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Coaching turning into a short-term gig for NHL bench bosses


In his fifth year with the team, Sheldon Keefe was the fifth-longest tenured head coach in the NHL when he was fired Thursday by the Toronto Maple Leafs

Just six head coaches have spent more than two seasons behind the bench with their current teams with change in the air across the league. 

"It’s insanity," Dallas Stars head coach Peter DeBoer, hired in 2022, told TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun on Thursday. "We coach in an age where everyone talks about the modern athlete, building relationships in order to coach them. How do you do that with that kind of turnover? It’s like going on a date and getting married and divorced before the appetizers show up.

"I don’t get it. But that’s the world we live in.’’

Jon Cooper, hired in March 2013, is the only coach with 10-plus years behind the bench with their current team amid a tenure that has included two Stanley Cups. After a second straight first-round exit this spring, though, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois publicly backed Cooper's as the team's leader.

"Like all the great coaches, it starts with leadership skills. Really high on leadership skills. Really high emotional intelligence. Never gets too high. Never gets too low. I think that allows him to weather the storms because there are storms," BriseBois said of Cooper. "This is a tough league. It’s a cutthroat business. The other teams are really good. They’re trying to win. We’re trying to win. It’s the elite against the elite.

"Coop, again this year, did a fabulous job. I love our coaching staff and love working with him. I feel privileged to be able to continue to work with him. I feel privileged to have been able to work with him the past 14 years going back to our Norfolk days.

"He’s a special coach and he’s the best guy for the job."

Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan is second on the list after being promoted in December 2015. He found instant success with the team, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, but his future has been in question after missing the playoffs for a second straight season this year. 

Penguins president and general manager Kyle Dubas, who was hired in 2023, shut down rumours last week that other teams had requested to speak with Sullivan. 

Jared Bednar is in his eighth season with the Colorado Avalanche, having kept his job after a disastrous 22-win first season with the team. The 52-year-old has guided the Avalanche to seven straight playoff trips since and won the Stanley Cup in 2022. The Avalanche currently lead their second-round series 1-0 against the Dallas Stars

Rod Brind'Amour has been behind the bench with the Carolina Hurricanes since 2018, though his future is also in question with no contract in place for next season. The Hurricanes have reached the playoffs in all six of their seasons under the 53-year-old former player and currently trail 2-0 in their second-round series against the New York Rangers

Both the Hurricanes and Brind'Amour have said they remain confident a contract extension will be worked out as rumours swirled around a potential exit.  

“Yeah, I had a great conversation yesterday with (general manager Don Waddell), and then again this morning,” Brind’Amour said last Thursday. “I feel really good that we’ll figure it out quickly. Yeah, I’m not concerned.”

With Keefe now off the list, Andre Tourigny of the Utah NHL franchise slides into fifth on the longest-tenured list, having been hired in July 2021. The former Arizona Coyotes missed the playoffs in each of their first three seasons under Tourigny, though their win total has risen in all three years. 

After replacing Dominique Ducharme behind the bench for the Montreal Canadiens in February 2022, Martin St. Louis is the sixth and final head coach with more than two years spent with their current team. 

Bruce Cassidy of the Vegas Golden Knights, Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella, Peter DeBoer of the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers bench boss Paul Maurice were all hired during the 2022 off-season. 

Eighteen of the league's 32 franchises have made a change since the end of last season, with 2019 Stanley Cup winner Craig Berube among the 10 coaches fired since the start of the 2023-24 campaign.

Ottawa Senators signed new head coach Travis Green to a four-year contract this week, but long stays behind the bench are turning into a rarity around the league. 

While the Maple Leafs are already under way in their search for a new head coach, Keefe will continue to be on the payroll for the next two seasons. The 43-year-old was let go before the two-year extension he signed last summer even kicked in. 

“Today’s decision was difficult. Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man; however, we determined a new voice is needed to help the team push through to reach our ultimate goal," Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving said Thursday. "We thank Sheldon for his hard work and dedication to the organization over the last nine years, and wish him and his family all the very best.”

Five coaching jobs are currently vacant in the NHL, while the Los Angeles Kings also continue to weigh whether to keep interim Jim Hiller after replaced Todd McLellan in-season.