On the anniversary of the start to the St. Louis Blues’ Cinderella run last season, led by then-interim head coach Craig Berube, we compiled our rankings for who has the best odds to repeat what the Blues did last season: win the Stanley Cup under a mid-season replacement head coach.
To date, five NHL coaches have lost their jobs this season: Mike Babcock, Bill Peters, John Hynes, Jim Montgomery and Peter Deboer. While these five men are no longer employed, they all parted ways for different reasons, meaning the men who stepped up as bench bosses for these five teams all walked into very different situations.
MORE: Jim Montgomery seeks treatment for alcohol abuse, says firing was ‘appropriate call’
Before we get into the rankings portion, here’s a breakdown of each mid-season replacement (Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the only non-interim), and how they have faired since taking over.
|Games||Coach||Team||Record prior||Record since||Standings (Jan. 3)|
|19||Sheldon Keefe||Maple Leafs||9-10-4 (.478)||14-4-1 (.763)||Atlantic 2|
|16*||Geoff Ward||Flames||11-12-4 (.481)||10-5-1 (.656)||Wild Card 3|
|14||Alain Nasreddine||Devils||9-13-4 (.423)||6-6-2 (.500)||Wild Card 9|
|10||Rick Bowness||Stars||17-11-3 (.597)||6-3-1 (.650)||Central 3|
|9||Bob Boughner||Sharks||15-16-2 (.485)||3-5-1 (.389)||Wild Card 7|
*Geoff Ward coached in the Flames 3-2 OT win against Buffalo on Nov. 27 before Peters resigned. That game is reflected in the above chart.
Here are our rankings for which replacement head coach has the best chances to win the 2019-20 Stanley Cup:
5. Alain Nasreddine, New Jersey
This isn’t necessarily Nasreddine’s fault. The Devils’ interim took over the worst of the five records with a win percentage of just .423, and while he has a .500 record as head man, the Devils are more than a long shot for the Stanley Cup.
Silver lining? The Blues were last in the league this time last year and the Devils have two more points now than the Blues had then. “Nas” has his team playing better than Hynes did, even more so following the departure of Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes, but this team is still a year or two away from contention.
MORE: Devils finding new identity under interim head coach Alain Nasreddine
4. Bob Boughner, San Jose
The only reason Boughner’s Sharks aren’t last on this list is that he took over a slightly better squad than Nasreddine. Boughner is the only mid-season replacement with a losing record at 3-5-1 and the only one with a worse win percentage after taking over than before.
Also, the Sharks are currently closer to a playoff spot (eight points out) than the Devils (13) halfway through the season. So despite the team’s poor performances since making the switch, San Jose’s Stanley Cup chances are still greater than Nasreddine and Co.
3. Geoff Ward, Calgary
Now we have legitimate contenders.
When Peters resigned, it was a byproduct of bigger issues not only with the coach but the league as a whole. However, some would argue his seat was warming up underneath him before the allegations surfaced of verbal abuse toward players.
Geoff Ward has taken an under-performing Calgary Flames team back to a playoff spot. The team that finished first in the Western Conference last season was almost unrecognizable in 2019-20, but now Ward has his team climbing back to the top. He began his tenure on a seven-game win streak, solidifying the changing of the tides in Calgary.
2. Rick Bowness, Dallas
Recent news regarding Montgomery’s firing has made it clear that his departure was alcohol-related but for much of the last near-month, the team has played under a cloud of uncertainty surrounding what happened to their head coach. While the Stars are playing well, fresh off a dramatic win at the Winter Classic, Rick Bowness is still not the top replacement coach on this list.
He inherited the only above-.500 team of the five replacement coaches and has still managed to improve their record even with the distractions surrounding the former head coach. But Bowness’ history as a head coach in the NHL suggests that he might not be the man to take the Stars all of the way.
Only once in the seven seasons that he has finished a regular season as head coach of NHL club has that team made the playoffs (1993 Bruins), so while Dallas looks like a shoo-in for the postseason, Bowness’ experience in that arena is few and far between as a head coach. Fortunately for this team, the players have experience and should know what to expect. When Bowness has been an associate, his teams have made the playoffs seven times, most notably losing in the Finals with the 2010-11 Canucks.
MORE: What the Winter Classic meant to the NHL, Dallas and the southern hockey fan
1. Sheldon Keefe, Toronto
The only coach who is not under the “interim” title is residing in Toronto. Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe is the most likely mid-season replacement to win the Stanley Cup.
Of the five coaches on this list, he has (by far) the best win percentage this season (.763) and has his team playing hot just into the new year, riding a nine-game point streak (8-0-1). Perhaps the Leafs knew it was coming and that’s why the transition has been so smooth, or perhaps Keefe is just that good of a coach.
But Toronto’s chances go beyond the bench boss. The Maple Leafs’ roster is filled with talent and, should the goalkeeping stay intact, the firepower upfront can light up the scoreboard any night. Babcock’s coaching methods have been critiqued, especially with the list he asked Mitch Marner to make regarding his teammates’ work ethic.
Also, as the standings sit right now, Toronto is the only team on this list who would have home-ice advantage in the first round, possibly making the difference in whether or not the Leafs are dealt another first-round exit.