Inspired by the rumours that PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino was returning to manage Spurs (now debunked), this got me wondering how many NHL head coaches had been rehired by their former teams, and whether or not they found success second time around. I know the head coach merry-go-round is very active in the NHL, but it turns out that a lot of coaches have been given a second bite of the cherry, so in this irregular series, I’ll be taking a look at some of those coaches to see if it was better second time around.
Randy Carlyle – Mighty Ducks of Anaheim/Anaheim Ducks.
Part One: 2005-2011
By the time Carlyle arrived in Anaheim in 2005, the Ducks had already been through six head coaches in eleven seasons. Mike Babcock held the role for the two previous (active) seasons and had taken the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2003 but failed to make the postseason in 2004. The Ducks were eager to keep Babcock on but he declined the offer of a new contract.
By 2005, Carlyle hadn’t held the top job at any NHL teams but he had amassed some experience as an assistant coach at the original Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals. Meanwhile the Ducks had built themselves a pretty respectable team for the 2005-06 season. Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald had standout seasons, Chris Kunitz joined the team, and on the blueline, Scott Niedermayer was putting up points like a man possessed.
It wasn’t to be the Ducks’ season though. Calgary took the team to seven games in round one before the Avs were swept in the second round. In the Conference Final, the Ducks fell in five games to the Edmonton Oilers, who were good back in those days. The Carolina Hurricanes would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
The team had potential, but it wasn’t until Carlyle’s second season in charge that that potential was realised. The Mighty Ducks were no more, the name was changed along with a new logo and new threads. The big names kept producing and finished top of their division and second in the conference. The Ducks kept advancing through the playoffs and met the Ottawa Senators (another team who used to be good) in the finals. Five games later, Anaheim lifted the Stanley Cup. Randy Carlyle had his name engraved in history after just two seasons as a head coach.
That success was hard to maintain because, well, it usually is. The Ducks made the playoffs thrice more in the subsequent four seasons, but couldn’t make it past the Conference Semi-finals. A quarter of the way through the 2011-12 season, Carlyle was let go as the Ducks underperformed with Bruce Boudreau taking over.
Part Two: 2016-2019
Carlyle, one of those rare breed of coaches who were both Stanley Cups winners and immediately available, was snapped up by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Alas as many, many coaches have found out, the job behind the Leafs’ bench is often a poison chalice, and after two full seasons (and two bits of seasons) in Ontario, Carlyle was given the heave-ho again.
Meanwhile Boudreau had reasonable success with the Ducks, they never missed the playoffs under his leadership, but that wasn’t enough for the front office, who believed the team should have been finalists again. After the 2016 Stanley Cup, Boudreau was out and Carlyle was back in charge.
Was It Better Second Time Around?
Nope. The second coming of Carlyle started were Boudreau had left off, the Ducks were still a playoff team. For a lot of coaches, that’s a respectable achievement, but the standard was higher for Carlyle. The only measure of success was to match his previous highs. Unfortunately the team’s window had been closing for some time. Without the legs to go the distance, the Ducks weren’t able to repeat the success of 2007.
It’s worth remembering that Carlyle wasn’t just brought back in as in interim measure. The team was all-in on the idea that the team was due that second Stanley Cup, and anything less was a failure. To that end, the Ducks fell short in 2017 by losing the Conference Finals, and even shorter in 2018 when the team couldn’t make it past the first round. After a poor start to the 2018-19 season, Carlyle was let go.
Where the Ducks wrong to bring Carlyle back? I don’t think so. To this day he remains he winningest coach in the franchise’s history. In his eight full seasons in Anaheim, the team only missed the playoffs once. Sure, he wasn’t able to find the same success in Toronto, but who has? Where it went wrong was that as good a coach as Carlyle is, the Ducks weren’t the same team as they were a decade earlier. Either Carlyle was a victim of his own success, or the front office had expectations that were too high to be realistically achievable.