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HAWK THOUGHT: Returning Past Head Coaches Rarely Fares Well

With discussion of the Ducks featuring the return of Randy Carlyle as head coach, history shows this would be a mistake.

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Sequels generally don't perform as well as the original.

With folks wrapped up in the nostalgia of Back To The Future II, what with this Wednesday being the day Marty McFly travelled to in the movie and the Chicago Cubs threatening to make the movie's 2015 World Series prediction come true. However when looking at the box office receipts, the original grossed over $85 million more in its initial theater run.

So with word coming out from various sources that the Anaheim Ducks are potentially looking to go back in franchise history to alter their future in the 2015-16 season, it bears an examination. TSN's Gary Lawless speculates that the Ducks would considering bringing back the head man of the 2006 Western Conference Final run and 2007 Stanley Cup championship, Randy Carlyle:

Murray runs the Ducks and Dave Nonis holds the title special assignment scout and consultant to general manager. They've both fired Carlyle in their days as GMs. They also have immense respect for him as a coach and know what he's capable of behind the bench.

If they make a change in Anaheim, Carlyle will most definitely be part of the discussion.

A 1-3-1 start with all three regulation losses coming by shutout surely has heated the seat of head coach Bruce Boudreau, but a decision to fire him this early in to a season with so much expected of the team is out of character not only for the organization, but for general manager Bob Murray as well. After all, it was Murray who extended Carlyle for three years ahead of the 2011-12 season, after the Ducks posted their highest point total since 07-08 and returned to the playoffs. Carlyle lasted 24 games into the 11-12 campaign as Anaheim skidded to a 7-13-4 start and Boudreau was brought in.

History Doesn't Favor Retreads

Since 1967 no team has won the Stanley Cup after bringing back a head coach that spent more than one season with the team. In the past 48 seasons, the only coach who has guided a team to a title after being removed from the head spot is Glen Sather. The three year WHA head man coached the Edmonton Oilers in their inaugural 1979-80 NHL season and was replaced for the first 18 games of 80-81 by Bryan Watson, before being returned and guiding the team to four championships.

Discounting interim coaching terms, there are few instances where teams have brought back a previous head coach who helmed the club for multiple years. The Buffalo Sabres did so with Ted Nolan returning for 13-15 after coaching 95-97. Paul Maurice returned to the Carolina Hurricanes for 08-11 after coming over with the club from Hartford in 96 and lasting through 03. The Chicago Blackhawks brought Bob Pulford back after 77-79 for 85-87 as well as numerous interim stints. Both the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils brought back old coaches for single seasons in Tony Granato and Jacques Lemaire.

Lemaire is an important instance to note, as he guided the Devils to the 1995 Stanley Cup. Three times post-67 expansion, teams have brought back Stanley Cup winning coaches, and all three times the returns couldn't match the initial run:

Coach Years Titles RS Gm RS W RS L RS T PO Gm PO W PO L
Claude Ruel (MTL) 1968-1971 1 (1969) 175 95 49 31 14 12 2
1979-1981 0 130 77 33 20 13 6 7
Al Arbour (NYI) 1978-1986 4 (1980-83) 1038 552 317 169 171 109 62
1988-1994 0 461 187 220 54 27 10 17
Jacques Lemaire (NJD) 1993-1998 1 (1995) 378 199 122 57 56 34 22
2009-2010 0 82 48 27 7 (OL) 5 1 4

In each instance the championship winning coaches posted worse records in the playoffs in their second tenure with the team, with each failing to return to the Stanley Cup Final. The trend is also proven by Maurice, who guided the Hurricanes as 2002 Stanley Cup Finalists and went 17-18 in the playoffs during his initial run with the franchise, and 8-10 in his second run.

You Can't "Go Home"

While much has been made about the quality of players on the Maple Leafs during Carlyle's tenure in the wake of Toronto opening this season 1-3-1 under Mike Babcock, it ignores that the shot-based metrics for the Leafs have improved dramatically under the new bench boss. Under Carlyle, Toronto was routinely out-attempted by a greater than 55%-45% margin, while the same was true for his Ducks teams post 08-09 that also fell to this same trend though not quite to the same degree at 53-47 then 56-44. From our 14-15 Snap Reflection:

...Once again the two teams playing for the Stanley Cup finished in the top 10 in both categories (SAT% & SC%) over the full regular season for the third year in a row. Two of the last three years both have finished top five in each category, and in five of the last seven years one team has finished top ten in both and the other top ten in one. It's really simple though, and you don't need percentages to say it- if your team is attempting more shots and getting more scoring chances than the other team, they're going to have more opportunities to score the goals that lead to wins. Nothing fancy about it.

Possession metrics aside, let it not be forgotten that after Carlyle coached the Ducks to the title in 2007, in his four subsequent playoff seasons thereafter the Ducks went 14-18 and advanced past the first round just once. In his one playoff run with the Maple Leafs in the lockout-shortened 12-13 they also lost in the first round, infamously blowing a 4-1 lead late in the third period of game seven in Boston.

For all of Boudreau's playoff foibles and struggles in home seventh games, his 21-15 playoff record in Anaheim is slightly better winning percentage-wise at 58.3% than Carlyle's full Anaheim tenure mark of 36-26 and 58.1%, while blowing his 43.8% win% for his final four postseasons out of the water.

Even if Boudreau is fired this season, why dip back in to head coach history when there is former Babcock Mighty Duck assistant and off season assistant coaching signee in Paul MacLean already seemingly waiting in the wings? MacLean won the Jack Adams in 2013 after being nominated in 2012, guided an even more cap conscious Ottawa Senators franchise to the playoffs back-to-back seasons, and won a round in 12-13 with a far less talented roster.

Nostalgia makes for fun celebrations and good memories, but it doesn't make for Stanley Cup champions when bringing back past coaches. So when looking for a hoverboard this Wednesday, or perhaps seeing if Jaws 19 is playing, the Ducks would be well advised to skip the 'Randy Carlyle in Anaheim' sequel as well.