5 NHL Coaches on the Hot Seat Entering 2013-14 Season
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Anyone looking for job security might want to avoid giving a head coaching position in the NHL a try. The shelf life doesn't seem to last much longer than it takes for a fresh loaf of bread to go stale.
Five of the league's 30 teams will begin the 2013-14 season with new head coaches—the Colorado Avalanche (Patrick Roy), Dallas Stars (Lindy Ruff), Edmonton Oilers (Dallas Eakins), New York Rangers (Alain Vigneault) and the Vancouver Canucks (John Tortorella).
Two teams—the Buffalo Sabres (Ron Rolston) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Jon Cooper)—have coaches who were hired late last season. Rolston replaced Ruff in February on an interim basis and had the interim tag removed in May; Cooper succeeded Guy Boucher in March.
Vigneault and Tortorella simply replaced each other in New York and Vancouver, respectively, after being let go after last season.
Previous success hardly guarantees longtime employment. The joke around the NHL is that winning the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year is tantamount to receiving a dreaded vote of confidence from management—also regarded as the proverbial kiss of death.
So the only unknown heading into the 2013-14 season isn't whether any NHL head coaches eventually will be handed their walking papers, but when the firings will take place and by which teams.
Here are five who could be in jeopardy.
5. Peter DeBoer, New Jersey Devils
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DeBoer guided the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, but they fell into the Atlantic Division basement last season. They could miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Lou Lamoriello became the team's president and general manager in 1987.
The Devils and Florida Panthers—DeBoer's previous employer—tied for the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (112 each) last season, and the Devils must find a way to better that number without the services of forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson.
Kovalchuk stunned the Devils when he retired in July before signing to play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Clarkson left as a free agent to join the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Devils likely can be counted on to receive top-notch goaltending from future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur and newcomer Cory Schneider, who was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in June for a first-round draft pick.
But New Jersey will struggle again on offense unless centers Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac return to their form of a couple of years ago. It remains to be seen how much free-agent pickup Jaromir Jagr, 41, has left in the tank; he was nursing a lower body injury when training camp began.
4. Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild
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The Wild ended a four-year absence from postseason play in Yeo's second season at the helm. After a hot start, Minnesota slumped badly down the stretch and needed a win in the final regular-season game against bottom dweller Colorado to secure the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Now the pressure is on to move the team onward and upward—no easy task in a realigned Central Division that includes the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues.
One summer after making a huge splash in the free-agent market—Zach Parise and Ryan Suter each received a 13-year, $98 million contract—general manager Chuck Fletcher had to pare his payroll, so valuable forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi are gone.
There should still be plenty of talent here with Parise, Suter, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, former Sabres captain Jason Pominville, rising star defenseman Jonas Brodin and goalie Niklas Backstrom.
Yeo promises a more uptempo style with an emphasis on puck possession from a Wild team that since its inception in 2000-01 has been known as a conservative, defense-oriented bunch. Barely squeezing into the playoffs and going out in the first round won't be good enough this time.
3. Claude Noel, Winnipeg Jets
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Is there a more rabid fanbase in the NHL than in Winnipeg?
The Jets can be expected to sell out all of their home games at the MTS Centre for the third season in a row since the franchise returned to the Manitoba capital following a 15-year absence. It's a nice story, but now the Jets need to make the playoffs.
The Jets have compiled a respectable 61-56-13 record in two seasons under Noel while playing in the far reaches of the Southeast Division after relocating from Atlanta. Travel was a headache, yet the Jets were a .500 team on the road last year and a mediocre 13-10-1 at home. They'll be less weary in both places thanks to realignment and a move to the Central Division.
The young Jets are led by forward Evander Kane, who has 47 goals over the past two seasons. They were fairly quiet in the offseason but did pick up Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi in trades. The Jets have high hopes for 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele and they're counting on a bounce-back season from goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
Noel signed a one-year contract extension through 2014-15 and now he has to deliver some postseason hockey for Winnipeg's deserving fans.
2. Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers
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The honeymoon could be over for Dineen, whose Panthers had the worst record (15-27-6) in the league last year.
They weren't even awarded the top pick in the NHL draft because the 29th-place Colorado Avalanche won the lottery. Dineen guided the Panthers to a surprising first-place finish in the Southeast Division the previous season before they lost a seven-game, first-round playoff series to the Devils.
The Panthers lost a staggering 340 man games to injuries, which certainly contributed to the team's disastrous season, and general manager Dale Tallon signed Tim Thomas in a desperate attempt to shore up his goaltending. Thomas won the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies in 2011 when he led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship, but he's 39 and coming off a one-year, self-imposed layoff.
The Panthers do have some good young talent in Calder Trophy-winning center Jonathan Huberdeau, Shawn Matthias and first-round pick Aleksander Barkov.
They're also leaning on a few guys who are getting a bit long in the tooth in defensemen Ed Jovanovski, 36, who had hip surgery in April, and Brian Campbell, 34. Center Scott Gomez, 33, who hasn't scored as many as 10 goals in four years, is hoping to get his career back on track.
1. Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia Flyers
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Laviolette has an impressive resume that includes a Stanley Cup championship with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and a trip to the Cup Final in 2010 with the Flyers, who lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
No shame there, but the Flyers have been sputtering since. They were bounced in the second round of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, and they missed the postseason last year with a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
Depending on your point of view, it could be a blessing or a curse that Flyers chairman Ed Snider recently gave his backing to Laviolette and general manager Paul Holmgren. Those dreaded votes of confidence have a way of turning sour. Laviolette and Holmgren can only hope a) for a good start out of the gate and b) that Snider's patience holds up if the Flyers stumble.
Injuries, mediocre goaltending and an 8-15-1 road record helped doom the Flyers last season.
They used a compliance buyout to part ways with disappointing goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and will go with the tandem of Steve Mason, who played well late in the year following a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Ray Emery, who signed a one-year contract as a free agent after posting a 17-1 record, 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage with the Blackhawks.
It was a career year for Emery, but Mason has struggled with consistency since winning the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year with Columbus in 2009.
It didn't take long for the injury bug to resurface.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux, the team's leading scorer the past three seasons, needed surgery in August to repair tendon damage in his right index finger sustained while he was playing golf. The Flyers expect Giroux will be ready when the season starts, and they'd better be right.
That won't be the case for defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, who is recovering from a concussion and will begin the year on the long-term injury list.
The Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning star center Vinny Lecavalier, 33, as a free agent and he should fit right in as the club's second-line center, assuming Giroux is healthy. Puck-moving defenseman Mark Streit also signed a free-agent deal, but at age 35 can he give the club's blue line corps the help it needs?