Monday, August 31, 2015

The Top 7 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015-16

Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern - USA Today Sports
Being a coach in the NHL is rarely a long-term engagement. On occasion, you can see a coach stick around with a team for seemingly forever (see: Mike Babcock, Detroit; Barry Trotz, Nashville; the late Al Arbour, the Islanders), but, most of the time, a coach will be fired a few (usually 3 or 4) years  after his hiring.

And that's not always fair. More often than not, coaches are fired because of lacklustre play by the people they coach, or because of management wanting something else. Todd Nelson turned things around in Edmonton last year after Dallas Eakins' firing, but was let go following the season because management wanted to go in a new direction with a more-experienced coach in Todd McLellan.  Paul MacLean was a two-time finalist for the Jack Adams in Ottawa, winning in 2013.

He was fired under two years later.

Now, knowing that any coach is vulnerable at any time (and that it can be more dependent on their players' quality rather than theirs), here are the most likely coaches to be canned in 2015-16.
Credit: Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports

Lindy Ruff

Lindy Ruff has been a well-respected coach in the NHL since he broke into the league with Buffalo in the 1997-98 campaign. After departing from the club in 2013, he signed on at the start of the 2013-14 season with Dallas and has coached there ever since. 

He has yet to win a playoff series in Dallas, and the club missed the dance last season. That should come as a shock, considering that he has had the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg to work with.

Ruff is the lowest on this list because he doesn't have a particularly good defense to work with - only Klingberg and Alex Goligoski really stand out - and his goaltending is decidedly average. But, they added Antti Niemi to help bolster that area this summer. Combine that with the new acquisition of Patrick Sharp, and you should have a playoff team.

If they're one of the odd ones out in the Central this season, there may be a new coach behind the Stars' bench come 2016-17.
Credit: Brace Hemmelgram - USA Today Sports

Mike Yeo

It's inexcusable that the Minnesota Wild haven't gone further in the playoffs since Mike Yeo's hiring in 2011-12. He's won all of two playoff series since he was hired, despite having an extremely talented core, including Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Mikael Granlund, assembled around him.

Yeo was widely considered to be on the hot seat last season. The team was floundering, and it came to the point where he was screaming at his team on the ice.

Then, Devan Dubnyk came along, and decided to play out of his mind, saving the Wild's season, and likely, Yeo's job.

2015-16 will be his fifth season with the Wild, and his first full one with Vezina-calibre goaltending in Devan Dubnyk. If they can't emerge mostly unscathed out of the Central Division bloodbath, it is possible that Yeo might go.

Credit: James Guillory - USA Today Sports

Jack Capuano

We are now entering Jack Capuano's sixth season behind the bench of the Islanders, and he doesn't have a single playoff series win to show for it. To work with, he's got a top-10 talent in the league in John Tavares to coach, and a solid supporting cast up front that includes Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, and Brock Nelson. He also has a very good defense that boasts the talents of Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic. Jaroslav Halak is his goalie, and he's no slouch, either: he was an All-Star last season.

If they have all of that, then why aren't they winning?

Capuano has all of this talent assembled in front of him. He lost in the first round to the Capitals last year, and he only had one playoff appearance in his four years before that on the island.

If he can't shape up in 2015-16 and finally give Islander fans their first playoff series win since 1993, Capuano may lose his job.

Credit: Eric Bolte - USA Today Sports

Michel Therrien

Michelle... ma belle. Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble. Très bien ensemble.

Recognize those lyrics? They're from a Beatles song from 1965 that ended up winning the Grammy for 'Song of the Year' in 1967. 

They apply pretty well to Michel Therrien's situation in Montreal.

Yes, his name is 'Michel', not 'Michelle', but still, close enough. Now, focusing on the rest of the lyrics: translated, they mean: These are words that go together well. Together well.

Oh, that's nice. Now, how do they relate to Montreal? Well, Montreal has a bunch of pieces that should go together well. P.K. Subban, Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry are all very good players. With the right coach, they should, at the very least, be a perennial favourite to go all the way - especially with a top-5 NHL player in Price in the lineup. 

They are not.

Last season, they won one playoff series against a far weaker team in Ottawa, and yet they still nearly gave it all away by conceding two games to the Sens after winning the first three. They then lost to the Lightning in round two 4 games to 2.

With all of this talent that Therrien can work with, the management in Montreal may need to find a new coach to make said talent vont très bien ensemble.

Credit: James Guillory - USA Today Sport

Ken Hitchcock 

The St. Louis Blues are quickly carving out a reputation as a playoff choker. Under Hitchcock, the Blues have one playoff series win, in four years. It came in 2011-12, Hitchcock's first year on the job. They beat the Sharks 4-1 in the quarter-finals before L.A. swept them in the semis, en route to Stanley Cup win.

Since then, in the playoffs, Hitchcock's teams have:

- Lost again to Los Angeles in 2012-13, this time in the quarter-finals. The Kings won the series 4 games to 2. The Blues won the first two games at home, both by 2-1 scores, before losing four straight. Every single game in this series was decided by one goal.

- Lost to Chicago in 2013-14, again by a score of 4 games to 2, in the quarter-finals. Again, the Blues won the first two games at home before losing four straight.

- Lost to Minnesota last year, yet again by a score of 4 games to 2, in the quarter-finals, after winning the incredibly close Central Division. This time, the Blues won games 2 and 4 before losing two straight 4-1 games.

It's not like the Blues are devoid of talent: they have an excellent defense that includes Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jay Bouwmeester; their forward group, which contains, among others, Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, David Backes, Alex Steen, and Jaden Schwartz, is quite deep; and they have a goaltending tandem of a two-time All-Star in Brian Elliott and an emerging talent in Jake Allen.

However, if their trend of playoff futility continues, the Blues may be searching for a new coach after 2015-16.

Credit: Gary Vasquez - USA Today Sports

Darryl Sutter

The Kings had won two Stanley Cups in three years coming into the 2014-15 season, and Darryl Sutter had been given a lot of credit for that. He'd stepped in during the middle of their first Cup-winning season (2011-12) and turned the club around, and since then, they'd been a powerhouse.

Now, coming into the 2015-16 season, Darryl Sutter is on the hot seat after missing the playoffs with the Kings the previous season. 


The Kings have become shrouded in a cloud of controversy over the last 365 days. Two of their main talents in Slava Voynov and Mike Richards have gone through major legal troubles. Many of their other pieces underwent major slumps in 2014-15, including captain Dustin Brown (27 points in 82 games). That may not be Sutter's fault.

However, none of the other coaches on this list play on the ice and have slumps, either.

"You can't fire the players, but you can fire the coach." That's an old saying in hockey, and it may apply here. With teams like the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers improving in this offseason, there is a possibility that the Kings may find themselves on the outside looking in during the season. If this possibility becomes a reality during the season, Sutter's time with the Kings may be up.

Credit: Gary M. Cooper - USA Today Sports

Claude Julien

The Boston Bruins are a team that knows how to win. Just four years ago (in 2011), they were the best team in hockey, winning the Stanley Cup. In 2013, they came within two wins of doing so again. In 2014, they lost to the Canadiens in the second round, but just barely - they fell 3 to 1 in the seventh game.

In 2015, they missed the playoffs.

What happened? Their offence was relatively unchanged from their glory days of 2011-13, with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Milan Lucic still around. Their defense was all there, too, including Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, and Torey Krug. And, most importantly, they still had a top-5 NHL goalie in Tuukka Rask.

We may never know why the Bruins missed out last season. It may be because of Zdeno Chara's decline, or due to the lack of team scoring (Patrice Bergeron led the team with 55 points). But, don't expect the Bruins to rebound this year: they lost Hamilton, Lucic, Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg, and others in the offseason, adding only Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, and (perhaps most inexplicably) Zac Rinaldo to offset those losses.

With an incoming decline in success, expect management to continue with their ongoing trend of changing the scenery. As a result, Claude Julien may not finish his ninth season behind the Bruins' bench.

Other Coaches Who Merited Consideration (in no particular order): Bruce Boudreau, ANA; Todd Richards, CBJ; Dave Tippett, ARI; Patrick Roy, COL

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