Recently, the New York Rangers fired their head coach Gerard Gallant a few days after the team was knocked out in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was reported in the Athletic that Blueshirts General Manager Chris Drury “got heated after the game four loss to the Devils” in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Gallant spent just two seasons in the ‘Big Apple’ but during that time had a 99-46-19 record and guided the team to two 100-point seasons. How many head coaches in the history of the National Hockey League have suffered the same fate as ‘close but no cigar’ Gerard? Let’s find out.
List of Fired NHL Head Coaches
Terry Murray (1997)
Terry Murray had quite a bit of success from 1994-97 in Philadelphia, guiding a team spearheaded by John LeClair and Hall-of-Famer Eric Lindros to two consecutive 100-point seasons in 1995-96 and 1996-97. Murray even led the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley cup final, where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
Murray was fired by a Flyers franchise that still hasn’t won a Stanley Cup title since 1975 in 1997 after a 103-point season but the ‘Legion of Doom’ as was the nickname given to a line on that team became a disappointment when they lost the Finals four games to none.
Comparing Murray’s firing to Gallant’s, the 1996-97 Flyers improved in the playoffs. They reached the finals after losing in the second round. Gallant’s Rangers went to the conference finals in Year One of his tenure only to blow a 2-0 series and lose in seven games in the first round the next year. It seems that Murray was fired because the Flyers thought that three failed attempts at winning it all with a very good roster is enough for one coach. Three I said, not two which were the chances Gallant had.
Jacques Lemaire: (1998)
Jacques Lemaire won eight Stanley Cups as a player with the Montreal Canadiens during the 1960-70s. Despite having only coached for two seasons, in 1993, Lemaire was hired by the general manager of the New Jersey Devils at the time, Lou Lamoriello to become that team’s next head coach. Lemaire would win the Jack Adams award in his first season in charge for guiding the Devils to a 106-point season. The next season, he guided New Jersey to their first ever Stanley Cup championship in 1995.
The Devils missed the playoffs for the first time under Lemaire the next season, but rebounded the next year with a 104-point season in 1996-97. However, they were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs. Lemaire then led the Devils to a second straight 100-point season in 1997-98, but after losing in the first round, the Devils fired him. Maybe that locker room needed a different voice, but Coach Lemaire’s regular season results speak for themselves.
The Quebec-native understood how to use the strengths of his roster like future Hall of Fame goalie, Martin Brodeur while ameliorate their weaknesses, like creating offense. The 1994-95 Devils scored only 136 goals during the regular season but gave up just 121– the fifth fewest in the league. Lemaire was famous for introducing the league to a strategy called the “neutral zone trap” and was skilled at teaching defensive hockey. The French Canadian has more wins than any Devils coach in franchise history by over 100.
Bruce Boudreau (2011)
The firing of Bruce Boudreau makes me more sympathetic than anyone else’s, because from 2008-11 he guided the Washington Capitals to three straight 100-point seasons and four division titles. Yet, he was fired 22 games into the 2011-12 regular season. Why? To understand why, let’s analyze each 100-point season that the Caps had under Boudreau. During his second year, the 2008-09 season, the team earned 108 points during the regular season and 50 wins, which was a franchise record at the time. However, that spring the Caps were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by a Penguins team that would go on to win the Stanley cup.
However, both the best and most disappointing season the Capitals had under Boudreau was 2009-10. That year, a team led by Alex Ovechkin set a franchise record for points (121) and wins (54). Heading into a first-round playoff series against eight-seed Montreal, Washington were heavy favorites as the top-seed in the Eastern Conference but lost the series to the Canadiens in seven games.
Under Boudreau, the Capitals had their greatest success to date in franchise history, averaging 48 wins per year. This was only surpassed by Barry Trotz who guided the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 2018. Despite this regular season success, Boudreau’s Caps never made it past the second round of the playoffs and in a results business such as the NHL, the head coach always gets the blame instead of the players and with players like Ovechkin, one can see why.
Mike Babcock (2019)
By the mid-2010s, the Toronto Maple Leafs had reached the Stanley Cup playoffs just once in a decade– and that appearance came during the shortened 2012-13 season. By that point, this original six franchise wanted a head coach who could establish a winning culture in their locker room. The right guy for that job ended up being Mike Babcock who took over the Maple Leafs in 2015. Babcock’s Leafs missed the playoffs in his first year of 2015-16 but the next year made the playoffs. He led them to two more playoff runs from 2017-19, but in both years, they lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games, which is a respectable showing.
19 games into the 2019-20 season, Babcock was fired after the Leafs got off to a 9-10-4 start. It was a controversial move at the time. What reportedly ended Babcock’s tenure in Toronto involved an issue he had with Mitch Marner. It was a simple mistake but one that affected the team chemistry and in the end, Toronto chose to fire Babcock. However, the 2008 cup champion’s time there was a success because he guided a team that owns the longest active championship drought (55 years) in the NHL to three straight playoff appearances from 2017-19. Babcock did a quality job because unlike his predecessors, he was able to turn the cursed Leafs into a consistent playoff team.
Gerard Gallant (2023)
Gallant’s first season on Broadway saw the Rangers move up four spots in the Metropolitan Division and earn 110 points. In the 2022 playoffs, Gallant’s Blueshirts did as well as they could with the playoff experience, they had last year. They won two playoff series but lost the conference finals to the defending champion, Tampa Bay in six games. It was a terrific first season for Gallant.
Gallant’s second regular season campaign was not much worse. The team finished in third place instead of second, and behind the Devils, but they earned 107 points for their effort during the 2022-23 NHL season. The only blemish on Gallant’s record in New York will be coming up short in this year’s playoffs– and it was a choke, the Rangers won the first two games, on the road but blew the series by getting shutout twice by a goaltender who had no playoff experience.
Despite this disappointing playoff run, Gallant’s two years with the Rangers were very successful. Gallant posted a record of 99-46-19 and a .662 points percentage which is second in Ranger history only to Mike Keenan the last Ranger boss to lift the Stanley Cup. Also, Gallant’s 52 wins during the 2021-22 season came one win shy of tying the franchise record set by the 2014-15 Rangers. Not bad if you ask me, but the Ranger GM obviously thought differently. Time will tell, if the former Ranger captain was right.