10 NHL Coaches and General Managers Who Could Be on the Hot Seat in 2020-21
The NHL began its abbreviated 56-game 2020-21 season on Jan. 13. For several coaches and general managers, this campaign could determine their ongoing employment.
Some, such as Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, are under pressure to guide their respective clubs to a championship. Others, such as San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, face scrutiny to keep their aging clubs in playoff contention.
Here's a look at the NHL coaches and general managers who could find the spotlight hotter than usual in 2020-21.
Jeff Blashill, Head Coach, Detroit Red Wings
Jeff Blashill became the Detroit Red Wings' head coach in 2015-16, and he's kept his job even though the Wings dropped to the bottom of the standings during his tenure.
That doesn't mean Blashill is to blame for the Wings' woes. He took over as coach when the club began a roster rebuild under general manager Ken Holland, which continued when Steve Yzerman succeeded Holland in 2019. Blashill has done the best he could with rosters of aging veterans and inexperienced youngsters.
This season, the Wings are attempting to climb out of the NHL basement and make strides toward playoff contention. Yzerman has built the roster around young core players such as Dylan Larkin (24), Tyler Bertuzzi (25) and Anthony Mantha (26). It will be up to Blashill to guide this roster toward its potential. Another season languishing at the bottom of the standings could cost him his job.
Marc Bergevin, General Manager, Montreal Canadiens
Marc Bergevin has been the Montreal Canadiens general manager since 2012. They performed well during his early years on the job, finishing as division champions in 2012-13, 2014-15 and 2016-17, as well as advancing to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. However, their struggles over the past three seasons cast Bergevin into a harsher light.
The Canadiens missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 and only reached the 2020 tournament because of the expanded postseason format under the return-to-play plan. Bergevin faced criticism in recent years for trading captain Max Pacioretty and popular defenseman P.K. Subban, as well as shipping defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for inconsistent winger Jonathan Drouin and a swap of draft picks.
Canadiens owner Geoff Molson has stuck with Bergevin and his plans to retool the roster.
During the offseason, Bergevin acquired wingers Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, goaltender Jake Allen and defenseman Joel Edmundson. Youngsters Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Alexander Romanov have shown plenty of potential. Nevertheless, Bergevin's job could be in jeopardy if his offseason moves fail to pay off.
Paul Maurice, Head Coach, Winnipeg Jets
Paul Maurice is in his 23rd season as an NHL head coach and his eighth behind the Winnipeg Jets bench. Over the past three seasons, Maurice helped turn the Jets into a perennial playoff contender. This season, however, could be the most consequential of his tenure.
The high point for Maurice and the Jets came in 2017-18. With a franchise-record 52 wins and 114 points, they finished second in the Western Conference standings. The Jets then went on their deepest playoff run in franchise history, reaching the 2018 Western Conference Final before falling to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Since then, however, the Jets have struggled to reach the same heights. They were eliminated from the opening round of the 2019 playoffs by the St. Louis Blues and bounced from last year's qualifying round by the Calgary Flames.
The Jets enter this season with a depleted defensive corps and questions about their depth at center, and Maurice could suffer the consequences if they fall short again.
Stan Bowman, General Manager, Chicago Blackhawks
Stan Bowman enjoyed a remarkable run in the early years of his tenure as Chicago Blackhawks general manager. After he took over the job in July 2009, the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015. In December, he was named president of hockey operations as well.
However, the club's rapid decline in recent years can also be laid at Bowman's feet.
Since their most recent championship run, the Blackhawks lost in the first round in 2016 and 2017 and missed the playoffs the following two seasons. They only qualified for the 2020 playoffs because of the expanded return-to-play format, upsetting the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round before falling in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.
Bowman's signing of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook to expensive long-term contracts left the Blackhawks without cap space. Over the years, that led to the departures of notable players such as Artemi Panarin, Teuvo Teravainen and Niklas Hjalmarsson in cost-cutting deals. The Blackhawks are rebuilding, but Bowman could face consequences if they fail to progress this season.
Mike Sullivan, Head Coach, Pittsburgh Penguins
Taking over as Pittsburgh Penguins head coach partway through 2015-16, Mike Sullivan guided the club to two consecutive Stanley Cup championships. That was a feat last achieved by the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, and Pittsburgh's Cups vaulted Sullivan into the ranks of the NHL's top active coaches.
The Penguins followed up with 100-point performances in 2017-18 and 2018-19 but were eliminated in the second round by the Washington Capitals in 2018 and swept from the opening round the following year by the New York Islanders. Last summer, they were upset in the qualifying round by the underdog Montreal Canadiens.
General manager Jim Rutherford is attempting to keep open the Penguins' championship window by building around aging stars Sidney Crosby, 33, Evgeni Malkin, 34, and Kris Letang, 33. However, it's Sullivan who bears the burden of whipping this roster into a Cup contender.
Kyle Dubas, General Manager, Toronto Maple Leafs
Promoted to Toronto Maple Leafs general manager in 2018, Kyle Dubas became the second-youngest active GM at age 32. Tasked with completing team president Brendan Shanahan's vision of building the Leafs into a Stanley Cup champion, Dubas has taken criticism over the past two years for his club's early postseason exits.
Under Dubas, Leafs youngsters Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have blossomed into stars. In 2018, he stunned the hockey world by signing former New York Islanders captain John Tavares to a seven-year deal. Nevertheless, the Leafs were eliminated from the opening round of the 2019 playoffs by the Boston Bruins and upset in last year's qualifying round by the Blue Jackets.
Dubas' critics point to his inability to improve Toronto's defensive corps and checking-line depth. His signings of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares to expensive new contracts left limited cap space to address his roster weaknesses.
The GM will feel the heat if the Leafs make another early playoff exit.
Rick Tocchet, Head Coach, Arizona Coyotes
Following a successful tenure as an assistant coach with the Penguins, Rick Tocchet became the Arizona Coyotes head coach in 2017.
The rebuilding Coyotes made steady progress under Tocchet but failed to qualify for the postseason in his first two seasons behind the bench. They made the cut last year because of the expanded field. The Coyotes upset the Nashville Predators in the qualifying round but were eliminated from the first round by the Colorado Avalanche—notably losing 7-1 in Games 4 and 5.
The Coyotes changed general managers last year, replacing John Chayka (who hired Tocchet) with Bill Armstrong. Tocchet remained in his job, but Armstrong could decide to bring in his own man if the club falls short of a playoff berth this year.
Bob Murray, General Manager, Anaheim Ducks
In his 13th season as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, Bob Murray is facing what could be the most significant year of his tenure. With his club having missed the playoffs the past two seasons, Murray opted not to rebuild but instead tinkered with his lineup, hoping his core has what it takes to become a postseason contender.
The Ducks were a powerhouse in the Western Conference from 2012-13 to 2016-17, finishing on top of the Pacific Division in each of those five seasons. In recent years, however, they have tumbled toward the bottom of the standings.
Murray's stuck with his core of goalie John Gibson, defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Josh Manson, and forwards Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and aging captain Ryan Getzlaf. He's added young players such as Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Max Comtois, but they have struggled to establish themselves.
His job may depend upon a playoff appearance.
John Tortorella, Head Coach, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have enjoyed their best seasons under John Tortorella. Since he took over as bench boss early in 2015-16, they had three straight seasons with 97 or more points, including a franchise-best 108 points in 2016-17. They also reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 2019.
A two-time winner of the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year, Tortorella took home the prize the second time for that remarkable turnaround in the Jackets' fortunes in 2016-17. However, this season could determine whether he still fits into their long-term plans.
Tortorella is in the final year of his contract and could seek a significant raise. On Jan. 13, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline suggested it's uncertain if the club will pay market value to retain his services. If the Jackets fail to rise in the standings or advance past the second round, Tortorella could be job hunting this summer.
Doug Wilson, General Manager, San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks entered 2019-20 hoping to win the Stanley Cup after reaching the 2019 Western Conference Final. Instead, a combination of injuries to key players, poor goaltending and lousy defensive play sent them tumbling to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Rather than shake things up, general manager Doug Wilson is hoping for a bounce-back performance this season.
Hired by the Sharks in 2003, Wilson is the second-longest serving active NHL GM, behind only Nashville's David Poile. During his tenure, they have missed the playoffs only twice. The first time, in 2014-15, they rebounded by reaching the Stanley Cup Final the following season.
History could repeat itself, but that seems unlikely. Salary-cap limitations prevented Wilson from making significant changes. Erik Karlsson (thumb) and Tomas Hertl (knee) had been hampered by injuries before this season. Several core players key to their 2015-16 turnaround, such as Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, are five years older.
Wilson could be seeking new employment if the Sharks fall short again.