Coaches who won two of the past three Stanley Cups have been fired in the past four days.
Larry Robinson was the second to go when New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello fired him and assistant coaches Slava Fetisov and Jay Leach yesterday. Kevin Constantine, whose defensive approach will make an easy fit in the Devils style, was hired to replace Robinson.
Lamoriello said Robinson was fired for the same reason Ken Hitchcock was shown the door by the Dallas Stars last Friday. He lost the ears of the players.
The general manager said Constantine, who lost a battle of wills with superstar Jaromir Jagr in his last job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is the kind of disciplinarian the team needs.
"It's the players' fault," Lamoriello said. "This team needs a coach of Kevin's personality, structure, discipline and accountability."
If Robinson lost the attention of the players, he did so in record time. "I got there [Stanley Cup final]in my first two years. And now, all of a sudden, in my third year I can't coach?," Robinson said. "I don't think that's right."
Robinson replaced Robbie Ftorek, a coach with a heavy-handed reputation, on March 23, 2000, with eight games left in the regular season after Lamoriello felt the Devils had tuned out Ftorek.
Robinson led the Devils on a run through the National Hockey League playoffs that ended with a Stanley Cup win over Hitchcock and the Stars. One year earlier, in June, 1999, Hitchcock won the Cup when the Stars beat the Buffalo Sabres in the final.
Last season, Robinson took the Devils to the Stanley Cup final again, but lost to the Colorado Avalanche in seven games after leading the series 3-2.
However, that meant little this season as the Devils stumbled from the start. By yesterday, they were ninth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-20-7-3.
Like the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, the Devils have made a habit of losing to the weakest teams in the league. They lost to the Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning on a road trip that ended with a 2-2 tie against the expansion Minnesota Wild.
While Robinson could be scathing in his criticism of players, he was still considered "the ultimate players' coach," according to Maple Leafs winger Alexander Mogilny, who left the Devils as a free agent last summer. The loss of Mogilny's 43 goals from last season is one reason the Devils are struggling.
"It's surprising," Mogilny said. "He's a nice man, a great guy.
"I guess Larry was the scapegoat. He is very demanding. He would ask you to do certain things and he expects you to play to the best of your abilities.
"There was no second thought [to Robinson's demands] You listen and you would go out and do it. Yeah, he could be critical, but he's a good guy."
Lamoriello claimed that when he called Robinson with his decision on Sunday, that the coach agreed a change was best for the team.
"They weren't responding to him on a consistent basis," Lamoriello said of the players. "Certainly, it was eating at him, no question."
Mogilny did not agree that his former teammates had stopped listening to Robinson.
"It's one thing not to listen and it's another not to execute," he said. "At least when I saw [the Devils play] it looked like they were just not executing."
Leafs head coach Pat Quinn, who fought and lost two playoff wars with Robinson in the past two years, was not impressed by Lamoriello's move.
"It's a crazy thing, I guess," Quinn said. "I don't know how that happens. That's two very good coaches gone. From a professional standpoint, it's very distasteful.
"This is a very competitive league now. There's probably 18 or 19 teams that are all legitimate hockey clubs and some others than are stepping up and winning on given nights. But [the Devils]for the last five years have been winning. [The problem]is not the coaching."
Fetisov wants to make the jump from assistant to head coach, but Devils insiders say Lamoriello feels the Russian native does not yet speak English smoothly enough to communicate well and that he does not have enough experience. Fetisov became a Devils assistant in 1998 after retiring as a player. He is also head coach and GM of the Russian Olympic team.
Mogilny, whose relationship with Fetisov deteriorated after he declined to play for Russia in the Olympics, agreed with Lamoriello on that question.
"No, I'm not surprised he did not get the job," Mogilny said. "I don't know, he was not experienced enough, I guess."
Lamoriello said Fetisov and Leach will get other jobs with the Devils and that New Jersey scout John Cunniff had been hired to assist Constantine.
The Maple Leafs hope to go into tonight's game at the Air Canada Centre with left winger Gary Roberts back in the lineup. He said his ailing back felt sluggish in practice yesterday but "hopefully, there'll be no repercussions and I'll be able to play tomorrow."
But right winger Mikael Renberg could be a doubtful starter, as he left practice early yesterday. It was thought he, too, had a back problem. Another early departure was made by winger Garry Valk, who appeared to have a sore foot, but he said it was only an "R and R day."
Leaf forward Darcy Tucker said he has not heard from the NHL head office about his weekend tirade against referee Terry Gregson and does not expect to.