This NHL season is already a strange one when it comes to coaches and their job security.
For the first time since 1966-67, the last year of the Original Six era, the NHL hit the mid-point of the season without a head coach losing his job. Each year you can count on certain article topics popping up, one of which is coaches on the hot seat. It’s a popular one just before the season, around American Thanksgiving and heading into the final stretch of the season. But 2017-18 is so different that at Sportsnet we ran a “coaches on the cold seat” article via Down Goes Brown.
It doesn’t appear this run of job security is going to come to a screeching halt any time soon either. You could have made the case that Edmonton’s Todd McClellan was a front-line candidate for dismissal, but through our own Mark Spector, GM Peter Chiarelli gave his coach a vote of confidence — which can sometimes be a kiss of death, but probably not in this specific case.
What makes this more surprising is that, over the past 10 years, the NHL has had more coach firings than any of the other major North American sports leagues.
So what is going on here? Why are so few coaches on the hot seat and could we go a full season without any of them losing their job (which would also be a first since 1967)?
The main factor appears to be that any team in a position where firing the coach is the traditional next step still has a relatively new face behind the bench. Rick Tocchet is in his first season with Arizona, as is Phil Housley in Buffalo and Travis Green in Vancouver. Florida isn’t bouncing back from a downturn last season, but Bob Boughner is in his first full 82-game set with the team. It’s highly unlikely any of these guys hit the unemployment line in 2017-18.
The other coaches who may be in hot water most years are well-established names in charge of teams coming off strong 2016-17 seasons. McClellan doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and Guy Boucher’s Senators came within a win of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawks aren’t at a level we’ve become accustomed to, but they finished first in the West last regular season. Glen Gulutzan, who may currently be the coach on the hottest seat, reached the playoffs last season and his Flames are just one point out of the wild card and two points out of third place in the Pacific.
Even coaches who had been on the hot seat previously this season seem to have worked their way off it. Philadelphia’s Dave Hakstol was facing a lot of heat through his team’s 10-game losing streak — and then ran off seven wins in eight games. Carolina’s Bill Peters was in a similar place when the ‘Canes started slow with just 10 wins in their first 23 games, but now his young team is one point out of a wild-card spot with three games in hand of the Penguins.
It’s Jan. 9 and there is no obvious candidate for a firing.
Of course, things could change very rapidly. This week marks the first of two bye weeks on the NHL schedule, where teams get a few CBA-mandated days off and GMs and their staffs have time to analyze their position and make any necessary moves. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin took the opportunity last year to fire Michel Therrien and hire Claude Julien while his team was on bye.
And if an established and respected coach like Julien did become available through another team’s firing, it could change the entire dynamic of the coaching market.
In fact, more of the pressure today seems to be on the front offices of these struggling teams. Chiarelli may be more likely to go than McLellan, just as Garth Snow may be more at risk than Doug Weight as the Isles tumble. In Montreal, Bergevin clearly is more likely to lose his job than Julien.
Still, if playoff hopes fade for certain teams down the stretch or others exit the post-season quickly, there are some coaches who would still be candidates to lose their jobs, even after Game 82.
1. Glen Gulutzan
He’s in just his second season with the Flames, but after being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season, Gulutzan may be the most likely to get dismissed if his team doesn’t build on last year’s break out.
2. Dave Hakstol
His GM, Ron Hextall, told local media he didn’t think the Flyers were playing poorly through the 10-game losing streak and had no intention of firing the coach. Things got better immediately after that bad stretch ended, but if the Flyers miss the playoffs again it’ll be Haktol’s second season of falling short in three years and it’s a move Hextall may have to swing back on after the season.
3. Bruce Boudreau
Certainly not anywhere close to a hot seat at the moment, if Boudreau’s Wild lose in the first round again this season (or don’t make it at all) he could be a coach looking for work in the summer.
4. Joel Quenneville
It’s hard to believe, and may be a long shot, but it was noted that Quenneville was upset after the ‘Hawks let go of his long-time assistant Mike Kitchen. Chicago also has had to deal with some significant downgrades in personnel and are playing from outside a playoff spot entering the second half of the season. Hard to pin the blame on the coach for the slow first half, though.
5. Jeff Blashill
Some will say longtime GM Ken Holland may be on the hotter seat right now, but the coach in his third year with the team may also feel the heat if the Wings end up missing the playoffs. If the GM goes, the coach may actually be more likely to go, too.