Don Maloney succeeded at one of the toughest jobs in sports, leading the Arizona Coyotes to the playoffs despite the constraints of operating a team owned by the NHL.
Once the Coyotes had more financial flexibility under new owners, Maloney was unable to conjure up the same success and took the fall for it.
The Coyotes fired Maloney on Monday after a nine-year run capped by a fourth straight season of not making the playoffs.
"The Coyotes have had some success under Don and he's done a great job of laying the groundwork for the future, however, we felt a change in leadership is needed in order to move our franchise to the next level," Arizona President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said.
The Coyotes did retain coach Dave Tippett, who has two years remaining on his contract, and will not have an interim general manager while searching for a new GM.
Maloney came to the Coyotes in 2007 after serving as the assistant to New York Rangers GM Glen Sather. Two years after Maloney's hiring, former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy and the NHL took over operations.
Despite having far less resources than the rest of the league, Maloney was able to cobble together a winning team, bringing in gritty, low-salaried players who fit Tippett's defensive style of hockey.
The Coyotes lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, but rallied fans across the Valley of the Sun with an unexpected run to the 2012 Western Conference finals.
A new ownership group, led by LeBlanc and George Gosbee, stuck with Maloney after buying the team in 2013 and kept him as GM after Andrew Barroway bought 51 percent of the team in 2014.
But the Coyotes struggled with injuries to key players, particularly goalie Mike Smith, and have not finished higher than fourth in the Pacific Division the past four seasons.
Maloney orchestrated a rebuilding phase for the franchise last season, trading away several core players and their large contracts to give the team financial flexibility and the younger players in the system a chance to blossom.
Arizona lost out on a huge opportunity when it fell to third in last year's NHL draft lottery despite having the league's second-worst record the year before, costing it a chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. The Coyotes still managed to get a good player in center Dylan Strome, but he did not make the team out of training camp and was sent to Erie of the OHL.
Arizona got off to a strong start this season behind rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, who gave the team a much-needed boost of energy and speed. But injuries again plagued the Coyotes — Smith was out for an extended time — and inconsistent play knocked them out of playoff contention.
Arizona went 35-39-8 this season and finished fourth in the Pacific Division, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year despite earning 22 more points than last season.
"It's a results-oriented business and when you don't make the playoffs for four years, I think, as players, we're held accountable but sometimes other things happen," Smith said. "Moving forward, we want to get on the winning page and get back in the playoffs, so obviously someone takes the fall for it."
Maloney did leave the Coyotes in good shape.
Domi was among the NHL's best rookies and combined with Duclair to give Arizona the kind of speed and skill up front it hasn't had almost since moving to the desert in 1996.
Strome nearly made the team out of training camp this season and should compete for a spot next season and Arizona has a solid group of up-and-coming players in its system.
Even so, four straight seasons without making the playoffs was unacceptable to ownership and the players.
"This will probably take a day or two to understand what this means, figure everything out, but it's what happens in professional sports sometimes — there's changes," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "When it happens, you just have to deal with it and go from there."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.