NHL Hot Seat Meter: Players, Coaches and GMs Already Under Pressure in 2013

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NHL Hot Seat Meter: Players, Coaches and GMs Already Under Pressure in 2013
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Sports is a "What have you done for me lately?" kind of business, and there are many players, coaches and general managers already on the hot seat after a disappointing first week of the 2013 NHL season.

Expectations are high for all 30 teams, even those that can't consider making the playoffs a top priority.

Let's look at some players, coaches and general managers who are already under pressure early in the new season.

 

Players

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin finally scored his first goal of the season on Sunday, but he has not made the kind of impact offensively that new head coach Adam Oates hoped for to begin the year.

Ovechkin has one goal and one assist through five games, and has a plus/minus rating of minus-2. He's not playing well defensively, and he's not creating enough scoring chances on offense with just over three shots per game.

Since he played so well in the KHL during the lockout, Ovechkin's struggles in the early part of the new NHL season are surprising.

Washington's goaltending hasn't been very good this season, which puts even more pressure on Ovechkin to score goals. Oates even tried putting his superstar forward at right wing, but it didn't produce better results.

Ovechkin's scoring totals have declined in three straight seasons, and if he doesn't improve quickly, this trend is not going to change.

The Capitals need him to play at a consistently high level for the team to earn a playoff spot in a very competitive Eastern Conference. When Ovechkin struggles, Washington is not hard to play against.

 

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

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Phil Kessel has under-performed in the first week of the season, and now that star forward Joffrey Lupul is going to miss several weeks recovering from a broken forearm, the Maple Leafs need the 25-year-old winger's performance to improve quickly.

Kessel has scored zero goals with two assists in five games after scoring nine goals in the first eight games of last season.

He has zero points against top teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres. He also hasn't scored a point since the season-opener versus Montreal.

He was completely shut down by the physical Rangers defense in the Leafs' 5-2 defeat on Saturday night and could not make an impact when facing the Blueshirts' top-pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.

Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle even put Kessel on the second line, but he still couldn't generate any offense.

Kessel's 24 shots on goal are the second-most in the NHL, but he needs to start finding the back of the net. With the way the Leafs defense and goaltending are playing right now (23rd in goals against), Toronto needs to score three or four goals each game just for a chance to win.

After scoring 82 points in 82 games last season and becoming an elite goal scorer, Leafs fans expected a career year from Kessel but so far he has disappointed.

 

Jason Garrison, Vancouver Canucks

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The Vancouver Canucks made a major move during the summer to sign offensive defenseman Jason Garrison to a six-year, $27.6 million contract, but he hasn't lived up to expectations thus far.

The 28-year-old star has zero points through five games, and his poor start to the season is one reason why the Canucks' blue line has struggled to be productive offensively. Dan Hamhuis and Alexander Edler are the only Vancouver defensemen with points this season.

Garrison scored 16 goals last season, and six of them came on the power-play. He has been unable to make that same kind of impact on the Canucks power-play, which has scored just six goals on 29 attempts.

 

Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers

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You won't find a another goaltender in the NHL under more pressure and who must deal with more criticism on a daily basis than Philadlephia Flyers No. 1 netminder Ilya Bryzgalov.

His defensemen in front of him have under-performed this season, but Bryzgalov has also not lived up to expectations. He has allowed too many soft goals and is unable to play well on a consistent basis.

However, Bryzgalov looked fantastic in his last two games with just one goal allowed in each, and the Flyers won both of those games.

After starting the season 2-4, the Flyers need Bryzgalov to play like an elite goaltender while the team adjusts to new lines and defensive pairings caused by injuries to several of its top forwards and defensemen.

If he can go on a winning streak and build some confidence in himself and his teammates with consistently strong performances, the pressure on Bryzgalov will lessen.

 

Coaches

Lindy Ruff, Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres are 2-3 to start the season. There aren't any major reasons for the team to panic, but head coach Lindy Ruff is under plenty of pressure to lead his team back to the playoffs.

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Ruff is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, but his Sabres have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since they made the Eastern Conference finals during the 2006-07 season.

Buffalo has also missed the playoffs in three of the last five years, and six of the last 10 seasons with Ruff behind the bench.

If the Sabres go another season without playoff hockey, they should fire Ruff and move in a different direction.

 

Todd Richards, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets are 1-3-1 and appear to be a last-place team as most expected. If Todd Richards is unable to help the team's best young players improve, Columbus would be wise to find a new head coach in the offseason.

Columbus ranks 29th in goals scored, 23rd in goals against, 24th in power-play percentage, and there is little hope that the team will improve much in any of these areas throughout the season.

This is a critical time in the Blue Jackets' history as an NHL franchise, and if they don't show some improvement soon, the team's rebuild will be even longer.

Columbus has made the playoffs just one time in its history. Even though no one is expecting the Blue Jackets to return to the postseason this year, Richards should be fired in the summer if management feels that the team isn't headed in the right direction.

 

Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs

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With a new general manager and new owners, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle is under a lot of pressure to lead his team into the playoffs in his first full season behind the bench.

The Leafs are 2-3 at the bottom of the Northeast Division and have lost a lot of crucial points in the standings by not being able to protect leads in the first week of the new season.

The same problems that plagued the Leafs last year (goaltending, defense, scoring depth, toughness) haven't been resolved, and Carlyle still doesn't have the right team to play his physical style of hockey.

It's very possible that the Leafs could finish last in the division for the fourth time in the last six seasons, and if that happens, Carlyle might not have a job in the summer.

Carlyle could still keep his job if Toronto contends for a playoff spot throughout the season and the team's best young players develop as planned, but those are two challenging goals for him to accomplish.

 

General Managers

Mike Gillis, Vancouver Canucks 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Canucks GM Mike Gillis (right).

Mike Gillis has not made a lot of good roster decisions over the last few years as Vancouver Canucks general manager.

His decision to acquire defenseman Keith Ballard via a trade with the Florida Panthers was a poor one. The trade that sent young winger David Booth from the Panthers to the Canucks also hasn't worked out.

Even though Zack Kassian has played well to start the season, the Canucks would be better off with Cody Hodgson on their roster as the team's second line center while Ryan Kesler recovers from offseason surgery. Hodgson was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Kassian at last year's trade deadline.

The Canucks' major free agent signing of the offseason, defenseman Jason Garrison, has not made the kind of impact Gillis thought he would.

Gillis is also under a lot of pressure to find the right trade involving star goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has a decade left (including this season) on his contract with a $5.3 million cap hit. Finding a team willing to acquire Luongo and give the Canucks a quality player/prospect in return will likely be difficult.

Gillis' management of the salary cap also hasn't been well done. Right now, the Canucks have 12 players with a salary cap hit of $4 million or more when the cap ceiling drops to $64.3 million the first full season of the new CBA.

Gillis has not been able to build a better roster in Vancouver after his team was beaten in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final by the Boston Bruins. If the Canucks' 2013 season ends with another disappointing playoff loss, management would be smart to reconsider his future with the team.

 

Jay Feaster, Calgary Flames

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The Calgary Flames are 1-2-1 and do not look like the playoff contender that the team hoped it would be after the offseason free agent signings of defenseman Dennis Wideman and forwards Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka.

Calgary has struggled defensively to start the season, ranking 25th in goals against and 27th in penalty kill percentage.

Feaster has made several moves over the last few years to help the Flames return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. The team likely would have been better off stockpiling draft picks and young prospects for a full rebuild.

If the Flames fail to make the playoffs this year, the team should force Feaster to enter a rebuild or replace him with someone capable of doing what's best for Calgary's future.

A rebuild for the Flames in the near-future is inevitable, so there's no point delaying when the team is nowhere close to being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

 

Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks

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Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray has a difficult challenge of re-signing the team's two best players (forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) before the trade deadline or he risks losing them in free agency on July 5.

Murray should try to re-sign Getzlaf and/or Perry well ahead of the April 3 deadline so if he needs to move one of these superstars, he will have enough time to find the best deal to help the Ducks rebuild.

At the moment, there are no reports that either player wants to leave Anaheim, and under the rules of the new CBA, the Ducks can offer a longer contract (eight years) to Perry and Getzlaf than can any other team.

Since the Ducks have plenty of cap space for next season, Murray should also be able to give these stars the amount of money they will desire.

No general manager in the NHL is under more pressure to re-sign a franchise player(s) than Murray.

 

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