A good manager, like a good NHL coach, knows when to pull the goalie

Whichever team wins the Stanley Cup this spring, this will be true of its head coach: he will previously have been fired as an NHL head coach.

All eight teams in the second round of the post-season were being led by a man who previously had been shown the door by another team in the league – Ottawa’s Guy Boucher was once cut loose by Tampa, Edmonton’s Todd McLellan was let go by the Sharks, Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan was unwanted in Boston, and so on. 

That’s pretty startling, but what does it signify?

First, in one way it is highly unusual. Unlike in the real world, NHL teams keep hiring the same guys over and over. They prefer the tested (even if found wanting) to the new.

Second, in one way it bears a wider lesson for managers. If you are in a position of importance, there is likely to come a point when the finger of blame summons you. What can you do about this?

For guidance look to the one coach in the post-season who has never been fired. And that would be the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mike Babcock. The man is not one to wear out his welcome. From his beginnings as a coach, back at Red Deer College, he has left before his bosses got sick of him.

And he has kept it up in the NHL. He spent two seasons coaching the Anaheim Mighty Ducks then left in 2005, after the lockout, to take the head coach job in Detroit. He won the Cup during his decade with the Wings and in 2015 when their contract offer was not to his liking, he put himself on the open market and landed his $50-million deal with the Leafs.

The lesson: The time to pull the goalie is before the game is lost.


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