The Bench Legends: Longest-Tenured NHL Head Coaches

The NHL is a fast-paced, ever-evolving world where coaching changes can be as frequent as a slapshot. But amidst this dynamic environment, a few bench bosses have defied the odds, stayed the course, and earned the distinction of being the longest-tenured head coaches in the league.

So, I thought, why not write an article about who are the five longest-serving coaches in the NHL?

The NHL’s Longest-Tenured Head Coaches

1. Jon Cooper – Tampa Bay Lightning (Joined: March 25, 2013)

Jon Cooper’s tenure as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been nothing short of spectacular.

When he took over the reins on March 25, 2013, the Lightning was a franchise searching for an identity.

Over the years, Cooper has molded them into a perennial powerhouse. He is the longest-serving coach in the NHL, quite a feat to achieve!

Jon Cooper

The Cooper Effect

Under his guidance, the Lightning has consistently been a formidable presence, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals multiple times.

They secured the championships for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Cooper’s emphasis on player development, strategic insight, and effective communication has made him beloved in the Tampa Bay hockey community.

Under Cooper’s leadership, the Tampa Bay Lightning has secured two Stanley Cup titles and made nine playoff appearances, with ongoing potential for future success in the upcoming seasons.

2. Mike Sullivan – Pittsburgh Penguins (Joined: December 12, 2015)

Mike Sullivan
PHOTO: PENGUINS’ FACEBOOK PAGE

Mike Sullivan’s arrival in Pittsburgh on December 12, 2015, signalled the start of a new era for the Penguins. Following the firing of then-head coach Mike Johnston, Sullivan took over as head coach.

Notably, on June 12, 2016, Sullivan made history by becoming only the sixth head coach in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup after taking over in the middle of the season.

This accomplishment was attained when the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.

Champion’s Touch

Sullivan’s impact was immediate. He led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017, earning him a place among the NHL coaching elite.

His ability to adapt and make crucial in-game decisions has been instrumental in Pittsburgh’s success.

Overall, Sullivan led Pittsburgh to seven playoff appearances and two Stanley Cup victories so far!

3. Jared Bednar – Colorado Avalanche (Joined: August 25, 2016)

Jared Bednar
LEN REDKOLES/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES

Bednar replaced Patrick Roy as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL on August 25, 2016. Due to his late appointment, he had little time to execute his method and was forced to hire Roy’s assistants.

Despite having talented players, a 4-21-1 dip in December and January contributed to the team’s poorest season with only 48 points, one of the worst non-expansion records since 1967.

Building the Avalanche

Bednar has overseen the development of a young, talented Avalanche squad into one of the league’s most exciting teams. His focus on a high-paced, offensive style of play has brought excitement back to Denver.

With Bednar at the helm, the Avalanche have been genuine contenders in recent seasons.

He achieved a remarkable feat in his coaching role by guiding his team to victory in the 2022 Stanley Cup, triumphing over the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning. His tenure has included six playoff appearances and one Stanley Cup title.

4. Rod Brind’Amour – Carolina Hurricanes (Joined: May 8, 2018)

Rod Brind'Amour
David Berding/USA Today Sports

Rod Brind’Amour’s journey from legendary player to head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes is a story of leadership, dedication, and passion for the game.

On May 8, 2018, Brind’Amour was handed the reins of a team eager to return to glory.

During his inaugural season, he steered the team to their first playoff appearance in ten years, reaching the Eastern Conference finals where they ended up on the losing side and the Boston Bruins won.

Captain Courageous

Brind’Amour’s leadership skills, honed during his playing days, have translated seamlessly into coaching.

He’s instilled a strong work ethic and a winning mentality in the Hurricanes’ locker room. Under his guidance, the team has made significant strides and earned a reputation as a tough competitor.

Notably, on April 26, 2021, Brind’Amour made history as the first Hurricanes head coach to secure three consecutive playoff berths.

Overall, five playoff appearances are what Carolina Hurricanes has achieved under the coaching of Rod Brind’Amour.

5. Craig Berube – St. Louis Blues (Joined: November 19, 2018)

Craig Berube’s appointment as head coach of the St. Louis Blues on November 19, 2018, was a turning point for the franchise.

He stepped into a team facing challenges and uncertainty. So far in his coaching career, STL has appeared in four playoff games and won one Stanley Cup title in 2018-19.

Craig Berube
Michael Dwyer / AP

The Berube Bounce-Back

Under Berube’s leadership, the Blues initially struggled, sitting at 15–18–4 at the beginning of 2019 and last in the league. However, they rebounded to finish the season strongly at 30–10–5, earning a franchise-record 11-game winning streak.

They secured a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals as the third seed in the Central Division, ultimately winning their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history by defeating the Boston Bruins 4–3 in the series.

Berube, becoming the third interim head coach in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup, achieved his first championship as a player or coach.

The Common Threads

While these coaches come from diverse backgrounds and have different philosophies, some common threads have contributed to their long tenures.

1. Player Development

All five coaches have excelled in developing their players. Whether it’s Jon Cooper’s nurturing of young talent in Tampa Bay or Rod Brind’Amour’s mentorship of the Hurricanes’ rising stars, player development has been a hallmark of their coaching style.

This approach not only ensures success in the short term but also creates a sustainable future for their teams.

2. Adaptability

In the ever-changing landscape of the NHL, adaptability is crucial. Mike Sullivan’s ability to adjust strategies mid-game or Craig Berube’s knack for making timely lineup changes have kept their teams competitive.

These head coaches understand that success depends on being flexible and innovative.

3. Strong Leadership

Rod Brind’Amour, Craig Berube, and Mike Sullivan have played in the NHL in their playing years. It brings a unique perspective to their coaching roles.

Their experience as team captains has allowed them to connect with their players on a deeper level. This strong leadership of head coaches has fostered a culture of accountability and unity within their respective teams.

4. Consistency

Longevity in the coaching profession is often associated with consistent performance. These coaches have maintained high standards year after year, ensuring that their teams are always in contention.

Their consistency has earned the trust of their organizations and fan bases.

The Impactful Legacy of NHL’s Coaching Veterans

In the fast-paced world of the NHL, where coaching changes are frequent, the longest-tenured head coaches stand out as a testament to their leadership, adaptability, and commitment to player development.

Jon Cooper, Mike Sullivan, Jared Bednar, Rod Brind’Amour, and Craig Berube have each left an indelible mark on their respective teams and the league.

Their journeys inspire aspiring coaches and remind them of the enduring qualities that make a great coach: the ability to adapt, a commitment to player development, strong leadership, and consistency.

As these coaches continue to lead their teams into the future, their legacies in the NHL are firmly established, and their impact will be felt for years to come.

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