Lindy Ruff was the first NHL head coach to be fired this season when the Buffalo Sabres decided to go in a new direction on Wednesday, and there's a chance we could see more coaching changes in the coming weeks.
There are several quality coaches available on the market, including Ruff, who could step in to a new team and lead them to the playoffs. Last season, Darryl Sutter took over the Kings in December and led the team to its first ever Stanley Cup championship.
These days, teams are not very patient with coaches. Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien is the longest-tenured head coach in the Eastern Conference, and he's only in his sixth season with the B's.
Even though we probably won't see eight head coach firings like last season, it's unlikely that Ruff will be the only guy to lose his job in 2013. Let's look at four coaches who could be fired soon if their teams continue to struggle.
Similar to last year, the Minnesota Wild once again started the season looking like a legitimate playoff contender in the Western Conference.
However, after an impressive shootout victory against the Chicago Blackhawks (the team with the league's best record) on January 30, the Wild have lost five of their last eight games.
Mike Yeo's team finished fourth in the Northwest Division last season with a record of 35-36-11. The Wild's offense ranked 30th in goals scored, so owner Craig Leipold decided to open his checkbook and sign two of the best offensive players in the game, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, for a combined $196 million.
The addition of two elite players—as well as top forward prospects Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle—has not resulted in a substantial improvement in the team's ability to score goals. Minnesota still ranks dead-last in scoring, and the team's power-play is 22nd.
Granlund and Coyle are two of the team's best young talents, and their development is crucial to the franchise's success now and well into the future. If Yeo is unable to get the most production and improvement from these kinds of players, the Wild should consider replacing him with a veteran coach.
The Wild don't have an ideal amount of talent on the blue line, but as a team, they have more than enough depth and quality to make the playoffs as a sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the West.
It will be interesting to see how patient the team's ownership is with Yeo if the Wild slide further down the standings and their chances of making the playoffs get smaller.
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher came into this season on the hot seat after his team performed well below expectations in 2011-12, just one year after losing 1-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Bruins.
The Lightning started 6-1 this season, but they have lost six of their last eight games, which has caused them to drop from third to eighth in the East.
The team's two biggest weaknesses last year were defense and goaltending, so general manager Steve Yzerman traded for young goalie Anders Lindback and signed free-agent defenseman Matt Carle. Despite the added talent on the blue line and between the pipes, Tampa Bay still ranks 23rd in goals against and has allowed three goals or more in 10 of its 17 games this season.
To be fair, Tampa Bay is on a two-game winning streak, but it has just one win against a team in the top five of the Eastern Conference standings. Thursday night's matchup with the Boston Bruins at home is a huge test for the Lightning.
Boucher is a good young coach, but failing to make the playoffs would not be acceptable because the Lightning are the highest-scoring team in the league with the third-best power-play. There is way too much talent at forward and on the blue line for this team to end up in the draft lottery.
If Boucher is unable to find ways for this team to improve defensively—resulting in the Lightning falling further down the East standings—don't be surprised if Yzerman makes a change.
Tampa Bay has to make sure that they compete for a championship while veterans such as Martin St. Louis and captain Vincent Lecavalier are still top-tier players.
How would you describe the 2013 season for the San Jose Sharks? Different year, same disappointing results.
A 7-0 start had everybody in San Jose thinking that this would finally be the year when the team takes that "final step" and becomes a champion. But San Jose has lost seven of its last eight games, and the team is 4-6 against teams in a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Todd McLellan's team is struggling offensively and has scored two or more goals in just one of its last 10 games. The Sharks rank 21st in goals scored despite having a wealth of quality top-six forwards.
McLellan has a more talented and deeper roster than he did last season, but the Sharks still look like a team that will barely make the playoffs and get dominated in the first round.
Whatever McLellan is saying in the locker room clearly isn't inspiring or motivating the team's veterans such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. These two superstars have two points each in their last eight games.
San Jose needs to start over and trade away their veterans for young players and draft picks. If that happens, it wouldn't be surprising to see McLellan fired mid-season, especially if the team falls out of the playoff picture in the West.
McLellan is now in his fifth season as the Sharks' head coach, and there's no reason to believe he can help this squad get to the Stanley Cup Final after failing multiple times in the past with stronger teams.
The New York Islanders finally appeared to be heading toward playoff contention this season when they started 4-3 with quality wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leads and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Starting with their loss to the Devils on February 3, the Islanders have lost seven of their last nine games, and look like the same lottery team we have seen in New York for the last decade.
The Islanders are still a long way from being a playoff team, and their last two defeats were good examples of why this is the case.
On Monday, New York lost 7-0 at home to a Philadelphia Flyers that is really struggling defensively (21st in GAA), then gave up three goals in a defeat to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, who were without their three-best offensive players because of injuries (Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek).
The Islanders are able to score at a high rate (9th in goals scored), but their defensive performance and goaltending (29th in GAA) have been poor, which isn't anything new with this team.
Head coach Jack Capuano is in his third season with the Islanders, and the team has improved very little during his tenure behind the bench. To win in the Atlantic Division, your goaltending and performance in the defensive zone have to be strong. Not only have the Islanders struggled to defend during Capuano's time as coach, they have arguably gotten worse.
The Islanders have eight players with a plus/minus rating of minus-six or worse, and as a team, they have allowed the most third-period goals (27) in the league. This is a young team that needs a disciplined, defensive-minded coach with a resume that includes playoff success.
If the Islanders continue to fall out of the playoff race, firing Capuano and giving an interim coach a chance to prove himself would be a smart decision by general manager Garth Snow.