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Job security hard to find as NHL coaching carousel continues to spin

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Paul Maurice is in his second season coaching the Florida Panthers, trying to guide them to a second consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. It was pointed out to him not long ago that, in his current profession, two years seems like an eternity.

Such is the life he chose.

“Tough business,” Maurice said. “Could have been a doctor.”

Job security is basically an oxymoron in the world of professional coaching, and the turnover rate right now in the NHL is wild. In the four biggest U.S. pro sports leagues — Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL — there are 124 teams, so there are 124 head coaching positions. Only 45% of that current total have been in their current jobs for more than two full seasons.

The NFL has about 60% of its coaches going into Year 3 or more, and the rate is 53% for both MLB managers and NBA coaches.

In the NHL, the revolving door is swinging faster than anywhere else. Sheldon Keefe’s firing by Toronto last week reduced the list of NHL coaches in their current job for more than two years to just five out of 32, or basically 16%. Spencer Carbery, hired by Washington less than a year ago, is already the 13th-longest tenured in the NHL.

“I do have thoughts on that,” Dallas coach Peter DeBoer said of the NHL coaching longevity, or lack thereof. “It's insanity.”

Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan, Colorado’s Jared Bednar, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour and Montreal’s Martin St. Louis are the five with more than two years in their current job. Add in all the midseason changes and the NHL had 39 different head coaches this season, tying the record set two years ago.

“We coach in an age where everyone talks about the modern athlete, building relationships in order to coach them,” DeBoer said. "And 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, you know, that’s the world we live in.”

RECYCLING COACHES

With few exceptions — San Antonio's Gregg Popovich has been coach of the Spurs since 1996, more than 280 NBA coaching changes ago, and Miami's Erik Spoelstra has led the Heat since 2008 — the notion of coaches being recycled from one job to the next is not new.

In the NBA, Doc Rivers took over the Milwaukee Bucks around the midseason mark earlier this year, making it the fifth different head coaching job of his career. Frank Vogel's one-year stint that ended with his firing in Phoenix was the fourth different franchise for him, and four of the eight coaches in the NBA's conference semifinals — New York's Tom Thibodeau, Indiana's Rick Carlisle, Dallas' Jason Kidd and Cleveland's JB Bickerstaff — are in their third head-coaching stops.

In the NFL, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin is now the longest-tenured in his current job, following the departure of Bill Belichick from New England. There have been 140 changes since Tomlin got hired in 2007.

Maybe there's something in the water on Florida's Gulf Coast that allows coaches to keep their gigs longer than most. Kevin Cash is in his 10th season as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays; nobody in MLB has had their current managerial job for longer. And there have been 122 coaching changes in the NHL since Cooper took over in Tampa Bay.

"Ultimately, it comes down to being fortunate to have a lot of really good players and good teams,” Cash said.

COACHES ON THE CLOCK

That's the key in any sport, and that's one thing that some in hockey say is missing. Winning takes time. Building a team takes time. But in an era where player salaries keep rising, patience is in shorter and shorter supply. Win now or else.

“There has really been an unprecedented number of firings," NHL Coaches Association executive director Lindsay Pennal said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Part of it is due to the coaching cycle. There’s been a cycle, and if you look at the average tenure of a coach being only about 2.2 years, some of where we are today is related to just cyclical turnover in coaching.

"But I also feel there are other factors that have contributed to coaches being fired that are unrelated to the coaches’ performance and the positives that they’ve brought to the team, whether that be management looking at ways to displace responsibility for underperformance or to keep the rest of the organization happy.”

Doug Armstrong, whose midseason firing of 2019 Cup winner Craig Berube was his fourth coaching change in 14 years as St. Louis Blues general manager, said sometimes “change is inevitable.” This much turnover, he wonders, might be too much.

“If you look at the number of changes in the coaching fraternity over the last 36 months, I’m personally not sure this is healthy,” Armstrong said. “I hope it does change.”

FIRING AND REHIRING

Keefe, New Jersey's Lindy Ruff, Buffalo's Don Granato and Seattle's Dave Hakstol were all fired before new contract extensions even kicked in. Keefe's was arguably the least surprising after the Maple Leafs lost in the first round of the playoffs for a fourth time in fifth years with him in charge.

Some of his colleagues making deeper runs are well-travelled. The New York Rangers are Peter Laviolette's sixth stop. Dallas is the fifth for DeBoer. Florida is the fourth job held by Maurice, who is on pace — including playoff numbers — to become the join Scotty Bowman as the only ones in the NHL to coach 2,000 games.

They've all been fired, then hired, then fired, then hired. And so it goes, in the life they've chosen. Maurice was told a few days ago that he's had his job for longer than most coaches in the NHL; “Give it a month,” he laughed.

“It's a tough profession for sure," Maurice said. “And what you find is, there are people that might fall into coaching and end up loving it. … There's 32 of these jobs. There's not a lot of jobs in your line of work. The only positive is if you can get fired enough times, you can make a career out of it. And for every coach who gets fired, another one gets hired.”

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl