kings).
  • Three Losers: Mike Babcock (’03 Ducks), Peter DeBoer (’12 Devils), and Alain Vigneault (’14 Rangers).

Another five coaches have led their teams to the Cup Final in their second year with that franchise. So out of 20 Cup Finalist coaches, 12 were first and/or second year coaches with their team at the time.

Out of those 12 coaches, 8 were “retreads” and 4 were new to NHL head coaching. Of those 4 that were new to NHL head coaching, only 1 had been an assistant coach in his previous position.

So what does all of this mean? Nothing. I just find it interesting.

It’s a cautionary tale to ignore the narratives and labels. New coaches *can* succeed. “Retreads” *can* succeed. At the end of the day, it’s about the style that works and the rosters that fit.

An underrated storyline in the past five years is just how much Darryl Sutter, Alain Vigneault, Claude Julien, and Joel Quenneville have dominated as a group (4 coaches that have led 8 of the past 10 Stanley Cup Finalists). All four failed elsewhere to varying degrees first.

This isn’t a plea for a coach who has failed elsewhere; it’s just a suggestion to keep an open mind on whoever is hired, new or experienced, no matter how much you like/dislike the idea initially.

It certainly appears that we will know if he’s the right guy or not early in his tenure with the Penguins.

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Thanks for reading!!