Two months ago, Sabres captain Brian Gionta made a point to say coaching systems didn't really matter in the NHL. It was the 15-year veteran's way of saying most teams approach the game in similar fashion and, therefore, his younger teammates and others needed to stop whining about Dan Bylsma.
Gionta is an authority when it comes to systems. He had 11 coaches in his career, including two stints with Larry Robinson in New Jersey. Styles varied in terms of communication, but X's and O's were basically the same. There are no secrets in the NHL. Hockey always has been, and forever shall be, an effort sport.
Like most, the NHL is a copycat league. The shortage of original thought is one reason many of the same coaches are hired and fired every year. It's not as if they were qualified when they were hired, forgot how to coach, became unqualified in defeat, were fired and became qualified again and rehired.
NHL general managers are in the business of winning and protecting personnel decisions for the purposes of job preservation. They lean toward experience because it's an easier sell and increases chances of success. Thing is, experienced coaches usually become available because their previous teams failed.
Getting fired doesn't necessarily equate to being a bad coach – unless you're Ron Rolston, of course – or implementing a flawed system. It often means A) the general manager needed a scapegoat for a lousy roster he assembled because, heaven forbid, it's the GM's fault; B) the coach's message grew stale; C) players underachieved or, most common, D) all of the above.
You can select any team's history and take off on a dizzying ride on the NHL's coaching merry-go-round. It doesn't matter where you begin. You invariably wind up traveling in circles, anyway. Just for fun, how about we take a spin around the league and examine recent coaches who were hired and fired in recent years.
Mike Yeo coached in Minnesota before replacing Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis, which has a 3-0 series lead over Yeo's former team in the first round this year. Todd McLellan is behind the bench in Edmonton, which had a 2-1 series lead over his former team, San Jose, going into Tuesday's matchup.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau replaced John Torchetti, who served as an interim after Yeo was fired. Boudreau coached the Capitals for four-plus years before he was fired during the 2011-12 season, but he was quickly hired by Anaheim after the Ducks fired Randy Carlyle. Carlyle coached in Toronto before getting fired, but Anaheim rehired him for this season after firing Boudreau.
Darryl Sutter coached Chicago, San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles. Paul Maurice coached in Hartford, Carolina, Toronto, Carolina again and Winnipeg. Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley won Cups five years apart in Colorado before Joel Quenneville came from St. Louis and left for Chicago, where he won three Cups.
Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien in Boston this year. Julien, who guided to the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011, was immediately hired in Montreal for a second time after the Canadiens dismissed Michel Therrien, who must be having recurring nightmares about 2009-10 in Pittsburgh.
Therrien coached the Penguins into the Stanley Cup final against Detroit in 2009 but was dismissed the following season and replaced by Bylsma, who won the Cup. Bylsma was fired because one Cup wasn't enough even though his teams finished first or second in the division every year he coached in Pittsburgh.
Alain Vigneault guided Vancouver to five straight division titles before he was fired in 2014. He was replaced by Rangers coach John Tortorella while replacing Tortorella in New York. Vigneault is still coaching the Rangers. Tortorella lasted one season in Vancouver, which made him available for hire in Columbus.
Tortorella replaced Todd Richards in Columbus. Richards, who replaced former Sabres assistant Scott Arniel, coached two years in Minnesota. Arniel was hired after a stint in AHL Manitoba, replacing Claude Noel in Columbus. Noel had replaced Hitchcock in Columbus before getting fired and replacing Arniel in Manitoba.
Hitchcock eventually landed in St. Louis. He was fired and replaced by Yeo, which made Hitchcock available to Dallas. Hitchcock replaced Lindy Ruff, who replaced Glen Gulutzan. Gulutzan was hired by Calgary, and he guided the Flames into the first round against Carlyle and Ducks.
Ruff was the NHL's longest-tenured coach when he was in Buffalo, just ahead of Barry Trotz in Nashville. Trotz is now coaching Washington in the playoffs against Mike Babcock and Toronto. Trotz was replaced in Nashville by Peter Laviolette, who previously coached the New York Islanders, Carolina and Philadelphia.
Babcock left Detroit after replacing Dave Lewis, who replaced Scotty Bowman. Lewis ended up in Boston, where he replaced Mike Sullivan and was replaced by Julien. Sullivan is now coaching in Pittsburgh after replacing Mike Johnston, who replaced Bylsma, who landed in Buffalo.
Bylsma replaced Ted Nolan, who replaced Rolston, who inexplicably replaced Ruff, who replaced Nolan. Nobody should be totally shocked if Ruff someday replaces Bylsma, assuming Ruff is still available. Certainly, you remember players and fans complaining about Ruff before they had a dose of Rolston.
This doesn't completely absolve Bylsma, who could lighten up on video sessions. Maybe he would if players listened more and resisted less. Tim Murray suggested his coach could develop better relationships with his players. Fine, but the Sabres still need considerably more talent and depth and stronger leaders in the dressing room. Ruff had similar issues before he was escorted to the exit.
Look, we could continue this exercise until your head spins, assuming it isn't already. You want to win more games? Acquire better players, who need to make a better effort and a stronger commitment. Stop accepting failure, inventing excuses and blaming the coach for falling woefully short when greater problems exist elsewhere.
You get the point, which is … what Gionta said.