Rookie Coach Bryan Trottier was fired by the New York Rangers on Wednesday as the league's highest-paid team faces a sixth consecutive season without a playoff berth.
The Rangers have a payroll higher than $70 million but are last in the Atlantic Division just over halfway through the season.
Trottier, who starred for the rival New York Islanders for 15 years, replaced Ron Low in June but held the job just 54 games in his first head coaching stint.
The Rangers showed signs of getting back into the playoff race, winning five of six games heading into last weekend.
But the Atlanta Thrashers, who have the second fewest points in the NHL, beat New York twice in four days, sandwiched around the Rangers' 7-2 loss at Washington on Sunday. New York was outscored, 16-5, during the three-game losing streak.
"After the last three games I made the decision that the team was sliding in the wrong direction," General Manager Glen Sather said. "If I was going to do anything to try to salvage this season I had to do something in a hurry. Put some shock value into the team and get the reality of the discipline that we need to have to win."
The Rangers planned to announce a new coach today, before New York plays host to the Colorado Avalanche. Ranger assistants Jim Schoenfeld and Terry O'Reilly were considered likely candidates.
But Sather, who won four Stanley Cups as coach of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s, didn't eliminate himself as a possible replacement.
Trottier was given the news Wednesday afternoon after concluding his final practice with the team.
"I think he looked a little relieved," Sather said. "It was a shock, but he looked like the weight of the world was off his shoulders.
"He said he didn't think he was the right guy for this group of players."