Earlier this week, the Edmonton Oilers became the second team so far this season to fire their coach, when they announced that Dallas Eakins would be replaced on an interim basis by GM Craig MacTavish and AHL coach Todd Nelson.
That was rough news for Eakins, but it’s great news for the rest of us. That’s because the NHL has a long history of odd, entertaining, or even downright disastrous interim coaches. It’s a tough job to step into — you’re basically wearing a sign around your neck that says, “This is the best we could do on short notice” — and even if you do it well, you still might be out of a job once the season ends.
Still, it’s a foot in the door, and sometimes the interim tag has served as the launching pad for a long and successful coaching career. Other times, not so much. So today, let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the shorter-lived interim coaches from NHL history.
Not the Brightest Spark
The Senators recently fired Paul MacLean and gave the job to Dave Cameron on a full-time basis, skipping the interim phase altogether. Cameron is a smart guy, but you could forgive Ottawa fans if they took a wait-and-see approach on him. After all, the Senators have long been a coaching graveyard. Rick Bowness posted a career points percentage of .204, Craig Hartsburg and John Paddock both lasted less than one full season, and even MacLean managed to get shown the door just 18 months after being named coach of the year.
Given all of that, it would be pretty tough for anyone to stand alone as the least successful coach in Senators franchise history. And that’s why you really have to tip your cap to the undisputed holder of that crown: Dave “Sparky” Allison.
Allison got the job in November 1995, replacing Bowness and becoming the second head coach of the franchise’s modern era. “It’s a happy day for the Ottawa Senators,” said GM Randy Sexton, incorrectly. Allison went on to post a record of 2-22-1 for a career points percentage of .100, the worst ever for an NHL coach who lasted at least 10 games. His tenure ended with a nine-game losing streak capped off with a 7-3 loss to the Blackhawks, before team management finally put him out of his misery.
In hindsight, we should have seen that coming. For one, Allison’s nickname was “Sparky”, which probably made it kind of tough to demand respect from a room full of professional athletes. Here’s the full list of everyone nicknamed “Sparky” who’s ever succeeded at a job: Sparky Anderson; the dog from South Park; and the electric chair. That’s pretty much it. (Also, the fact that the 1995-96 Senators were an objectively terrible team probably had something to do with it, too.)
Allison has yet to get another shot at an NHL job, but to his credit he did go on to a reasonably successful coaching career in the AHL, as well as working as a pro scout. He was coaching the St. Louis Blues’ top minor league affiliate as recently as 2013. Today, he’s running the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL.
As for the Senators, they proved that sometimes a change of direction works out. On the same day they fired Allison, they pulled the trigger on a trade for a young defenseman named Wade Redden, and they soon hired Jacques Martin. Those two moves would help to, uh, spark the franchise.