NHL Power Rankings: How Hot Is Your Coach’s Seat? Edition

Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan yells to his team during the third period of a game against the Boston Bruins. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

But, really, aren’t they all interim coaches?

So much for the anomaly that was the NHL coaching landscape of 2017-18, when all 31 head coaches survived the 82-game gauntlet.

Just over a month into 2018-19, already two modern dynasties have fired their bench boss, and other jobs are in danger early.

Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, he of three Stanley Cup championships, was handed his walking papers Tuesday and immediately joins Alain Vigneault as a tempting free agent.

“It was pretty shocking,” says Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, no stranger to the axe himself.

“That’s two in two days. Joel Quenneville is at the top of the coaching pedigree. It’s too bad. It’s a part of our business, we all understand that, but it’s real tough.”

This week, we examine the security* of all 31 head coaches in our NHL Power Rankings: How Hot Is Your Coach’s Seat? Edition.

Per tradition, all 31 teams are ranked in order of their current awesomeness. The write-ups, however, zero in on the men in suits screaming expletives.

*subject to change

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1. Nashville Predators

Among current NHL head coaches, Peter Laviolette is now the third longest-tenured man standing. He ranks second (to Babcock) in playoff games won (73) and first in bull’s heads worn during a post-game scrum. Laviolette’s Preds finished tops in the regular season last year and lead the pack in points percentage now. Judging by the video evidence, Laviolette is feeling pretty secure:

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

It feels like yesterday that AHL call-up Jon Cooper was the new kid on the block. Now, at age 51, the former lawyer has seized Quenneville’s mantle as the NHL’s longest-tenured head coach. That speaks volumes about both Cooper’s abilities and the fickleness of the gig.

“He’s got a lot of things on his fingers that I don’t have,” Cooper told reporters Tuesday of Coach Q, a mentor. “He’s the envy of many coaches.”

Cooper himself is in a contract year, but new GM Julien BriseBois has publicly endorsed the man behind the East’s top team.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

When Bodog released its rather grim odds ranking of NHL coaches most likely to get fired at the top of season, Mike Babcock’s were the longest: 66/1. Toronto’s coach left his previous post under his own volition and is widely believed to hold job security in a career without any. Under contract through 2022-23 at $6.25 million per, Babcock altered the pay scale for his position. Expectations are through the roof, and he has time and space. Three straight first-round playoff exits could crank the thermostat, though.

4. Calgary Flames

After a shaky start, the Flames have won four straight, shot to the summit of the Pacific, and are buying in to new coach Bill Peters’ demanding style of defence. Here’s betting this is a legit playoff team. If not, the axe may not fall on the coach this time.

5. New York Islanders

In signing a five-year deal to reset the Islanders in the wake of a turbulent off-season, the Stanley Cup–winning Barry Trotz has job security aplenty. Entering with low expectations and more Komarovs than Tavareses, Trotz has guided the Islanders to the top of the Metropolitan without a clear No. 1 goalie and only one goal from Mathew Barzal.

6. Minnesota Wild

When a new GM steps in and doesn’t make a coaching change, as was the case in Minnesota with Paul Fenton, the theory goes that the first firing is free. Compound that with Bruce Boudreau’s reputation as a brilliant regular-season coach (.654 winning percentage) whose clubs come up short in spring (.478 in the playoffs), and the seat isn’t exactly icy. Boudreau does have a season beyond this one on his deal (at $2.65 million), and the Wild have come out the gates strong.

7. San Jose Sharks

Under Peter DeBoer, the Sharks have been fine but unspectacular after their blockbuster off-season. Doug Wilson’s franchise is all-in now, so we imagine DeBoer’s job security depends on how his troops perform in a post-season they almost always make.

8. Boston Bruins

Bruce Cassidy rose from interim bench boss to Jack Adams finalist, and he’s found a balance between the Bruins’ youth and ring-bearing veterans to remain a contender in a highly competitive, top-heavy Atlantic Division. The early returns have far exceeded expectations. He’s dealing with a compelling goalie controversy these days, as backup Jaroslav Halak outplays Tuukka Rask.

9. Winnipeg Jets

Paul Maurice is the perfect example of how a coach can survive calls for his head and thrive. After an extension many ripped in the 2017 off-season, all Maurice did was guide the Jets deeper into spring than they’ve gone. Maurice has a wealth of experience to draw on, and he’s now the second-longest-tenured man in the biz, next to Cooper.

10. Colorado Avalanche

A Jack Adams Award finalist in June, Jared Bednar came into Colorado green and turned the Avs into a legitimate player in the Central Division — thanks in no small part for stacking that ridiculous top line. Bednar’s work last season earned him an extension through 2019-20, and a team we thought might stake a step back has done anything but.

11. Montreal Canadiens

Quickly scooped from a divisional rival, Claude Julien alone failed to produce an immediate turnaround, but his work this season — the Habs look young and fast and some new faces have assimilated smoothly — is impressive. That GM Marc Bergevin has already played his fire-the-coach card and Julien is owed $15 million for the next three seasons removed him from the hot seat. Scratching vets like Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner is a sign of a man comfortable in his career.

12. Vancouver Canucks

Travis Green — whom Vancouver has locked up for three more years at a relatively cheap $1 million salary — is our early favourite for Coach of the Year. No one is getting more out of less, and that’s a compliment. The Canucks’ effort and entertainment value is suddenly of the charts.

13. Washington Capitals

Washington let its only Stanley Cup champion head coach, Barry Trotz, walk away in order to promote Todd Reirden. The results have been decent, if not exactly Trotzian, but to be fair, Reirden’s top six has remained in flux in light of Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension. He describes his group as “definitely a work in progress.”


14. Edmonton Oilers

Prior to puck drop, Todd McLellan was ranked No. 1 by Vegas odds-makers as first coach fired. At worst, he’ll be the third. Continually to make difficult lineup decisions, keep a superstar happy, and figure out which of his wingers can actually play, McLellan staunched the early bleeding and has led the Oilers into playoff position. But the pressure valve will never fully be turned off.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins

Mike Sullivan was the man pulling the strings during the only back-to-back NHL championship run of the salary-cap era. He oversees the best one-two centre punch in hockey and has two years left on his contract, and yet his power-play is dry, his goaltending isn’t where it once was, and his Penguins have recently been humbled by the Isles, Leafs and Devils. He’s certainly not on the hot seat, but there is tension in that Pittsburgh room.

16. Dallas Stars

When a team starts with three straight seasons with a different coach, the next significant change might come elsewhere. Veteran Jason Spezza is enjoying a resurgence under NCAA grad Jim Montgomery, whom he says doesn’t carry himself like a newbie to the pro game.

“He’ll call you out if you’re not paying attention. He commands your attention when he’s speaking. You can tell he’s a confident coach who knows what he’s doing,” Spezza says. “He has his way he wants us to play, and until we start playing that way, he’s going to make sure he’s driving it into us.”

17. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets gave John Tortorella a two-year extension in September that carries Torts through 2020-21. We don’t see why a small-market club would do such a thing if the coach was on a leash as short as some of his post-game conferences. It’s the futures of Columbus’s star players — Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin — that are of greater concern.

18. Arizona Coyotes

Rick Tocchet’s group has performed significantly better in Year 2, the Coyotes plus-8 goal differential indicating that they’ve deserved a better fate than their record. Compare Tocchet’s roster to other in the Pacific, and it’s difficult to blame him for the Coyotes’ struggles. He’s signed through 2019-20 at $1.5 million per season.

19. Buffalo Sabres

Sabres fans are hardly convinced Phil Housley is the man to lead them back to the dance, and already this season has been a bit of a roller coaster in Buffalo. The Pegulas haven’t been shy about cutting cheque if they sense an upgrade is available. On the flip side, the Sabres roster is still one in transition, Housley was GM Jason Botterill’s choice, and making a coaching change every two years would show the kind of indecisiveness this club could do without.

20. Philadelphia Flyers

Dave Hakstol has another season beyond this one ($2-million salary) on his deal with the Flyers, but were his tenure a video game, he’d be down to his last life. GM Ron Hextall backed his man after last year’s “Fire Hakstol!” chants, but there’s been no such endorsement this fall. He’s in his fourth season and has yet to win a playoff round. The Flyers need to take a step.

21. New York Rangers

Of the three NHL bench bosses tied with the most years remaining on their deals (signed through 2022-13), David Quinn is the only one without a Cup ring. Heck, the college grad doesn’t even have six weeks of NHL experience under his belt. But as the Rangers gun for a lottery reset, Quinn’s pressure to win is virtually nil. His task is to take the long view and elevate work ethic (see: Kevin Shattenkirk’s healthy scratch). It’s working during this four-game win streak.

22. Ottawa Senators

Dealt yet another off-ice controversy during a season in which his contract is up, Guy Boucher and his assistants are hanging by a thread. It’s hard to lay the blame at the feet of the coach after the star power from the Sens’ 2017 Eastern Conference finalist roster got gutted. It might also be difficult to find a willing, qualified candidate to take over at this juncture.

23. St. Louis Blues

Here’s something Mike Yeo already said: “Heck, my job should be in question.”

If we’re doing Coach Q’s Next Gig Power Rankings, St. Louis rises to the top. The Blues are not supposed to be rebuilding, nor are they supposed to be last in their division. Oh, and there is a website solely dedicated to tracking whether Mike Yeo has been fired. It’s called IsMikeYeoStillCoach.com. Harsh.

24. New Jersey Devils

In any other year, John Hynes would’ve gained considerably more Jack Adams consideration for his excellent work in 2017-18. The Devils subtracted instead of added to their young roster over the summer, Cory Schneider has been sidelined, and still Hynes has them at .500.

25. Chicago Blackhawks

That Chicago is eating another two years of iconic coach Joel Quenneville’s salary means his Stan Bowman–picked replacement, Jeremy Colliton, should have ample berth to install his aggressive system and try to make the Blackhawks a playoff team again. Preferably, ASAP, according to CEO John McDonagh. The youngest head coach in the league will have his hands full returning a very accomplished and well-paid core back to glory.

26. Anaheim Ducks

Randy Carlyle finds himself in the same boat as so many Ducks: win now or else. Anaheim’s championship window is closing, if not already shut. Big-name injuries and imbalanced shot clocks haven’t helped matters. The heat is on.

27. Carolina Hurricanes

Under rookie coach Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes started strong and have put up solid possession metrics, but they’ve fallen back to the pack and are juggling three goaltenders. Considering this team just cleaned house a few months ago, we’d expect a trade before any further off-ice shake-ups.

28. Vegas Golden Knights

The coach of the only team (Los Angeles) that scores less frequently than Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights has already been fired. But we certainly don’t pin that on the reigning Jack Adams winner. Both of the franchise’s big forward finds, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, have been injured. Nate Schmidt, who drives play from the back, got suspended 20 games. And their shooting percentage is a dismal 6.8 (30th). Bad luck is real. Ask Vegas. Signed through 2020-21, Gallant won’t be pushed curbside anytime soon.

29. Florida Panthers

After one of the NHL’s better second halves, rookie coach Bob Boughner and his Cats looked ready to make noise this fall. But with Roberto Luongo going down for a month, Florida is behind the 8-ball. Boughner has three seasons left at $1 million apiece and should be given at least two of those to mold a playoff team.

30. Detroit Red Wings

It’s tough to fairly judge Jeff Blashill’s work since he inherited the gig from Babcock with the Red Wings’ roster the thinnest it’s been in the average reader’s lifetime. Blashill has a .490 win percentage, is one of the few head coaches making less than $1 million, and he’s in the final year of his deal. Ken Holland, who was extended not long ago himself, is a fan — but just look at some of the more qualified candidates now available.

“I was given this quote a while ago,” Blashill told reporters Tuesday, “and I think it’s a great quote for anybody in any high pressurized job where there is hirings and firings: the best soldiers are the ones that aren’t afraid to die.

“I don’t come here at any point at any time worried about that. I come here worried about doing the very best job I can.”

31. Los Angeles Kings

The interim tag that prefaces Willie Desjardins’ job title leads us to believe he’ll need to jumpstart the Kings back into the playoff picture if he’s to stick beyond June. That’s a tall order when commandeering an old, slow group of forwards whose offence has run dry. P.S. Your starting goaltender, Jonathan Quick, is out until further notice.

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