We know coaches are hired to be fired, but things have gotten a little crazy behind the bench in the past 16 months or so.
Glance around the NHL and you’ll soon realize 12 teams — nearly 40 per cent of the league — are led by a bench boss in his first full year with the squad. Five teams — Vancouver, Florida, Philadelphia, Chicago and Winnipeg — are on their third coach since the start of last season.
The Canucks, of course, have most recently been in the news for their ham-handed approach to firing coach Bruce Boudreau after 13 months on the job and replacing him with Rick Tocchet.
In the wake of Vancouver finally putting Boudreau out of his misery — and with the knowledge Barry Trotz has a desire to return to a bench at some point casts a shadow over a few NHL cities — we’re devoting this week’s power rankings to a quick check-in on the coaching situation for all 32 squads.
1. Boston Bruins (38-5-4) Jim Montgomery has two USHL championships and an NCAA national title already to his name; is the Stanley Cup next? At the very least, it will take a miracle for him not to claim the Jack Adams.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (30-9-8) Few coaches are more closely associated with their team than Rod Brind’Amour, who was team captain when the Canes won the only Stanley Cup in franchise history. Recall that the 2021 Jack Adams winner had no head coaching experience at any level before taking over the Hurricanes ahead of the 2018-19 season.
3. New Jersey Devils (31-12-4) “Fire Lindy! Fire Lindy!” Remember that one from the cheap seats of the Prudential Center in Game 2 of the season? New Jersey has been one of the best teams in the league under Lindy Ruff since that 0-2-0 start. No active coach — and only four in the history of the league — has more than Ruff’s 813 wins.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (30-11-8) Meet the second coach with a team inside the top-four of our rankings who faced questions about job security in October. Sheldon Keefe has been at the helm of the Leafs for three-plus years. That probably won’t be the case should Toronto fall in the first round this spring, but Keefe has been pretty steady at the rudder since taking over for Mike Babcock and has Toronto playing the best brand of defensive hockey we’ve seen since the mega-star kids arrived.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-15-1) The league’s longest-tenured coach had some hurdles to overcome in Tampa, and every time pre-championships there was an excuse to let him go, the team stuck by Jon Cooper. He was a breath of fresh air when he came in 10 years ago and even as a seen-it-all vet now, Cooper is frequently one of the most open and direct coaches to interview.
6. Dallas Stars (28-13-9) First-year Stars boss Pete DeBoer has a history of strong debuts, having made the Stanley Cup Final in his first year with both the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks. That’s absolutely in play for Dallas this year.
7. Winnipeg Jets (31-17-1) Funny how a subplot in Dallas can be that the team benefited from DeBoer replacing Rick Bowness, yet one of the main storylines in Winnipeg is how the oldest coach in the league (he turned 68 on Wednesday) has unlocked the Jets’ — and, specifically, defenceman Josh Morrissey’s — potential. Go figure.
8. Seattle Kraken (28-14-5) “Who’s the Kraken’s head coach?” is still the most likely question to trip you up, right? Anonymous or not, Dave Hakstol has this team driving toward a playoff spot and he’s making good on his second NHL crack at coaching after he was fired in Philly.
9. New York Rangers (26-14-8) Gerard Gallant’s previous two NHL gigs — in Florida and Vegas — came to an end when he was fired in-season, with a winning record in both cases. Let’s hope things conclude differently on Broadway.
10. Colorado Avalanche (26-17-3) Last year, Jared Bednar got his Cup to match his ECHL and AHL rings. On Tuesday, he became the all-time winningest coach in Avs/Nordiques history by collecting his 266th victory. Seems like things are going OK.
11. Los Angeles Kings (27-17-6) The Kings have certainly turned a corner under Todd McLellan, who is somehow already in his fourth season in L.A. Since the start of last year, the Kings have the sixth-best expected goals percentage at five-on-five in the league.
12. Edmonton Oilers (27-18-4) Jay Woodcroft is the ninth coach the Oilers have had (including guys with the interim tag) since Craig MacTavish departed the organization in 2009. The only way to buck the trend is with more playoff success.
13. Vegas Golden Knights (29-17-3) Bruce Cassidy went 14 years between his first and second head coaching gigs in the NHL, having been fired by the Caps in 2004 and tabbed by the Bruins in 2016. His .672 points percentage with Boston meant the wait between his second and third jobs was much, much shorter. The most pressing concern for Cassidy right now, though, is how to get a team that’s 16-15-3 after a 13-2-0 start back on top of its game.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (24-15-8) Like Cassidy, Mike Sullivan had a long wait between his first and second head coaching jobs (fired by Boston in 2006, hired in-season by the Pens 10 years later in 2015-16). He’s got a 12-21 playoff record since winning Cups his first two springs, but Pittsburgh inked the veteran to an extension this past off-season.
15. Calgary Flames (23-16-9) Honestly, it seemed fair to wonder if the modern game had already passed Darryl Sutter by when he was hired by the Kings 12 years ago, in 2011. Then he won two Cups. Crusty as he may be, Sutter has a long history of squeezing the most out of teams going back to his first tenure in Calgary 20 years ago.
16. Florida Panthers (23-21-6) Paul Maurice was still a couple months shy of his 30th birthday when he was promoted from assistant to head man with the Hartford Whalers late in 1996. Florida is his fifth tour of duty (two with Hartford/Carolina) and he’s got his hands full trying to get a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last year into the 2023 playoffs.
17. Buffalo Sabres (25-19-3) One of the first things Don Granato did when he took over as Sabres bench boss on St. Patrick’s Day 2021 was move a struggling Tage Thompson to centre from wing. Has there been a better coaching decision in the past three years?
18. Minnesota Wild (25-17-4) The Wild haven’t missed the playoffs on Dean Evason’s watch, but they also haven’t won a round in three tries. Now, a Minnesota team that was comfortably inside the playoffs a short time ago is suddenly on the outside looking in.
19. Nashville Predators (23-18-6) The Preds snapped up John Hynes pretty quickly after he was let go by New Jersey during the 2019-20 season. Nashville has made the playoffs every spring Hynes has been there, but it’s going to be a tough ask this time out.
20. Washington Capitals (25-19-6) Peter Laviolette either won the Cup or made the Stanley Cup Final in each of his previous three stops with Carolina, Philly and Nashville. He’ll have his hands full getting a Caps squad with at least one foot on the other side of the mountain there.
21. Detroit Red Wings (20-18-8) Derek Lalonde worked his way up the ladder before getting his first NHL head coaching gig at 50. His path took him through Division 3 and 1 NCAA hockey, the USHL, the ECHL, the AHL and, of course, working as an assistant on Cup-winning Tampa teams. Everyone expects him to get a decent amount of rope in Detroit, where the Wings have had just three coaches in nearly 20 years.
22. St. Louis Blues (23-22-3) When you take over a struggling team in-season and that squad goes on to win the Cup as the Blues did in the spring of 2019, you buy yourself a lot of credibility. Even if things get a little turbulent in St. Louis, Craig Berube could well be there through the end of the three-year contract extension he inked last February.
23. New York Islanders (23-22-5) Is it already time to drop a “be careful what you wish for” on the Islanders? Barry Trotz was fired last year with one year to go on his contract and replaced with Lane Lambert, who’s currently overseeing the Isles through a 1-7-3 nosedive. Yes, New York had a miserable year last season, but Trotz — as he tends to do — clearly got the most out of the squad before that by getting it two wins from a Cup Final showing in 2020 and one victory shy in 2021.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (20-21-8) Truthfully, I probably thought John Tortorella was done coaching both after his brutal one-year tenure in Vancouver and after he and the Blue Jackets parted ways in 2021. It might be hard for those of us on the outside to understand at times, but “hockey people” still clearly believe in this old-school coach.
25. Montreal Canadiens (20-25-3) Martin St. Louis was a legitimately shocking hire — at least in the moment — when the Canadiens named him interim coach on Feb. 9, 2022. He’s since earned himself a three-year contract and the early returns are pretty good on a guy whose previous coaching experience was limited to youth hockey.
26. Ottawa Senators (21-23-3) D.J. Smith has received a vote of confidence from Sens management despite the team’s struggles this season. Still, it would really help his outlook if the squad could put together three solid months to close out.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (14-28-4) It’s a long, long play in Chicago and anybody who knows or played for Luke Richardson would likely agree he’s just the man for the job.
28. San Jose Sharks (14-25-10) A somewhat-surprising house-cleaning in 2021 cost David Quinn (and others) their jobs with the Rangers. San Jose is his second shot behind an NHL bench and the good news is, you have to believe GM Mike Grier — also in his first year on the job — made the hire knowing the Sharks’ results might not be stellar for a season or three.
29. Vancouver Canucks (19-26-3) Usually when a team gets a new coach, it’s a fresh start for everyone and there’s a honeymoon period. In this case, it just feels like Rick Tocchet is strolling into a lion’s den armed with only a whistle and a whiteboard.
30. Arizona Coyotes (15-28-5) Andre Tourigny was a hot major junior coaching hire in 2021 and everybody knows the deal in Arizona, so he figures to get a few seasons to show what he can do.
31. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-30-3) I mean, Tortorella is kind of a tough act to follow. Brad Larsen was an assistant in Columbus for seven years before taking over as head coach before last season. Suffice it to say, it’s been a tough go.
32. Anaheim Ducks (14-29-5) Pat Verbeek — who’s been on the job about one week short of a year in Anaheim — did pick up the club option on Dallas Eakins’ contract before this season. However, with no deal in place for next year and club where it is, you wonder if the writing is on the wall.