Let's review, shall we?
The New York Islanders fired Steve Stirling and responded with a tepid 4-3-1 mark in their first eight games under interim coach Brad Shaw, leaving them 13th in the Eastern Conference and a long shot to make the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins responded to the firing of coach Ed Olczyk with a freefall that would have seen them crash right through the bottom of the NHL standings into the AHL, or worse, if league rules allowed. The Penguins' embarrassing play prompted new coach Michel Therrien to suggest his players should give back half their salaries.
So much for a breath of fresh air.
Which brings us to Mike Sullivan and Pat Quinn.
Sullivan, of course, was on everyone's list of "next off the ledge" as his Boston Bruins struggled through the first half of the season. Whether ownership held fast in its belief that Sullivan was a quality coach, or merely dawdled, is up for debate. Regardless, behind the sensational netminding of career minor leaguer Tim Thomas and timely contributions from maligned newcomers Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau, who came over in the Joe Thornton deal, the Bruins are suddenly back in the playoff hunt.
Thomas is making the league minimum $450,000 and would have been available to any team for half his remaining salary with the Bruins on the hook for the other half when they called him up from Providence. Thomas had played there since being signed by the Bruins on the eve of training camp. Wonder if the Canucks, Oilers or Tampa Bay Lightning, all looking to shore up goaltending for a playoff run, wouldn't mind having Thomas in the fold given his terrific play? Yes, he's a little bit older than your average goaltending phenom, but the 31-year-old absolutely lit it up last season playing for Jokerit of the Swedish Elite League, posting 15 shutouts and a 1.58 GAA.
In spite of Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Islanders, the Bruins have lost only once in regulation in the past eight games and enter play this week in 11th in the Eastern Conference, two points out of the last playoff berth.
Talk of Sullivan being dumped has suddenly gone silent. Did the thoughtful coach suddenly remember how to do his job? Like players, did Sullivan simply go through a coaching slump?
In Toronto, meanwhile, the sharp knives are once again out for coach Pat Quinn.
The veteran has seen his team fall through the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to a combination of dreadful goaltending by Ed Belfour, shoddy defense, a lack of production from captain Mats Sundin and a host of injuries to key players, including team MVP Bryan McCabe and leading goal scorer Darcy Tucker. The Leafs' 4-3 overtime loss to Montreal at home on Saturday night was their eighth in a row, the longest in Quinn's tenure in Toronto.
With talented young coach Paul Maurice waiting in the wings a few miles from the Air Canada Centre behind the bench of the Leafs' AHL affiliate, speculation is rampant that GM John Ferguson Jr. will dump Quinn.
Not that this is the first time that Quinn has faced such speculation.
During the 2003-04 season, the Leafs struggled early in the season, and thanks to carping to media by veterans who are no longer with the team, there were stories that Quinn had lost the dressing room and was on the verge of being fired. He wasn't, and the Leafs went on to finish with 103 points. They beat Ottawa in seven games before losing in six games to Philadelphia.
In Quinn's six years in Toronto, the Leafs have made the playoffs every year, won at least one playoff round in all but one year, and twice gone to the Eastern Conference final. They have topped the 100-point mark three times and had more than 90 in all six campaigns. On top of that, Quinn has solidified his reputation as one of the game's finest coaches with a gold medal win and a World Cup of Hockey championship on his résumé, as well.
But the Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967, the second-longest championship drought behind the moribund Chicago Blackhawks (1961). So whatever successes Quinn has enjoyed in Toronto, it will always pale relative to his failure to erase the Stanley Cup stain. In three weeks, he will return to the Canadian bench for the Torino Olympics. How ironic if Quinn arrives without a job.
-- Scott Burnside