Ottawa's 3-coach shuffle not as rare as you'd think

ON THE NHL

January 26, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The long-suffering Ottawa Senators have changed coaches for the second time this season. It's an obvious sign of desperation, but it is not as rare as it seems at first.

During the NHL's 78-year history, it has been done 15 times by 11 teams.

L The last team to do it was the Los Angeles Kings in 1987-88.

The Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have each done it twice. The Blues did it in back-to-back seasons (1974-75 and 1975-76).

The Chicago Blackhawks were the first to do it, and they must have created quite a stir in 1932-33.

That team, under the direction of Emil Iverson, Godfrey Matheson and finally Tommy Gorman, finished 16-20-12. Gorman one of eight coaches who finished one of those three-coaches-in-a-season situations and returned the following year. And if everyone had his luck, more teams probably would make the move more often. Gorman's Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the next season.

The next-best run by a team's third coach in a single season was that of Washington's Bryan Murray, who coached eight more seasons for the Capitals, taking them to the playoffs in each, before being replaced by his brother Terry in 1989-90.

"Changing coaches like that is not really something you want to do," said Rogie Vachon, who was the second of three coaches both times the Kings made two coaching changes in a season. "In any sport, you're looking for stability and you expect your coach is going to be there 10, 12 years. Of course, that doesn't happen much anymore because there is so much pressure to make the playoffs and you're afraid to fall too far behind."

Vachon is now president of the Kings, but in 1983 he was !B assistant coach to Don Perry, when not only the coach was fired, but so was the general manager.

"I found myself promoted to general manager with not much time to pick a coach," recalled Vachon, who filled in for two games, going 1-0-1. Vachon remembers the win came against Edmonton, and his Kings stopped Wayne Gretzky's 51-game point-scoring streak.

He was still general manager in 1987-88, when he fired Mike Murphy and then filled in for a game before hiring Robbie Ftorek.

Ottawa had replaced coach Rick Bowness (6-13-0) with Dave Allison (2-22-1) before Pierre Gauthier was named general manager last month.

Since coming on board, Gauthier has been in a hurry in Ottawa, with good reason. The Senators are playing in a new $217 million arena that is less than full for a team that has not had more than nine victories in any of its three years of existence, going 22-75-11.

In a little more than a month, Gauthier has revamped the scouting system, signed star Alexei Yashin, and this week hired coach Jacques Martin, a former coach of the St. Louis Blues, and made a trade to bring the Senators young goalie Damian Rhodes and rookie defenseman Wade Redden.

Best-kept secret

Not anymore. The Toronto Maple Leafs, fourth in the Western Conference, have been the best team no one has talked about all season. Now they've added Kirk Muller, who should complement Doug Gilmour nicely. And they've also strengthened their goaltending, by bringing in Don Beaupre, the 16-year-veteran who played well with little support in Ottawa. Beaupre and Felix Potvin could be one of the best one-two punches around.

Gretzky is Kings' priority

Since Gretzky publicly asked the Los Angeles Kings to get a couple of top-flight players who can score big numbers and play some defense -- thereby insulting the guys he currently plays with -- the Kings have gone 0-6-2.

"In the past, when Wayne saw a problem, he'd come talk to us quietly," Vachon said. "This time he did it differently. You look at our team and you see we have injuries, we're not very deep and we're losing by one and two goals. Does what Wayne did contribute to that? Well, we like to say the players are all professional. But they're human too. If it's not working, players know. If there is no choice but to work a trade, they know there might be other players involved."

Yesterday, the Kings traded right wing Rick Tocchet to the Boston Bruins for left wing Kevin Stevens, a key factor in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup victories in 1991 and 1992.

Rare goal: OT short-handed

When Mario Lemieux scored his short-handed goal in overtime Monday to beat the Boston Bruins, it was only the second time it had happened since overtime went into effect in 1983-84. The only other short-handed score came off the stick of the Dallas Stars' Dean Evason, Dec. 23, 1993, against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

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