Although there is still a little more than three-quarters of the regular season yet to come, the Washington Capitals are plainly underachieving with a 2-8-1 record for last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
This is coming after the franchise’s second coaching change in less than a year and its second straight dismissal from the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. However, at the time of last spring’s loss to the New York Rangers, there was more cause for solace than usual, in that it appeared Dale Hunter had sharply pivoted the Caps back in the right direction.
The McPhee era began in 1997-98 with a relatively surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals. The Caps rapidly retracted to irrelevance for nearly a decade thereafter but replenished expectations as Bruce Boudreau arrived amid the rise of Alexander Ovechkin.
But in four years behind the bench, Boudreau mustered only three playoff series wins and no trips beyond the halfway mark of the tournament. The franchise face Ovechkin, meanwhile, has often personified the team’s underachievement under Boudreau, Hunter and Oates alike.
The longer it takes Washington to snap out of its series of slumps, the faster the sand falls in McPhee’s hourglass. He leads off the list of general managers under the most pressure to put forth a better team so as to avoid joining Brian Burke among those who lost their post in 2013.
Besides McPhee, there are three other general managers who ought to be fidgeting for better results to ensure their employment’s continuation.
There may be others who are not exactly on appreciably solid ice, but these are the GMs with the most brittle margins for error given the states and recent track records of their respective teams.
In an effort to ensure that drought stops at four years in 2013, he offered Bob Hartley his first NHL coaching gig since 2007-08 and reeled in the likes of Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman this past summer.
In the young phases of the belated 2012-13 campaign, the new Calgary conglomeration has jelled well enough for a 3-3-2 start. The Flames are currently fourth in the Northwest Division after finishing second in that circuit each of the previous two seasons.
Granted, Feaster has had a shorter run in his current position than others, but this is a Canada-based team we are talking about. Burke was only given three-and-a-half seasons and one coaching change in Toronto, and Feaster has made too many tweaks of late to realistically survive another year lacking results.
The third of those misses, and second on Nieuwendyk’s watch, came when Dallas fell two points short of the last playoff passport behind Chicago in 2011. That led to a coaching change and a series of summer acquisitions, such as Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler, Michael Ryder and Sheldon Souray.
To his credit, Nieuwendyk went all out yet again over the summer of 2012 after a five-game regulation losing streak to finish 2011-12 brought on the fourth straight shortcoming. He imported three new forwards in Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney and a defenseman in Aaron Rome.
If that, on top of the 2011 summer spree, does not help to put Dallas in the top eight by the end of 2012-13, Nieuwendyk will not necessarily be discharged on the spot. However, in the event he still has his job after another swing-and-miss, the leash will be that much shorter entering 2013-14.
A slow start to that season on the heels of another nonplayoff campaign would mean melting his tenure, along with that of second-year head coach Glen Gulutzen, faster than a sundae in Texas heat.
Only the Toronto Maple Leafs, who just relieved the aforementioned Burke of his GM duties, and the Edmonton Oilers, who can be patient with a recent horde of high draft picks and other young acquisitions, are nursing longer playoff droughts.
Moreover, the New York Islanders have brooked five consecutive fifth-place finishes in the Atlantic Division.
In that time, dating back to his first year as GM, when they reached the 2007 tournament, Snow has replaced two coaches in Ted Nolan and Scott Gordon. Incumbent skipper Jack Capuano’s job security is anything but stable if there is no substantive improvement in his second full campaign behind the bench, and a third coaching change could mean a third strike for Snow.
In addition, by the end of this season, John Tavares, the top pick in the 2009 draft, will have been in the NHL for four years. Naturally, his first three have gone by without a playoff-caliber supporting cast.
Last summer’s free agency spree was lowlighted on Long Island by playmaker P.A. Parenteau leaving for Colorado. It was highlighted by the Isles bringing in Brad Boyes and, in the process, implicitly banking on that forward reviving his old form and replacing some of what was lost with Parenteau’s departure.
As it happens, Boyes is on a better pace than in recent years with a seven-point start through 10 games, but the team has lost three straight since a 4-2-1 start. For Snow’s sake, the former situation needs to hold up and the latter needs to turn back around to January form.