10 NHL Coaches on the Hot Seat at the End of October
Times are always tough for NHL coaches. They have 300 minutes of ice time per game to give to the 18 guys on their roster, who are all used to playing at least 20 minutes per game. They’ve got to convince guys from different languages and rival nations to play a team game. And if the team can’t stay in the top half of the league, they’re considered a failure.
Over the course of a season, there are always a few coaches who are “relieved” of their duties behind the NHL bench. While only four NHL teams are more than three points out of playoff position, there are already some coaches who are feeling the pressure as the calendar turns to November.
Brent Sutter (Calgary)
The Flames were coming off five consecutive playoff berths when they hired Brent Sutter. Sutter was, himself, coming off consecutive playoff berths with the New Jersey Devils when he left the Garden State to join his brother Darryl in Calgary.
Yet, after two consecutive 10th place finishes, little has gone right in Calgary over Sutter’s two-plus seasons behind the bench. Dion Phaneuf crashed and burned to the point where a trade was necessary. The Bouwmeester situation is worse, as he has just eight goals in 171 games with Calgary after scoring 15 in his final season in Florida. And while Jarome Iginla has 78 goals over the last two years, no other Flame has had a 30 goal season during that time and only three (Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay) have topped 20.
With Darryl Sutter gone from the organization, the leash for his younger brother continues to get shorter and shorter. And now that Brent’s Flames are off to a slow start, currently sitting 14th in the Western Conference and ranking in the bottom half of the NHL in Goals, Power Play and Penalty Kill, a change may not be far off the horizon for Calgary.
Peter Laviolette (Philadelphia)
Laviolette is kind of the opposite of Sutter. He won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and in just under two seasons with the Flyers, Laviolette has guided them to the Stanley Cup Final and an Atlantic Division title in consecutive seasons. With that kind of a record, you’d think any coach would be safe. Not in Philadelphia.
Owner Ed Snider’s win-now mandate led to the jettisoning of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the so-called pillars of the franchise, in favor of Ilya Byzgalov. Nearly half of the opening night roster (nine of 20 players) had never suited up for the Flyers during the regular season.
Now, combine that rate of turnover with Laviolette’s grating style and generally short shelf life (just over three years per team despite making the playoffs 50 percent of the time), and you have the recipe for a hot seat.
A fast start that pegged the Flyers as contenders has quickly devolved into a schizophrenic reputation. In wins, they’re averaging 4.33 goals for and 1.83 against. In losses, they’re averaging 3.00 goals for and 5.2 against.
While some disparity is to be expected between wins and losses, those numbers cannot remain that disparate, particularly the goals against. Laviolette need to get his team to run more of an even keel. If they continue to show this kind of up and down play, expect the losses to keep piling up and that hot seat to become scorching.
Scott Arniel (Columbus)
Generally, first year coaches have more leeway than others, especially ones taking over a team that had a losing record the year before. Heck, even John MacLean got 33 games to drive a division winner into the ground last year. But if Scott Arniel can’t feel the heat right now, he’s not in the kitchen.
Columbus, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, decided to open the checkbook this offseason, trading for Jeff Carter, signing James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal, and giving R.J. Umberger a pricey extension. They also allowed Mathieu Garon to walk in an attempt to give Steve Mason more confidence.
Unfortunately, those moves have resulted in these numbers: 23rd in goals for, 28th in goals against, 29th on the Power Play and 30th on the Penalty Kill. The cherry on top of this bad stats sundae is the last place ranking in the standings that they enjoy right now.
Yes, Jeff Carter has been injured since the fifth game of the season. And James Wisniewski has missed all but the last four games. But there are no excuses for winning just two out of your first 12 games. Especially when you have someone as talented as Rick Nash on your team.
John Tortorella (NY Rangers)
No American-born coach has more wins than Tortorella. However, no Eastern Conference team has fewer wins this season than the New York Rangers this season.
Torts, since taking over for Tom Renney near the end of the 2008-09 season, has led the Rangers to the playoffs twice. That’s the good. The bad is that they’ve won a total of four games in those two playoff series, and he hasn’t coached a team past the quarterfinals since the lockout.
Like the Blue Jackets, the Rangers opened up their wallet this offseason, handing Brad Richards $60 million to pass the puck to Marian Gaborik. While they’ve combined for a symmetrical eight goals and eight assists through nine games, they haven’t been the world beaters the Rangers need. The 24th ranked offense continues to sputter with only one Ranger, other than the two above, averaging more than a point every other game.
Despite all that, the Rangers are still tied for third, with the Devils, in the Atlantic. With the fifth place Islanders only a single point behind, though, they could very quickly slip from that position. Even so, Brad Richards wasn’t added so that this team could squeak into the playoffs again. If they can’t get going offensively, don’t be surprised to see Tortorella get axed.
Jacques Martin (Montreal)
Last week, I wouldn’t have had to explain this one at all. Three consecutive wins, during which Carey Price allowed four goals, have pretty much saved Jacques Martin’s job at this point. Of course, the Canadiens are still only 4-5-2, so don’t believe for a second that troubled waters have passed.
To be fair, a lot of the expectations for Martin’s team are based upon their conference final appearance in 2010. That has completely overshadowed the fact that the team has won 51 percent of its games over the last two seasons, finishing eighth and sixth respectively.
Additionally, while it could be argued that Martin has fostered the emergence of James Wisniewski, P.K. Subban and Carey Price as stars, his system seems to have stifled his forwards. No player has scored 30 goals in Martin’s two years and only one has surpassed sixty points.
The last thing working against Martin is that he coaches for possibly the most prestigious club in the NHL. The only coaches to last four seasons behind the bench of Les Habitants since the Great Depression are Dick Irvin, Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman and Pat Burns. If any team has a better list, I can’t name them.
Recently, that leash has tightened. Guy Carbonneau was fired less than a year after leading the Canadiens to the best record in the East. Claude Julien was at 161 games behind the bench and had a winning record when he was fired in 2006. Jacques Demers was fired in 1995 after an 0-5 start, but barely more than two years after winning the Stanley Cup.
The point here is that Martin is right in that zone where Montreal coaches get the gate. His team bowed out early last year, failing to close out the Bruins, and has come out weakly this season. If they can’t continue to turn it around, Martin could be scanning the wanted ads.
Peter DeBoer (New Jersey)
This has less to do with the lukewarm start of the Devils and more to do with the happy trigger finger that Lou Lamoriello has with coaches. Here’s the list of coaches who’ve coached at least 164 consecutive games for the Devils since 1990: Jacques Lemaire, Pat Burns, Brent Sutter. In that time, they’ve had 12 coaches. Lou Lamoriello has also replaced four coaches midseason since 2000.
The most encouraging thing for DeBoer is the fact that Lou held off on firing John MacLean for a whole 33 games. As DeBoer has already won four games with his Devils, expect Lou to give him at least the same leash that MacLean got.
That being said, DeBoer has yet to translate his Junior-level success (12 winning seasons in 13 years) to the NHL. His Devils are tied with the Bruins, Blue Jackets and Wild for fewest Regulation/overtime wins in the league and only Ottawa has derived more points from the shootout. Through nine games, they’ve surpassed three goals just once, and are averaging a paltry 2.0 goals per game. That would be fine if their defense were superb. But they’ve allowed 2.6 goals per game this year, just 15th in the NHL.
After last year’s strong finish, expectations were (unfairly) high for this team entering the season. They’ve yet to find the same rhythm that made them the NHL’s hottest team, with their only wins coming against offensively middling clubs Carolina (16th in goals per game), Los Angeles (20th) and Nashville (20th).
If they can’t find a way to get that offense up at least to the 2.5 per game mark, DeBoer will be Lou’s latest victim. While it probably won’t happen in November, if Lou thinks the team is struggling, he certainly won’t wait any longer than he did with MacLean.
Bruce Boudreau (Washington)
I don’t necessarily feel that this one is deserved, but, deserved or not, Boudreau will be on the hot seat all season.
The reason for this is simple: Boudreau has compiled a 196-81-39 record in the regular season for a 62.0 winning percentage. In the playoffs, Boudreau has a 17-20 record for a 45.9 winning percentage.
While the struggles of Boudreau’s team in the playoffs have been well-documented, I felt that the stats were worth bringing up. A 7-0 start has been quickly followed by two straight losses during which their PK has allowed four goals.
Enough to get him fired? Not really. But people will look closely any time the Capitals struggle. If this team drops into a prolonged funk at any time, Boudreau won’t have much time to pull them out of it before he gets the gate.
Davis Payne (St. Louis)
Davis Payne came into a tough situation. He inherited a team in 2009-10 that had little to no chance at making the postseason and guided them to a 23-15-4 record down the stretch. He coaches in a division where three of the five teams have made the playoffs each of the last three seasons, and each have won at least one playoff series in that time. He coaches one of the youngest teams in the league, and both last year and this year it has dealt with terrible injury issues. But, with zero playoff appearances since his promotion, and a slow start this year, his butt sits squarely in the hot seat.
Payne has been unable to get much production this year out of the streaky youngsters that populate the Blues. Despite being second among Blues forwards in ice time, Chris Stewart has only contributed two goals.
T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Patrik Berglund have put up a respectable 14 points combined, but more is expected of them. To be successful, the Blues need to get at least 100 goals and 230 points total from Stewart, Oshie, Backes and Berglund. They’ll also need Jaroslav Halak to provide at least a respectable level of goaltending.
Missing David Perron and Andy MacDonald hurts, but they have sufficient talent to make up for the loss of those two. Matt D’Agostini looks like more than a flash in the pan and Alexander Steen and Jason Arnott are providing strong veteran support. This is a potentially dangerous team, but potential is all they’ll have unless Payne can get them working. If he can’t, the Blues may need to go find someone who can.
Paul Maurice (Carolina)
The Carolina Hurricanes have only had two coaches in their history. Should the team show no improvement, however, you can expect that number to increase to three.
In his last seven seasons as a head coach, Paul Maurice has led his team to the playoffs only once. His Hurricanes have done little to inspire belief that a change is coming. Their mediocre 16th ranked offense has very much been overshadowed by a 25th ranked defense, 24th ranked Power Play and 19th ranked Penalty Kill. They’re also allowing the third most shots per game, after allowing the most last year.
On top of that, Maurice has gotten little to no production out of Eric Staal this year. Staal ranks dead last in the NHL with a -13 plus/minus and has contributed just three goals and five points, or one less point than Chad Larose.
In his 14 seasons behind an NHL bench, Paul Maurice only once coached a team to more than 40 wins or 91 points, and that was a team he inherited 25 games into the season. His overall record (456-448-99[ties]-67) is very mediocre. While he can’t be accused of ever having an overabundance of talent on a roster, that doesn’t excuse his teams’ lack of production. Add all that up, and you have a recipe for a very hot seat.
Randy Carlyle (Anaheim)
Randy Carlyle has been one of the better coaches in the NHL since the lockout. He took the leftover pieces of Mike Babcock’s Stanley Cup finalist, tweaked them, and brought a championship to Anaheim. Unfortunately, he has become a victim of his own high expectations.
Where Carlyle has failed, and where Babcock excelled, is the nurturing of his role players. With Babcock’s role players, Carlyle was able to win a Cup. But every year since then, the Ducks have seemed to become more offensively top heavy.
Five players (Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Lubomir Visnovsky) scored 63.6 percent of the team’s goals. That number has risen to a ridiculous 76.2 percent this year. If those players contribute the same number of goals they did last year (152), the team will only score 199 goals. Only four teams scored less than that last year.
While Carlyle’s team has managed a decent 5-5-1 record to open the season, that won’t be easy to maintain with the current level of auxiliary scoring. Jason Blake and Saku Koivu are both a year older. Andrew Cogliano has talent, but only 21 goals over the last two seasons. And are guys like Matt Beleskey, Brandon McMillan, Maxime Macenauer and Devante Smith-Pelly the answer?
After winning 25 playoff games in his first two seasons as coach of the Ducks, he has won only 11 in the past four seasons. That lack of playoff success tends to grate on a team. If Carlyle can’t find a way to develop his youngsters, the Ducks have a very real chance of missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. If the team seems headed that way, Carlyle may be on his way out the door.