Recently replaced coaches have faced their former teams six times in the post-season, and each time, they’ve made their former team pay.
Of all the places Claude Julien could have landed, few could have imagined the former Boston Bruins bench boss would be coaching the Canadiens as the post-season approached. The change is a bold one for Montreal, swapping out Michel Therrien for a new voice behind the bench with two dozen games left in the season, but a wise decision given Julien is one of the best coaches in the league today.
It’s hard to say the same for the Bruins.
While one has to commend Boston GM Don Sweeney on seeing things from the human side of things — Julien was out of work, and if the Bruins have no use for him, it’s only fair for him to seek employment — the fact is that Julien is now coaching the Canadiens arguably makes the Bruins’ greatest rival that much better. And the decision to let Montreal not only talk to but hire Julien could look even worse for Sweeney if, come the post-season, the Canadiens match up against the Bruins and send the club packing. That’s not a far-fetched scenario, either.
As of Wednesday morning, the Canadiens would face the New York Rangers in the first round of the post-season, while the Bruins would draw the Ottawa Senators. That would give the potential for an Atlantic Division final that pitted the Julien’s Canadiens against the Bruins mere months after he was axed in Boston.
The standings will almost assuredly change by the time the season closes which means the playoff matchups could flip to make a Montreal-Boston post-season series all the more unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out unless one of the two misses the playoffs.
Julien facing off against his former club this soon after his firing would be a unique scenario, one the likes of which the league has never seen. There have been several instances of a recently departed coach making his old team pay in the playoffs in his very next season behind the bench, however, and it spells out why the Bruins should hope they don’t see Julien in April or beyond.
Dick Irvin — Toronto Maple Leafs defeat Chicago Black Hawks, 1931-32
Irvin is one of the most successful coaches in league history with 692 wins to his name, the seventh-most of all time. One can only imagine what kind of history the Blackhawks, then known as the Black Hawks, would have had if they would have hung onto Irvin longer. However, after dropping the 1931 Stanley Cup final, Chicago let Irvin walk, and by the end of the year he was coaching the Maple Leafs.
In the two-game quarterfinal to start the 1931-32 playoffs, the Black Hawks took Game 1 with a 1-0 victory, but were blasted 6-1 in Game 2, losing the series 6-2 on aggregate. The Maple Leafs would go on to defeat the Montreal Maroons in the semi-final before capturing the Stanley Cup in a sweep of the New York Rangers.
Tommy Gorman — Montreal Maroons defeat Chicago Black Hawks, 1934-35
Mike Keenan led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup in 1993-94 and resigned from his position shortly thereafter, but he wasn’t the first coach to do so. That distinction belongs to Gorman, who led the Black Hawks to their first championship, and gave up his post 10 days after winning the NHL’s top prize.
Gorman landed on his feet, though. By the start of the 1934-35 season, he was behind the bench for the Maroons and come playoff time, Montreal was staring down Chicago in the quarterfinal. The first game ended in a scoreless tie and it would take overtime in the second game for the first goal of the two-game series to be scored. Lawrence ‘Baldy’ Northcott netted the winner, and the Maroons went on to win the Stanley Cup.
To this day, Gorman remains the only coach to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years as the coach of different teams.
Fred Shero — New York Rangers defeat Philadelphia Flyers, 1978-79
Shero is a legend in Philadelphia for his coaching of the Broad Street Bullies-era Flyers, but the end of his tenure was a bit rocky. As the 1977-78 season closed, Shero tendered his resignation and signed on to coach the Rangers, whom he had played 145 games with during his days as a defenseman, and New York shipped cash and a first-rounder to Philadelphia to avoid tampering charges.
As fate would have it, the Rangers and Flyers would end up meeting in the second round of the post-season, and the series wasn’t all that close. New York dropped the first game in overtime for their first loss of the playoffs, but then romped Philadelphia in the next four outings. Shero’s Rangers thumped the Flyers by a combined score of 26-5 — that’s not a typo — in the final four games of the series. The Rangers would eventually fall at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.
Pat Burns — New Jersey Devils defeat Boston Bruins, 2002-03
To say Boston was struggling when Burns came aboard would be an understatement. In 1996-97, the Bruins finished dead-last with 61 points and the franchise was at one of its lowest points in 30 years. Burns was given the task of turning things around and his first two seasons went well, but by the 1999-00 season, Boston was struggling again. Eight games into the 2000-01 season, Burns was let go.
Burns popped up again in New Jersey in 2002-03, where he was given a stellar Devils roster to work with. He made the most of the opportunity, too, as he led the New Jersey to its third Stanley Cup in franchise history. The first stop along the way was in Boston, and New Jersey took the series in five games, out-scoring the Bruins 13-8.
Technically, this didn’t come the year after Burns was fired, but it did come in his very next season behind the bench after one campaign watching from the sidelines.
Darryl Sutter — Calgary Flames defeat San Jose Sharks, 2003-04
The situation with Sutter and the Flames was about as close as it gets to Julien’s situation. Calgary fired Greg Gilbert in early December 2002 and just before the end of the month hired Sutter, who had been let go by the San Jose Sharks just days before Gilbert was sent packing by the Flames. Sutter’s group in Calgary would fall well shy of a post-season berth in 2002-03, but in 2003-04, the Flames got into the post-season as the sixth seed in the West.
Sutter’s Flames would eke their way out of the first round in a seven-game battle against the Vancouver Canucks — Martin Gelinas scored the Game 7 overtime-winner — and then snuck past the Detroit Red Wings into the Western Conference final against the Sharks. Calgary knocked San Jose out in six games, and the Sharks watched their former coach get awarded the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. The Flames eventually came one win short of capturing the Stanley Cup.
Peter DeBoer — New Jersey Devils defeat Florida Panthers, 2011-12
Instead of going with an established coach during their search for a new bench boss ahead of 2008-09, the Panthers went a different route, hiring DeBoer to take over duties. At the time, DeBoer had zero NHL experience. He did a commendable job in his first season, but it was followed by two years that had much more regrettable finishes and he was fired after the 2010-11 season.
Little more than three months later, DeBoer found himself another NHL post, this time with the Devils, and as he had in Florida, DeBoer had immediate success — some of which came at the expense of the Panthers. For the first time in 11 seasons, Florida was in the playoffs, but they met with DeBoer’s Devils in the first round. The Devils and Panthers would battle to a seventh and deciding game, and in double OT of Game 7, Adam Henrique delivered the dagger to send New Jersey through to the second round.
The Devils would go on to win the Eastern Conference title before dropping the Stanley Cup final to the Los Angeles Kings.
As history shows, post-season hockey hath no fury like a recently replaced coach. There’s not a single coach who has met his former team his next time around in the post-season and dropped the series.
There’s the possibility one could be added to the list by the end of the season should the Blues and Western Conference-leading Wild meet in the playoffs with Minnesota escaping with the victory. That would mean St. Louis’ Mike Yeo, who was dropped by the Wild during in 2015-16, would have lost a series to his former team the year following his firing. However, things could even out if the Wild then go on to meet the Anaheim Ducks at some point in the post-season, as Minnesota bench boss Bruce Boudreau could get revenge on Anaheim for dropping him following the 2015-16 season.
But if you’re the Bruins, it’s best to play it safe and hope the Canadiens aren’t on the post-season docket.
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