Staying or Going? NHL Teams That Have Head Coaching Decisions to Make

Abbey MastraccoContributor IMay 12, 2021

Staying or Going? NHL Teams That Have Head Coaching Decisions to Make

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes and the New York Rangers have already dismissed their head coaches, and a few other teams are expected to follow in the coming days.

    The Seattle Kraken have yet to hire a head coach, and a few teams bound for the postseason face coaching questions as well. Rod Brind'Amour is in the last year of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Dominique Ducharme still has the interim tag with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Certain coaches may have been afforded some leeway this season with multiple coronavirus outbreaks upending operations for a number of teams. The North Division in Canada has yet to finish up its slate because of a long shutdown with the Vancouver Canucks in March. But that won't affect the fates of some.

    Will teams take chances on younger coaches or look outside of North America for unfamiliar faces? Ask any coach and they'll tell you this is a copycat league. They all trade power-play and penalty-kill systems, and the same group of head coaches and general managers are generally recycled year after year.

    Most likely, there will be a mix of new and old. So, let's take a look at the 15 teams that will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs, two playoff-bound teams, and the expansion Seattle Kraken to try to predict who will be behind the benches next season. We'll go division by division, using the 2021 alignment.

Central Division

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Dallas Stars (2020-21 coach: Rick Bowness, 2021-22 coach: Rick Bowness)

    The 2020 Western Conference champs never had a chance to succeed. They were unable to start the season on time because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and they lost several top players to injuries, including top-line center Tyler Seguin, No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop and forward Alexander Radulov and defenseman Stephen Johns.

    The Stars' disappointing finish is no reason to get rid of Bowness, but how long will his leash be next season? Dallas' American Hockey League affiliate in Austin is coached by Neil Graham, who many believe to be a coach in waiting. With a new group of young players such as Ty Dellandrea and Thomas Harley nearly ready for NHL action, it might benefit the Stars to have a familiar presence behind their NHL bench.

    But for now, Bowness is still their guy.


    Detroit Red Wings (2020-21 coach: Jeff Blashill, 2021-22 coach: Jeff Blashill)

    Blashill has one more year left on his contract, and the Red Wings are still in the midst of an arduous rebuild, so there is little incentive to look to anyone else right now. Still, it wouldn't be surprising if general manager Steve Yzerman decided to fire him.

    Blashill was extended by Ken Holland, not Yzerman, and there has been little development over the past few seasons. But the lineup was depleted because of injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, so Blashill might get a pass for a 19-27-10 season and be able to coach out the rest of his contract.


    Chicago Blackhawks (2020-21 coach: Jeremy Colliton, 2021-22 coach: Jeremy Colliton)

    The Blackhawks made things competitive in the Central Division, but not having captain Jonathan Toews hurt, and Kirby Dach was only available for 18 games.

    This was a strange, in-between year for Chicago, with old-guard veterans from the dynasty days in Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw retired and younger players in Dach and Adam Boqvist ushering in a new era. The Blackhawks have made strides under Colliton. He is probably safe.


    Columbus Blue Jackets (2020-21 coach: John Tortorella, 2021-22 coach: Mike Vellucci)

    The Blue Jackets and Tortorella "mutually parted ways" Monday morning after a disappointing season. The belief in the industry is that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is going to look to more of a players' coach.

    Mike Vellucci, currently an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has that reputation. He also comes with a winning reputation, having won as a junior coach in the Ontario Hockey League and in the AHL, guiding the Charlotte Checkers to the 2019 Calder Cup Championship.

    The Blue Jackets paid Tortorella $2.5 million per year, which is below the market for the top coaches in the league, so an up-and-coming coach like Vellucci might be a more realistic target than a big name like Gerard Gallant.

East Division

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Buffalo Sabres (2020-21 coach: Ralph Krueger/Don Granato, 2021-22 coach: John Tortorella)

    The Sabres fired Ralph Krueger after 28 games, and Don Granato took over for the final 28. There were improvements under Granato, but based on comments made by star center and captain Jack Eichel, forward Sam Reinhart and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, it's easy to see the culture has eroded to the point of no return in Buffalo.

    Eichel said there is a "disconnect" between him and the organization. Ristolainen said he is "fine" with being traded. Reinhart said he doesn't want to go through a rebuild in his age-26 season. A clean slate is needed, and if anyone can shake things up, it's Tortorella.

    Tortorella has a reputation for being staunch and somewhat difficult to work with, even though those close to him insist he has a softer side. Eichel, Reinhart and Ristolainen may be headed out of Buffalo, but for those left, a softer side with a demand for accountability may be exactly what is needed to jumpstart the moribund Sabres franchise.


    New Jersey Devils (2020-21 coach: Lindy Ruff, 2021-22 coach: Lindy Ruff)

    This was never going to be a banner year for the Devils, another team in the middle of a rebuild. The season got off to a bad start when goalie Corey Crawford announced his sudden retirement. Then, there was a COVID-19 outbreak. Maybe New Jersey could have won more than 20 games had the Devils gotten a few more breaks, but they were never expected to be a playoff team.

    This was Ruff's first year, and the organization has been impressed with the way he has communicated with the young players, especially the defensemen. Rookie Ty Smith has proved to be the building block the Devils envisioned when they drafted him in 2018, and Damon Severson emerged as the team's best defenseman.


    New York Rangers (2020-21 coach: David Quinn, 2021-22 coach: Kris Knoblauch)

    David Quinn was lured away from Boston University in 2018 by general manager Jeff Gorton, who was suddenly fired a week ago. Development was supposed to be his calling card since so many of his former players came out of college NHL-ready, with Eichel being one of the best examples of his developmental abilities. But there has been criticism over how he has handled teenaged forwards Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere over the past two seasons. Quinn was fired as the Rangers' head coach Wednesday, leaving a glaring hole behind the bench for one of the NHL's premier teams.

    When Quinn was unavailable to coach because of COVID-19 protocols this season, Kris Knoblauch, the coach of the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Hartford, Connecticut, stepped in and led the Rangers to a 9-0 thrashing of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers and Kings, oddly enough the two teams from the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, have the two most talented prospect systems in hockey. It would make sense for Knoblauch to ascend to a higher rank as some of his players do as well.


    Philadelphia Flyers (2020-21 coach: Alain Vigneault, 2021-22 coach: Alain Vigneault)

    Things went sideways for the Flyers this year, but it was a flukey, pandemic season, so the club will need to figure out if the weird season is to blame or if certain players and systems failed. General manager Chuck Fletcher seems inclined to think it's the former, and he seems prepared to hang on to Vigneault for another season.

    "If adversity can help Carter Hart get better, then it can help Alain Vigneault get better," he said in his season-ending press conference this week. "Adversity can help the Flyers get better."

North Division

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    Calgary Flames (2020-21 coach: Geoff Ward/Darryl Sutter, 2021-22 coach: Darryl Sutter)

    Darryl Sutter famously told a room full of Angelenos he was shoveling cow manure when former Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi convinced him the first time around to come aboard. Hollywood theatrics, yes, but Hollywood glamour? Not so much.

    This time, there was no indication of what he was doing when Calgary's Brad Treliving asked him to leave his farm in nearby Viking, Alberta, to helm the Flames for the second time. But he has two more years left on his contract, so it's unlikely the Flames go in a different direction.


    Ottawa Senators (2020-21 coach: D.J. Smith, 2021-22 coach: D.J. Smith)

    The Senators are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and went 10-8-1 in the month of April. Brady Tkachuk led the team in scoring with 35 points in his age-21 season, and rookie Tim Stutzle had a strong season with 12 goals and 17 assists. This all bodes well for Smith, who is under contract through 2021-22.

    Not much was expected from the Senators this season, so there isn't much of a reason for general manager Pierre Dorion to let go of his coach at the moment. If Tkachuk and Stutzle regress next season, then maybe, but not right now.


    Vancouver Canucks (2020-21 coach: Travis Green, 2021-22 coach: Claude Julien)

    Contract negotiations appear to be going nowhere with Travis Green, despite the fact that general manager Jim Benning said he would like to extend Green back in March. Claude Julien, meanwhile, was fired from the Montreal Canadiens last season, and he's a coach who will find work if he wants it.

    Another intriguing option could be Julien's former assistant in Montreal, Kirk Muller, who recently said he would pursue a head coaching job for the second time (he previously coached Carolina from 2011-2014) on the 31 Thoughts podcast. Maybe the two end up being a package deal.

West Division

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    Hannah Foslien/Associated Press

    Anaheim Ducks (2020-21 coach: Dallas Eakins, 2021-22 coach: Dallas Eakins)

    Have we seen the last of Ryan Getzlaf? It seems strange to think of the Ducks without their longtime captain, but the 36-year-old center is about to be an unrestricted free agent. He could re-sign with the only organization he has ever played for professionally, but he has said he would like to take time before making a decision.

    Despite a dismal season and the possibility of losing the veteran leader, there is hope in Anaheim with talented young players Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, and even more hope in what should be a high draft pick. Bob Murray does not have a history of firing coaches on a whim, and he's a savvy enough general manager to be able to gauge where his team is most of the time.

    This is not the right time to make a big move in Anaheim. The Ducks are a couple of years away from being a playoff team again, so Eakins likely stays.


    Arizona Coyotes (2020-21 coach: Rick Tocchet, 2021-22 coach: Bruce Boudreau)

    Rick Tocchet is out. Bruce Boudreau should be in. He's gregarious, affable and approachable. He has an open-door policy with players, though he does like to communicate with younger players through his captains when necessary as many coaches tend to do. He's also a great quote, and the Coyotes always welcome more media and could use some good PR after an expose by The Athletic's Katie Strang detailed a disastrous culture within the organization.

    Boudreau is one of the best regular-season coaches out there. He does have a questionable playoff reputation, but he came a game away from the Stanley Cup Final with Anaheim in 2015. However, the playoffs don't matter unless you can get there, and Arizona has qualified only twice in 10 seasons. Boudreau has proved he can get teams to the postseason.


    Los Angeles Kings (2020-21 coach: Todd McLellan, 2021-22 coach: Todd McLellan)

    The Kings made strides in their rebuild this season but still very much looked like a rebuilding team. The club entrusted McLellan to guide the team through this phase, and there are reasons for optimism.

    After years of depleting the farm system to try to keep the championship window open, the prospect pipeline is now flowing. Top prospect Quinton Byfield recently made his NHL debut. Even at 33 years old, Anze Kopitar remains one of the more underrated two-way centers in the game, evidenced by how little fanfare the two-time Stanley Cup champ received for registering his 1,000th point.

    McLellan is the coach of the Kings now and in the future as the club tries to get back to where it was nearly a decade ago.


    San Jose Sharks (2020-21 coach: Bob Boughner, 2021-22 coach: Bob Boughner)

    It's not Bob Boughner's fault Martin Jones couldn't stop pucks. Bad goaltending and an aging core have left the Sharks in limbo. They were good enough to be competitive but not good enough to make the postseason.

    Goaltending was once again a problem for San Jose. The Sharks had the worst save percentage in 2018-19 (.889) and the second-worst in 2019-20 (.895) and 2020-21 (.896). That's not to excuse the defensive mess in front of him, but with two young goalies in Alexei Melnichuk and Josef Korenar coming up through the organization, Jones is facing the prospect of either getting traded or bought out by the team that traded for him in 2015.

    Whatever the case may be, Boughner's seat does not appear to be very warm.

The Others

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Seattle Kraken: Gerard Gallant

    Gerard Gallant took one expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, and he looks poised to try to repeat the feat with the Seattle Kraken.


    Montreal Canadiens: Dominique Ducharme

    Kirk Muller isn't French, so Dominique Ducharme made more sense for the Habs. Maybe the playoffs are make-or-break, but the choices are always limited in Montreal because of the requirement that the coach must speak French.


    Carolina Hurricanes: Rod Brind'Amour

    Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported a three-year extension at $1.8 million per year is in place with Rod Brind'Amour, a coach who has turned the 'Canes into one of the NHL's elite teams.


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