Coaches on the Hot Seat
By Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert
Let’s take a look at some NHL coaches on the hot seat early this season. As always, general managers looking to save their bacon are the reason the following five bench bosses are in the frying pan.
1. Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens
He’s a francophone, has Cup-winning credibility via his work with the Bruins, but his Habs are in the dumper. Montreal toppled the also-struggling Rangers 5-4 Saturday night, but with so many top-line guys not producing, have to wonder whether Julien could yield to another coach to buy GM Marc Bergevin time.
Can’t rule out the turnstile aspect of the Canadiens’ coaching history. Julien helmed the club from 2002-06, then came aboard for the final 24 games of the regular season last year before a Round 1 loss to the Rangers.
2. Alain Vigneault, NY Rangers
Speaking of the Rangers, Alain Vigneault has gone so far as to start Ondrej Pavelec for a second consecutive game in place of Henrik Lundqvist. While New York toppled the dreadful Coyotes Friday, they stumbled in Montreal Saturday.
It’s Vigneault’s fifth season in Manhattan. He’s been impressive with one Cup Final (2014 loss to LA) and one Conference Final (to go along with a Cup Final appearance with Vancouver).
Could the new Rangers’ boss be standing behind the bench right now? Lindy Ruff, fifth overall in wins by a coach (736) is his newly-minted assistant and could easily become Vigneault’s replacement.
Very interesting coaching history between our top two “hot seat” picks.
Montreal’s coaching list reads like a French Canadian recycling bin. Maybe the Habs will “go green” and bring Vigneault back if New York cuts bait. The 56-year-old Vigneault was the Canadiens’ coach from 1997-2001, during which time the club made the playoffs just once. As noted above, Julien is on his second turn in Montreal.
You know the French expression, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same).
3. Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes
He was hired only recently, but having tied the NHL record for worst start in history (0-10-1), it’s possible that the youngest GM in the history of North American pro sports, 28-year-old John Chayka, could pull the plug.
Hard to fault Tocchet, though, as the club lost goalie Antti Raanta to injury and has little in the way of backup goaltending, with Louis Domingue and Adin Hill too green for the rigors of an NHL season. Chayka plucked another unknown goalie in trade this weekend when he dealt a pick to the Devils for Scott Wedgewood, who has played but four NHL games.
But what of the offense, or more succinctly put, what offense? The Coyotes have scored but 26 goals in eleven games. Max Domi has done surprisingly little, and Anthony Duclair is looking like AHL material after showing much promise. Rookie Clayton Keller leads the team in scoring (8-4-12), but Derek Stepan has just two goals.
There’s little for Tocchet to work with, but Chayka must be tempted to change chairs on the Titanic, so to speak, as the club is almost out of the playoff race and it’s not even Halloween.
4. Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche
An exciting start through the first five games of the season (4-1-0) had things looking up, but the Avs came back to earth, just 2-4 in their last six. GM Joe Sakic is haunted by question marks, with the entire hockey world wondering when he’ll extract a kings’ ransom for Matt Duchene, who remains on the trade block with Gabe Landeskog.
Sakic was stood up at the altar when Patrick Roy dumped him just prior to the start of the 2016-17 season. It was a slap in the face, and Bednar has done the best he could with a light defense and little offensive depth. It wouldn’t be fair to kick him to the curb, but fair has nothing to do with it.
5. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets
A bag skate after a 2-0 start yielded some results for Maurice, who has leaned on Connor Hellebucyk since free agent Steve Mason started poorly. He’s got his defensemen playing better, and Tyler Myers is healthy.
However, the club is up-and-down despite having so many offensive weapons. The Jets won three straight over Edmonton, Vancouver and Carolina, then lost to Columbus and Pittsburgh with a win over division rival Minnesota sandwiched in between. This is just the type of inconsistency that has the organization getting antsy.
Don’t be surprised to see GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s feet held to the fire along with Maurice’s if the Jets can’t leverage a ton of offensive talent in Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nik Ehlers and Bryan Little. Little and Wheeler are stuck on one goal apiece, and if the Jets can’t turn it around by Thanksgiving, and remain a playoff “bubble team” at best, a new voice–or voices–will be welcome.
Josh Brewster writes about the NHL every week on Buffalo Sports Page.