Last night, as we come around the one-third mark of the 2009-10 NHL season, our first coach was fired in John Stevens of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Stevens was not exactly doing a terrible job (13-11-1 record), but the Flyers were supposed to be Cup contenders this year and just floating above the .500 record in a league seemingly flooded with mediocrity this season does not resemble a team intending to play into June. If not for the expectations, Stevens would still be around today. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said the team needed a new voice.
He is the first coach to be fired this season, but as history tells us, he certainly will not be the last. Last season six head coaches were fired during the season, half of which were canned in February, which is in just two months.
For numbers sake, let's say six get fired again this season, which means five more will file their unemployment papers this winter. Which five coaches are the most likely?
As I was writing this list, I realized some of the names will probably drop some jaws and turn some heads. But if you can find me another five coaches who are leading teams with decent rosters to underachievement, I'd love to meet them.
1. John Tortarella, New York Rangers- You're going to tell me a coach that has a relationship like Tortarella has with the media isn't going to be on the hot seat? The media has fired coaches before, just ask Willie Randolph (MLB). I can't say with a straight face that the Rangers are underachieving this year, but it's New York City. Winning is demanded, and if you're not winning or playing sound defense—the Rangers are 22nd in goals allowed—there will be problems.
2. Paul Maurice, Carolina Hurricanes - The honeymoon period won't last much longer in Raleigh. Sure, Maurice led the Cardiac 'Canes to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, but they are an awful 6-17-5 this season. They're one of only three clubs to allow 100 goals so far this season (hint: neither of the other two are very good either, Florida and Toronto), and they are dead last in offensive output with just 67 goals. If this team doesn't at least start playing around .500 hockey, Maurice could and should be gone.
3. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings - If you count OTL's, the Red Wings are two games under .500 a third of the way through the season. Think it's time to hit the panic button?
If the season ended today, the Red Wings wouldn't of made the playoffs for the first time since 1990. With a lineup that includes Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, that's a problem. Their goals for (19th in league) and goals against (14th in league) are mediocre.
In Babcock's Red Wings tenure, he's never failed to lead Detroit to less than 50 wins. This season, they're looking at about 40. Talk about firing a coach like Babcock to wake up a team like the Red Wings who could use the extra revenue that is created by going deep into the playoffs again, especially in a hurting economy like Detroit. I don't see this firing happening unless this struggle continues past the halfway point, but if it does, the firing will not surprise.
4. Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs - The Leafs just haven't been good with Wilson behind the bench. 14th in the East ahead of only... you guessed it, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs have only won 34 games last season. I'm sure Kessel in the picture will give them a bit of a boost offensively, and I'm fully aware that their goaltending situation is god awful, and can you really blame poor goaltending on the coach?
The Leafs roster is stocked with young players—only 7 of the 27 players listed on ESPN's Maple Leafs roster page are 30 or older—and if they continue to show slight improvement throughout the season that will probably save Ron Wilson his job. But if they go into a terrible losing skid, they may need to change the face behind the bench just for the kids' sakes.
5. Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks- The Ducks haven't been anything fantastic since their 2007 Stanley Cup year. The Ducks offense this year is absolutely stacked in Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Selanne (until he got hurt), but their defense has been just terrible. And with two decent goalies such as Giguere and Hiller, this team should not be in last place in the Pacific Division. Strongly considering the underachievement of a pretty nice roster, coupled with the fact Carlyle hasn't done much with the Ducks since the 2007 Cup run, it may be time for him to go.
Now let me also state, I hope none of these coaches get fired (not even Tortarella, no matter if he's my rival team's head coach or not). Unemployment is not something to ever wish upon someone, especially in these difficult economic times.
But if you're one of those sick people who plays that online game where you predict celebrity deaths in a fantasy "pool" type setting, you're probably also trying to predict who gets fired this hockey season (Shame on you if you yell for joy when someone gets fired because it put some betting money in your pocket!). But if you bet on these five, you're money is probably more safe than not.
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