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The problem with coaching in the NHL today — as with the standings in the NHL today — is that there’s too much mediocrity.
There are a few elite coaches (four or five is probably the max), a few very bad coaches (maybe only two or three) and then a whole lot of guys who are varying degrees of pretty good to pretty bad. But because coaches don’t always have the most control in the world over how well their teams do.
If you’re Mike Babcock, Bruce Boudreau, Joel Quenneville, or Claude Julien, you’re going to have success most of the time unless your GM really screws the pooch over a series of a few years when it comes to player evaluation. If you’re Randy Carlyle or John Tortorella, you need a huge PDO bender to make your teams look better than mediocre most of the time.
As for all those teams wedged firmly in the middle, the job can be very tough to get right all the time, and that often leads to coaches of varying levels of quality ending up on the hot seat. Just taking a look around the league, it seems to me there are about nine guys whose jobs either obviously are or might be in danger.
Let’s quickly run down the list of guys who are safe:
• Randy Carlyle (just hired this year)
• Dave Tippett (very good coach of a tanking team)
• Bruce Cassidy (brand new)
• Glen Gulutzan (he didn’t climb that mountain to be fired nine months later)
• Bill Peters (good coach with a roster on the verge of competing)
• Joel Quenneville (obviously)
• John Tortorella (relatively new and his team is still in good shape despite its recent slide)
• Todd McLellan (check the standings)
• Darryl Sutter (Quick being injured all year keeps him safe)
• Bruce Boudreau (obviously)
• Claude Julien (obviously)
• Peter Laviolette (very good coach, team coming together)
• Doug Weight (brand new)
• Alain Vigneault (just extended)
• Guy Boucher (brand new, and the Senators are sitting prettier than they deserve)
• Mike Sullivan (that whole Stanley Cup thing probably help)
• Peter DeBoer (Sharks are still good, man)
• Mike Yeo (brand new)
• Mike Babcock (obviously)
• Barry Trotz (heading for the best record in the league two years in a row)
But that still leaves nine guys whose jobs are in some amount of danger, based on everything we’ve seen. So here they are:
9. Dan Bylsma
I don’t think it’s particularly likely Bylsma gets turfed. His GM is very smart and would know that a) the team’s shooting percentage is one of the lowest in the league because the forward depth is iffy at best, and b) he’s not likely to find a better coach out there.
The Sabres can’t have imagined they’d be all that competitive this season, even despite a few moves to meaningfully improve their roster (I still like Robin Lehner in net, folks) but the defense doesn’t have guys who can rush the puck and that creates problems offensively, especially once Eichel and O’Reilly aren’t on the ice.
I don’t think the team’s problems are Bylsma-related, though like any coach whose team isn’t winning he’s trying some, umm, creative things to get things going. They’re not working. That’s fine. Take another high-ish draft pick and try again next year.
8. Dave Hakstol
I’m also not too convinced the Flyers are looking to can a second-year coach they just plucked from relative obscurity, but we don’t have the track record on Hakstol that we do on Bylsma.
And unlike Buffalo, this Flyers team was considered pretty good entering the year. Now, the argument in Hakstol’s favor here is that Steve Mason just flat-out collapsed on him. True enough. Like I said, I don’t think he’s getting fired and I would certainly feel he had gotten screwed by his goalie if he did get the axe.
With that having been said, like Bylsma, Hakstol is also resorting to some questionable tactics to shake things up. And his are a lot less forgivable. Shayne Gostisbehere has been scratched a number of times this season in favor of Andrew MacDonald. That alone is a borderline fireable offense.
But still, he’s gonna skate on the fact that his goalies can’t make a stop, as well he should.
7. Jon Cooper
This is where it gets a little interesting. Cooper is a demonstrably good coach, despite some notable foibles (i.e. he doesn’t seem to get along with his team’s captain). And also the Lightning are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs this year with an elite roster. Injuries and all that, sure. A little bad luck in net and shooting the puck, too.
Hey, it happens, and Steve Yzerman is smart enough to understand the same thing Tim Murray does: There aren’t any better options out there.
It’s almost unforgivable that a team that costs this much money and has this much talent will miss the playoffs. They’re currently 23rd in the NHL in points. But the “almost” in there is in there for a reason. Very good coach. Very strange situation.
There have been weirder firings, but this would be a surprise.
6. John Hynes
Tough to imagine Ray Shero had another bottom-10 finish in mind for this season, but then again the Devils are only five points out of the wild card despite a terrible start from Cory Schneider (who by the way is very quietly up to .912 thanks to a .929 run since the start of the new year).
5. Jared Bednar
I almost hesitate to put Bednar in this mix here because he’s brand new and the team’s problems are self-evidently bone deep. But with that having been said, who knows if this is something Sakic would actually consider at the end of the season. A coaching change now, why bother? But if you feel like there’s a better candidate available, or that Bednar is in way over his head as a first-time NHL coach, maybe you make a move.
4. Jeff Blashill
The thing to keep in mind here is that, while Blashill is new to the NHL, he’s not new to the organization, and this is an organization that came into the year ostensibly trying to make the playoffs. Obviously they’re not going to.
Could Blashill get canned? I’d tend to think he won’t given that he was probably brought in to shepherd the team’s younger players through this rebuild. But man, these guys are awful, right? Maybe a lot changes in a hurry once the streak is over. I don’t know.
3. Willie Desjardins
Yeah, the Canucks are theoretically within striking distance of the playoffs (four points out, but with two extra games played) but this guy is a bad coach and the roster is also very bad. Few are talking about how badly even the Sedins have played this season. There just aren’t a lot of bright spots.
That leads one to imagine that if ownership, which is inexplicably in “win now” mode with a team that’s not going to come close, wants answers at or even before the end of the season, Desjardins will be held up as the scapegoat. He’s not a good coach, and he’s not in a good situation, and that’s a coach killer almost every time.
2. Lindy Ruff
I talked about this in the PDPR Wednesday but firing Ruff is understandable if a little unfair to him given that the team’s problems aren’t remotely his fault.
I’ve never been a huge fan of his work, to be honest (even when he had recent-ish success in Buffalo, it was because of Ryan Miller being one of the better goalies alive). If someone has to take the blame in Dallas — and it sure looks like that’s going to be the case unless a whole lot changes in the last 24 games — it’s probably going to be Ruff.
And it won’t be totally undeserved.
1. Paul Maurice
I’ve been saying for some time now that this guy isn’t good enough to make the Jets competitive. He proves it on a regular basis.
This team’s talent is good enough to have them be better than Calgary and Vancouver, and while they suffer in a much more difficult division, and the future is bright, Maurice almost certainly isn’t the guy to get them there.
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