Solutions for Troubled NHL Coaches' Biggest Problems in 2013-14
The NHL standings show at least 25 fan bases who feel their team still have a chance at the playoffs. That creates pressure, and there are eight head coaches in the league who are on the hot seat.
For some the trouble comes from an aging roster and others are having a hard time winning with subpar goaltending. All of these men are facing major challenges this season.
Here are the obstacles for eight NHL coaches before the deadline.
8. Bob Hartley , Calgary Flames
What's Gone Wrong: The Flames are not a contender, and GM Jay Feaster resisted the idea of a rebuild. The club refused to give in to temptation and sell off assets. That all changed when Brian Burke came on board, which signaled the end for Feaster—along with putting Hartley on the hot seat.
Possible Solutions: It's a difficult position for a head coach, because the Flames will probably bring in a new General Manager sometime during 2014. This means Hartley is a sitting duck unless the Flames win more games, and with deadline trades looming that seems unlikely. The good news for Hartley may come in summer, as his team has performed well enough for him to have earned consideration for employment in another NHL city.
The Stakes: If Hartley is going to keep his job beyond this year, he'll need to be lucky in Calgary's choice of their next GM. That manager is likely going to want the freedom to choose his own coach, and Hartley's status as the incumbent puts him in a very difficult position.
7. Kirk Muller, Carolina Hurricanes
What's Gone Wrong: The Hurricanes are cursed with injuries this year, and have also endured poor performances from some of their best players. Joni Pitkanen was supposed to miss a few weeks, but he's now gone for the season. That's one example of things going awry for the team.
Possible Solutions: The Hurricanes have solved problems internally. Cam Ward is no longer their top goaltender, having lost the job to Justin Peters. There is talk GM Jim Rutherford will be active at the deadline. The club badly needs help on defense.
The Stakes: The good news is Carolina isn't far from a playoff position. The bad news is they are not alone. There are 13 teams in the Eastern Conference who could make the playoffs this season. Kirk Muller has been the coach for about 150 games, and the team hasn't made the playoffs in that time. Another failed season could mean a new coach.
6. Jack Capuano, New York Islanders
What's Gone Wrong: The Islanders goaltending has fallen apart this season. Compounding the issue, General Manager Garth Snow has been reluctant to acquire a better solution. The team gave up 139 goals in 48 games a year ago, but has given up 157 goals this season.
Possible Solutions: The Islanders have employed Evgeni Nabokov, Kevin Poulin and Anderss Nilsson so far this year. All three are well below league average for save percentage. This is a simple solution, and the excess of goaltending on the market wouldn't make the cost severe.
The Stakes: Jack Capuano is in his third season as Islander coach, and the club made the playoffs last season. The inertia on Long Island shouldn't result in firing the coach, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. It has been a curious campaign for the Islanders.
5. Peter DeBoer, New Jersey Devils
What's Gone Wrong: The Devils have seemingly spent the entire season in one goal games. The lack of offense is ruining a very effective defensive effort. New Jersey is the fourth toughest team to score on but can't take advantage because they can't score enough goals.
Possible Solutions: The Devils tried internal solutions like Reid Boucher, but can't get enough offense from their current group. The trade deadline is coming, and the Devils—despite their offensive frustrations—are in the thick of the playoff hunt. A trade for an impact offensive option would seem imminent.
The Stakes: DeBoer took the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. It is extremely unlikely he'd be let go by the team. However, Lou Lamoriello has been known to make curious coaching changes in the past, and New Jersey is all about winning. The club has forfeited their first round draft pick this summer, there's no reason to consider missing the postseason.
4. Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild
What's Gone Wrong: The Wild have endured a lot of injuries to key players. The list includes Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Josh Harding, among others.
Possible Solutions: If the Wild can survive until all these injuries are over, they should be fine. However, the absence of Koivu and Parise devastated the team up the middle, and after a fine start the season is beginning to crumble. The club is very likely looking outside the organization for goaltending and scoring help at the deadline.
The Stakes: The Wild took great steps to move away from being an expansion franchise and move into contending status. Dual signings of Ryan Suter and Parise were supposed to be the dawn of a new era. A playoff miss could mean Mike Yeo is replaced as coach in Minnesota.
3. Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators
What's Gone Wrong: The Predators are an exceptional defensive team, but they can't score. The 2013-14 season is identical to last year in goals for (111-113 after 48 games) and goals against (139-143). They are annually among the lowest scoring teams in the NHL, and that trend continues.
Possible Solutions: The Predators need more offensive weapons, and should be active in their pursuit of rental players. A recent trade saw them address goaltending (Devan Dubnyk from Edmonton) to cover for injury. The club made the deal because Edmonton held back half of the goalie's salary. This suggests the Predators plan to spend money at the deadline on offensive weapons.
The Stakes: Barry Trotz has been Nashville's coach since before the turn of the century. Last season, the club missed the playoffs for the second time in nine seasons. Another miss this spring could spell the end of Trotz in Nashville.
2. John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks
What's Gone Wrong: There is a lot wrong in Vancouver this season. The Sedins appear old, the goaltending is not a strength and the scoring has dried up. The Canucks look like an aging team hanging on, and are 20 points out of the lead in their division.
Possible Solutions: The Canucks don't have much internally that can help, so will probably have to look outside the organization to improve. A noxious loss to Anaheim this week has fans in a bad mood, and things could get worse.
The Stakes: John Tortorella comes with some baggage, but the payoff for all the hassle is winning. At this point in the season, Vancouver's record suggests the postseason isn't guaranteed. A playoff miss four years after making it the Stanley Cup Finals could mean the end of Tortorella's time in Vancouver. It might also signal a rebuild of the team.
1. Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs
What's Gone Wrong: The pressure in Toronto is incredible, and the Leafs had a terrific start. This came despite some real concerns about shot differential and luck, but the wins kept coming and life was good. After a 6-1 start, the Leafs are 18-19-4 and slipped down the standings. They've gone from first in the Eastern Conference to eighth, and are hanging on to the last playoff spot by a thread.
Possible Solutions: The Leafs are made over in the image of Randy Carlyle. They are truculent, difficult to outmuscle and play an aggressive brand of hockey. However, they don't have the puck very often, and that leads to being outscored a lot. Toronto led opponents 27-16 in the first seven games, but are 109-133 since then.
The Stakes: GM Dave Nonis is on record as saying Randy Carlyle's job is not in jeopardy. The Leafs and their fan base had high expectations entering the season. If Toronto misses the playoffs this year, Randy Carlyle could be in the job market come June.