July 15 was a big date when it comes to head coaching changes in National Hockey League history. Two very successful coaches made decisions on this date, with one making a surprising exit with the other starting a decade of success.
Keenan Walks Away
On July 15, 1994, Mike Keenan resigned as the head coach of the New York Rangers. This surprising move came just 31 days after Keenan led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years.
Keenan only coached one season for the Rangers before he quit. It was no secret that he and general manager Neil Smith could not get along. He held his own press conference in Toronto to announce his decision, citing a breach of contract as his reason, although he never went into detail about what that might be.
Two days later, Keenan is hired as both the head coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman required that the Blues send forward Esa Tikkanen and defenseman Doug Lidster, to the Rangers, for forward Petr Nedved in order go ahead with the Keenan hire.
Babcock Comes to the Motor City
The Detroit Red Wings made a big coaching change on July 15, 2005, by hiring Mike Babcock. He replaced Dave Lewis, who had won the Central Division title in each of the last two seasons. However, his failure to get past the second round of the playoffs ultimately cost him his jobs. One of Lewis’ early postseason exits included losing to Babcock’s Anaheim Ducks in the first round in 2003.
Babcock took the Ducks all the way to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. After the lockout that cost the NHL the 2004-05 season is settled, he turns down an offer to return to the Ducks. The Red Wings pounce and bring Babcock in.
The Red Wings enjoy 10 successful seasons under Babcock’s leadership, going 458-223-105. They qualified for the postseason in all 10 seasons and won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the most points in the league twice. In his third season, the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup. They return to the Stanley Final the following spring but lose in a rematch with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Babcock’s 458 wins are the most in franchise history, ahead of legendary coaches like Jack Adams, Scotty Bowman and Sid Abel.
Other Coaching Moves
Eddie Johnston became the seventh head coach in Penguins history, on July 15, 1980, replacing John Wilson. This was Johnston’s first of two stints as head coach in Pittsburgh. He qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his first two seasons before being let go after just 18 wins during the 1982-83 season. He returned a decade later, in 1993, to take over for Bowman, who left for Detroit.
On July 15, 1997, Marc Crawford was named the head coach for the 1998 Canadian Olympic team, for the games to be held in Nagano, Japan. Crawford led the Colorado Avalanche to the 1996 Stanley Cup championship. Canada had a disappointing finish to the tournament, after going undefeated in group play, by coming home with no medals. They lost in the semifinals to the Czech Republic before dropping the Bronze Medal game to Finland.
Odds & Ends
The Boston Bruins and Red Wings swapped veteran goaltenders on July 15, 1980. Gilles Gilbert went from Boston to Detroit in exchange for two-time Stanley Cup winner and future Hockey Hall of Famer, Rogie Vachon. Both netminders were at the tail end of their careers and primarily served as backups after this trade. Gilbert won 21 games over three seasons with the Red Wings, while Vachon played two seasons with the Bruins, winning 30 games.
On July 15, 1998, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed veteran free-agent goaltender Curtis Joseph. He had a very successful four-season run in Toronto. Joseph won 35 games in his first season and followed that up with 36 wins during the 1999-00 season. He helped lead the team to the 2002 Eastern Conference Final. However, the Maple Leafs signed Ed Belfour that summer, so Joseph moved on to the Red Wings.
The Phoenix Coyotes named Teppo Numminen as their new team captain on July 15, 2001. He was the 12th player to wear the “C” on his sweater in franchise history. He took over for Keith Tkachuk, who was traded to the St. Louis Blues during the 2000-01 season. Numminen was the Coyotes’ captain for two seasons until he traded to the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2003.
Bettman held a press conference on top of the dugout at Fenway Park on July 15, 2009. He was there to announce that the Bruins will host the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2020 NHL Winter Classic the following New Years Day. This was the third installment of the Winter Classic and was the second straight year where the game was played in a legendary baseball stadium. The Chicago Blackhawks and Wrigley Field hosted the 2009 edition. The Bruins won the game thanks to an overtime goal by Marco Sturm.
Happy Birthday to You
A talented group of 22 current and former NHL players have been born on this date. The most notable July 15 birthday boys are Ed Litzenberger (79), Rick Kehoe (69), Barry Melrose (64), Steve Thomas (57), Eric Lacroix (49), Jonathan Cheechoo (40), Adam Cracknell (35), Tyler Kennedy (34), Zach Bogosian (30), Anthony Bitetto (30) and Anthony Cirelli (23).