Ranking the Top 'Coach Killers' in the NHL Today

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistDecember 13, 2015

Ranking the Top 'Coach Killers' in the NHL Today

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    NHL teams invest a lot of money into their top-end players with the expectation of performance and success. That success can sometimes be delayed or derailed based on a specific player's ability to cover the bet his contract implies in a cap world.

    When teams are underperforming, pressure begins to build on the coach. The players who are disappointing are often the same year over year, and those players become famous for slumps and difficult moments. As a result, they can kill their coach's career.

    Here are six players who have been identified by some as coach killers, and as an added bonus, we say whether this criticism is deserved.

6. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Is He Performing Well This Season? Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins had a tough start to the year and found himself under fire. His October performance was especially concerning, with an .889 save percentage proving it. 

    Will It Cost His Coach? Claude Julien is coaching a team in transition, which means he is more vulnerable this year than in most others. However, the team got healthy, and Rask's performances have improved in the last few weeks.

    Does He Deserve to be Called a Coach Killer? Goalies play a tough position, and when things are going badly, the spotlight shines on them. There is no rational argument for framing Rask as a coach killer.

5. Eric Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Is He Performing Well This Season? Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes is not scoring at previous levels and appears to be headed for a point total of less than 50. Staal has exceeded that plateau in every season since 2005-06—including the shortened 2012-13 campaign. 

    Will It Cost His Coach? Staal's role is still important, but he is no longer a franchise player. Bill Peters has his Hurricanes playing well in some important categories. The team appears to have turned a corner and is doing it with a younger group.

    Does He Deserve to be Called a Coach Killer? Staal is not delivering enough to justify his salary, but it is a stretch to call him a coach killer. The team will likely want to spend its cap dollars in another way beginning next season, which means Staal's time as a Hurricanes player may be coming to an end.

4. Ryan Johansen, C, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Is He Performing Well This Season? Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets is not scoring at established levels this season. Although the star forward is posting good numbers, he is off last year's 71-point pace. 

    Will It Cost His Coach? John Tortorella was brought in to turn around a disappointing start, and Johansen has been in and out of the coach's doghouse for most of the fall. As Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported in November, Johansen spent some time moving from the top line to the fourth line during portions of the year.

    Does He Deserve to be Called a Coach Killer? The Blue Jackets are acting like they are not convinced of Johansen and are in real danger here. If he is being held accountable for the slow start and there is doubt about him as a centerpiece of the future, it is likely he will be traded. The return for quality young players who are being shopped by their team is usually disappointing, though.

3. Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Is He Performing Well This Season? Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers is having a poor season. The impact winger has one goal and looks a shadow of the man who scored 81 points last year. 

    Will It Cost His Coach? Voracek's struggles are tied closely to the fortunes of Dave Hakstol, who is in his rookie season with the Flyers. It is almost impossible to know exactly where the blame lies, but both men are connected by failure this season.

    Does He Deserve to be Called a Coach Killer? The poor production by Voracek is his responsibility, and he is well off the pace. There are many games to come, and he can turn around his season with a strong second half. There is no other way to frame it as of this writing—he has been a terrible disappointment. 

2. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Is He Performing Well This Season? Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks is well off last year's point-scoring pace—he has only one goal this year. His shooting percentage—less than 2 percent this season—is reflective of the overall problem in Anaheim.

    Will It Cost His Coach? Bruce Boudreau is a veteran coach, and the Ducks were a popular preseason pick to win it all, so a lot of bad would need to happen for the coach to be fired. That said, the team's shooting percentage is in the ditch, dropping from just over 9 percent last year to over 6 percent in 2015-16.

    Does He Deserve to be Called a Coach Killer? The drop in production by Getzlaf is substantial, and he is certainly under the microscope. He is still an effective possession player, and at age 30 he should have many years of productivity. The smart bet: Getzlaf should recover over the rest of the season and put any question about his being a coach killer to rest.

1. Phil Kessel, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Is He Performing Well This Season? Phil Kessel is on pace for 26 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16, close to his 25 goals in the previous season. This should be considered in the range of reasonable expectations.

    Will It Cost His Coach? The Penguins fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday, as Frank Seravalli of TSN reported. Despite Kessel's consistent total, much more was expected from the impact winger. He was brought in as a perfect fit winger for Sidney Crosby, but Kessel did not have success with him at even strength—as shown by HockeyAnalysis.com.

    Does He Deserve to be Called a Coach Killer? Kessel does not deserve the title of coach killer, but it will be hard to avoid some of the blame now that the Penguins fired Johnston. One area worth looking at: Pittsburgh has paid a heavy price in an effort to bring in wingers to pair with Crosby. The list includes James Neal, Patric Hornqvist, David Perron and now Kessel. The lack of chemistry in this area has been a big story for the franchise.

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