10 NHL Coaches on the Hot Seat

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

10 NHL Coaches on the Hot Seat

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    A little over two weeks ago, the Philadelphia Flyers made Peter Laviolette the first coaching casualty of the 2013-14 NHL season.

    If history says anything, it is that he will not be the last "bench boss" to pay for his team's struggles.

    Which man currently working behind an NHL bench is the most likely to join Laviolette in unemployment in short order? Read on for our rankings.

     

    Coaching statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com.

Honourable Mention: Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Record with Current Team: 2-5-0

     

    The Situation: Lots has gone wrong for the New York Rangers. The early schedule has been brutal, the goaltending has been suspect and players keep dropping to injury.

    And yet, it is difficult not to compare the Rangers' miserable start with the reasonable one in Vancouver. After an offseason coaching trade, the Canucks are off to a much better start than a New York team that had envisioned a coaching change as a key step toward winning a Stanley Cup.

     

    The Verdict: Even given the unusual circumstances surrounding Vigneault's arrival, it should take a lot longer for the Rangers to fire a guy with five years left on his contract.

10. Dallas Eakins, Edmonton Oilers

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    Record with Current Team: 3-6-1

     

    The Situation: This was supposed to be the year Edmonton broke out of a prolonged rebuild and started winning some games. The early record isn't good, and with the team announcing through its official Twitter account that star forward Taylor Hall is expected to miss four weeks due to injury the season has real potential to go all pear-shaped.

     

    The Verdict: Whatever the problems, simple fatigue with coaching changes should work in Eakins' favour. Sam Gagner has spent his entire six-season career in Edmonton and is on his fifth different head coach; there is a real appetite for some stability at the position.

9. Craig Berube, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Record with Current Team: 1-4-0

     

    The Situation: When the Philadelphia Flyers dumped head coach Peter Laviolette and installed Craig Berube, CBC reporter Elliote Friedman made the point that he hadn't been given an "interim" label while wryly noting that some would say, "You're always an interim coach in Philadelphia."

    To some degree, that's true. The Flyers are known for making quick changes, and while they have given their coaches more leeway lately, they aren't that far removed from the days when they had eight different head coaches in 10 years (combined record of those coaches: 529 wins, 418 losses and 154 ties).

    It is a city with precious little patience for losing.

     

    The Verdict: With a week between games, Berube has had a chance to catch his breath and get some practice time in; it is a good chance to reset and get things turned around. If the team continues to falter, it may well be general manager Paul Holmgren who pays the immediate price—though that may mean only a stay of execution for Berube.

8. Bob Hartley, Calgary Flames

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    Record with Current Team: 23-27-6

     

    The Situation: The Flames are off to a good start, especially for a team in the middle of a rebuild. Hartley himself is a highly competent coach with a Stanley Cup ring from his time behind the Colorado bench.

    Despite that, betting website Bodog recently had Hartley as the most likely candidate to be the next coach fired. Hartley had no difficulty expressing his thoughts on that when asked by ESPN Insider Pierre LeBrun (subscription required):

    "My job is to prove Jay Feaster and Brian Burke right. Whatever Mad Dog or Bodog says, I don't really give a s---."

     

    The Verdict: Even if things turn south, there seems little reason to blame Hartley; he's only in his second season with a ragtag group of players under his watch. 

7. Kirk Muller, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Record with Current Team: 48-47-19

     

    The Situation: Muller is in his third season with the Carolina Hurricanes, and the club did not make the playoffs in his first two years.

    There are caveats, though. The team improved significantly after Muller was brought in as a midseason replacement in 2011-12, finishing 25-20-12 after starting the year 8-13-4. The 2012-13 season was a strange one, with a shortened training camp and a compacted schedule.

    Even so, Muller's reaching the point where a coach needs to show results to hang on to his job. 

     

    The Verdict: Carolina is off to a reasonable start, sitting fourth in the East with a 4-2-3 record through nine games. If they keep performing well, Muller should be fine. Otherwise, the Hurricanes have fired every coach in franchise history midseason, and not one of them survived three consecutive years without the playoffs.

6. Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild

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    Record with Current Team: 65-58-17

     

    The Situation: Minnesota lost its first three games this season and highly respected commentators—people like ESPN Insider Craig Custance (subscription required)—were suggesting Yeo's job was in jeopardy. The Wild won three games, but then promptly lost three more.

    The club is coming off a win on Tuesday, but the mixed results early are terrible news for a coach in his third season with the team.

     

    The Verdict: According to extraskater.com, the Wild lead the NHL in even-strength score-close Corsi (a fancy way of saying they dramatically outshoot the other guys when the game is still in doubt), so in the long-term, the Wild should win games. It's just a matter of making it to the long-term. 

5. Todd Richards, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Record with Current Team: 45-43-9

     

    The Situation: Todd Richards is in his third season in Columbus. The team has yet to make the playoffs during his tenure, and the general manager who hired him paid for that failing with his job.

    Now the Blue Jackets, after coming close to the playoffs last season, have real pressure. The team is in the weaker Eastern Conference and added Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline last year and Nathan Horton in free agency over the summer. 

     

    The Verdict: Despite a slow start, Columbus has won the first two games since coming in off the road and plays six of its next seven at home. Richards is always going to be regarded as in some danger, coaching for a GM who did not hire him, but he has a chance to earn some job security with a good run here.

4. Claude Noel, Winnipeg Jets

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    Record with Current Team: 65-61-13

     

    The Situation: The honeymoon is waning in Winnipeg. With two playoff-less seasons in the books following relocation from Atlanta, the fear is that the Jets have a little too much in common with the woeful Thrashers. 

    Noel has been the coach since relocation and hasn't escaped blame. Gambling site Bovada had him as one of the preseason favourites to be fired early this year, per a report by Travis Hughes of SB Nation's Broad Street Hockey, and now, commentators like Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press are openly speculating about his future.  

     

    The Verdict: He is in real danger, unless the Jets make the playoffs. As Lawless notes, however, a midseason firing may be less likely than an end-of-year dismissal.

     

3. Peter DeBoer, New Jersey Devils

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    Record with Current Team: 68-51-19

     

    The Situation: The vote of confidence from management is often perceived, fairly or not, as the kiss of death for a head coach. Peter DeBoer got his from Lou Lamoriello late last week. As the general manager told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger:

    The coaching staff is doing everything they can. So are the players. They’re working at it. We have to be more consistent in certain areas. Last night [a 5-2 loss to Ottawa] we had 19 chances. It all levels out, but you can’t ask for more than that. But we didn’t win and the bottom line is winning. There’s no question.

    As much as Lamoriello cast no aspersions on the effort of the coaching staff, he also has a history of quick firings and has made it very clear what needs to happen: wins.

     

    The Verdict: New Jersey has played seven of its first nine games on the road, but the schedule remains tough for a while: Five of the next nine are on the road, and four of those five are against playoff teams from last year. If DeBoer can make it to New Jersey's mid-November home stand, he has a decent chance of turning things around.

2. Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers

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    Record with Current Team: 56-59-24

     

    The Situation: Two games into the season, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was asked by the Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Fialkov if Dineen was on the hot seat; he told the reporter that not only was Dineen safe, but the team was also having discussions about a contract extension.

    Since then, the Panthers have gone 2-5-1 and have a single regulation win since the team's opening-night win over Dallas. On Friday, Fialkov further reported that Dineen seemed to imply injured forward Sean Bergenheim lacked the fortitude to play in the NHL, saying "I'm worried about his career" in relation to his prolonged absence from the lineup.

     

    The Verdict: The combination of games lost and loaded public comments about players is rarely a good omen for any coach, and rumours that the Panthers are ready to write this year off, as reported by Bruch Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, suggest ownership has little confidence the coach can turn things around. This is a situation to watch.

1. Ron Rolston, Buffalo Sabres

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    Record with Current Team: 16-19-6

     

    The Situation: Rolston has less than half-a-season under his belt in Buffalo, having taken over late in 2012-13. With the Sabres' 1-8-1 record off the bat in 2013-14, he may not get many more games to show he can do better.

    A recent poll of fans at the Sabres' blog, Die By The Blade, had voters disapproving of the job Rolston had done by a 278-25 margin (with a 29 percent minority undecided), and the local media has been reminding the coach that people in his position often take the fall for slow starts. His response to such a reminder, as reported by the Buffalo News' Mike Harrington:

    "You don’t think I’m aware of that? I come and I do my best tomorrow and I do my best on Monday and I do my best on Tuesday. That’s all I worry about. That’s all I can control."

     

    The Verdict: If the Sabres keep losing, Rolston's remaining tenure with the team can likely be measured in days. Even if the team can string together a couple of wins in short order, he isn't likely to be safe in his job for a long time to come.