It’s been an odd year for NHL coaching changes, in the sense that none of the true bottom-feeders made a move behind the bench, while competitors such as Montreal, Boston and Florida ousted their leaders to try and kick the players in the butt.
(The Islanders were the closest thing to a true bottom-feeder as they did sit last in the East when Jack Capuano was let go. Now they’re in a wild card spot.)
This has made it interesting for the next few teams that fire their coaches, perhaps after they’ve played their 82nd game. With names like Ken Hitchcock, Michel Therrien, Capuano, Gerard Gallant and potentially even current Senators assistant Marc Crawford available, any team in search of a new bench boss would find no shortage of veteran replacements. Not to mention one of the guys on our “hot seat” list below who, though they may have worn out their welcome in their current cities, would be in line to get a job elsewhere.
So who is on the hot seat as we head down the stretch run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Note that we’re not including any current interim coach’s and are excluding certain names who we believe are safe, even though their teams are out of the playoffs (such as brutally honest Bill Peters). Here’s a look:
Willie Desjardins, Vancouver: When the president of your team comes out and says they’re going to “look at our options at the end of the season,” that’s not a good sign for your job security. To be sure, Desjardins has been dealt a bad hand in Vancouver, a team caught between a full-on rebuild and being good enough to earn a wild card spot. In fact, you could argue he has led the Canucks to over-perform.
Despite never really having a second scoring line, the Canucks made the playoffs in Desjardins’ first season — exceeding all reasonable expectations — and although they missed last season, they hung around the race long enough this season that fans encouraging a rebuild were legitimately nervous if the team would to the right thing and trade Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen.
And yet, this is a results-based job and Desjardins is staring at back-to-back playoff misses. The Canucks may not have to look outside the organization for a replacement either. Travis Green, who is always topping lists of potential “new” NHL coaches, is behind the bench of the Utica Comets, Vancouver’s AHL affiliate.
Dave Hakstol, Philadelphia: Scratching Shayne Gostisbehere for Andrew MacDonald? That’s not the kind of move you like to see in the modern fleet-of-foot NHL, but Hasktol has decided to do that a few times — and he’s taken out rookie Travis Konecny for Dale Weise, too.
The Flyers certainly had playoff aspirations coming into the season, but are currently playing from three points behind the last wild card spot. Goaltending has tanked for them as presumable No. 1 Steve Mason is carrying a save percentage of .906 in a contract year. But subpar goaltending didn’t save Julien, whose backup situation in Boston was a disaster, Therrien, who went through a bad stretch of Carey Price, or Hitchcock, who at the time of his firing had a team with the 28th-ranked 5-on-5 save percentage.
Hakstol was a surprise hire when GM Ron Hextall brought him in from the University of North Dakota in 2015. They could move to a more experienced NHL head coach with some of the options on the table.
Lindy Ruff, Dallas: After Therrien was fired by the Habs in February, Ruff became the next most likely head coach to lose his job, according to Bodog’s odds.
Now again Ruff has been sunk by a putrid goaltending tandem of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, who combined make $10.4 million. And his blue line corps led by John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Dan Hamhuis and Stephen Johns isn’t exactly among the best shutdown units in the league. And as the team has fallen from the best offensive unit in the league last season when they averaged 3.23 goals per game, to a much more average 2.81 this season, the issues in the roster have been exposed.
Ruff lasted parts of 15 seasons as the head coach in Buffalo, which included a stretch of three straight playoff-less seasons. But those kinds of runs are slim to none these days. There’s a fairly good chance he won’t return to Dallas’ bench for Year 5 after missing the playoffs for two of the past three seasons.
Jared Bednar, Colorado: Let’s start off by saying it’s pretty hard to put the entire miserable Avs season on Bednar’s shoulders. There is not much of a defence here past Erik Johnson and beyond the obvious young core of talent up front, the forwards really thin out fast. And Semyon Varlamov, making $5.9 million for two more seasons beyond this one, was more or less Eddie Lack-bad before he got injured and was forced to miss the rest of the season.
Bednar sounds like a defeated man these days, and you can’t fault him for that either. He’s one year removed from leading the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, to a Calder Cup championship so it’s hard to believe he went from championship coach to know-nothing liability.
Patrick Roy up and left the Avalanche organization in August because he wasn’t allowed enough of a say in player personnel decisions. While at the time that may have appeared as a control freak blowing up at a situation he couldn’t manage, looking at the Avs situation now makes you think he had a point. It would be a shame, but not a surprise, to see Bednar kicked to the curb in the summer.
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg: This may be the most unlikely firing of the group since there have been numerous reports that the Jets stand behind their man and intend to re-sign Maurice to a contract extension. Considering he’s in his fourth season with the team and still doesn’t have a playoff win, it seems a bit odd for the organization to steadfastly stand behind him. Then again, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff runs the team extremely conservatively.
On last Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada Headlines segment, Nick Kypreos reported that Maurice and the Jets had put contract extension talks on hold, but that was due to Maurice’s wishes and not a change of heart on the part of the team.
“I think Paul Maurice didn’t want to have all of a sudden a contract negotiation go on while he’s trying to fix a few things,” Kypreos said. “I got to give him a lot of credit here because I know a lot of coaches who would have raced to sign on the dotted line with a team that is struggling at times like the Winnipeg Jets. I think it speaks to his character somewhat. We believe [an extension] will happen in the summer.”
If the Jets do in fact move ahead with Maurice at the helm, they should have a bigger off-season plan in terms of roster turnover. Stuck in that “mushy middle” the Jets do have lots of future promise with some of their young players, but there is a real depth of skill problem here up front. And they certainly can’t start next season relying on RFA Connor Hellebuyck to be a heavy-workload netminder.