Which coaches are in the greatest danger of being fired?

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Thumbnail image for crawford.jpgBeing a head coach in professional sports is often a risky proposition but the NHL is a particularly cruel place for a bench boss. Aside from outright anomalies in Buffalo (Lindy Ruff) and Nashville (Barry Trotz), hockey coaches experience about as much job security as college football coaches show loyalty.

ESPN’s Scott Burnside released his list of NHL coaches on the hot seat. Here is his list, with a few excerpts and some commentary.

Marc Crawford, Dallas Stars

At no point last season did the Stars win three games in a row, and their lack of consistency (or rather consistent inconsistency) was one of the key factors in missing the playoff ferry. Crawford will have use all his coaching acumen to coax the Stars back into the postseason given the talent buildup in the Western Conference and the departure of veterans Mike Modano and Marty Turco. He also may be without longtime Star Jere Lehtinen, who remains undecided about returning to the team.

It might be unfair to say that a well-trained chimp could have coached the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup, but let’s just say that I’ve never been blown away by Crawford’s “coaching acumen.” If he’s indeed on the hot seat, he’s going to need a lot of luck to keep his job.

Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs

Offensively, Wilson will have to cobble together scoring from a group that still lacks a defined No. 1 center. Still, Wilson’s reputation as a top NHL coach has been made on his preparation and ability to get production from up and down his lineup. He’d better do just that out of the blocks, or the cries for his head that became more muted after the Olympics will be in full voice by the time Halloween rolls around.

Thumbnail image for ronwilson1.jpgThe way I see it, the Leafs’ problems stem more from bad (and impatient) management. As much as I enjoy Brian Burke’s bold commentary and hilarious antics, he keeps betting big with has-beens (J.S. Giguere), overrated players (Phil Kessel) and odd combos of the two (Dion Phaneuf).

Burnside mentions Washington Capitals Bruce Boudreau as a hot seat candidate and perhaps that is true. After all, something might have to give if the team falls short in the playoffs after another dazzling regular season. Still, I think he’s safer than the others.

Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards is listed too, but let’s face it: the Wild are boring. He might try to transition the team from the Jacques Lemaire yawn-inducing days, but the outlook is a bit on the bleak side there.

tortsandboudreau.jpgFinally, the last guy to make the list is New York Rangers coach John Tortorella.

The Rangers missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the lockout on the final day of the regular season — in a shootout, no less. Their penalty kill was seventh, and they were 10th in goals-against. But Tortorella will once again need to coax NHL performances out of a blue line that is young (assuming veteran Wade Redden starts the season buried in Hartford) and may be more prone to taking Tortorella’s bombast to heart.

To some extent, a lot of the key figures in the Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup run would have much better legacies if they retired after the champagne went flat. Tortorella might not top that list. Much like in the case of Ron Wilson, the general manager is the guy who should really be fired, but a lot of the time the coach gets the “middle manager” treatment and takes a dive for the other suit.

So those are Burnside’s choices for the coaches on the hottest seats. I thought I’d open the floor to PHT readers, though, and ask: who would you guess might get the axe first? Vote in the poll below and do keep in mind that you can write-in your own choice in the “other” category.

(Extra note: I put a few other choices in there. The fact that Brent Sutter didn’t make Burnside’s list is a little baffling, honestly.)


Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Lightning, Bruins try to move on to Round 2

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Game 5: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-1)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Gord Miller, Joe Micheletti
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Chris Cuthbert, Ray Ferraro
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream

*Regionalized coverage – Florida markets and WNBC in New York metro area will air NJ-TB on NBC and CBJ-WSH on NBCSN; all other markets will receive CBJ-WSH on NBC and NJ-TB on NBCSN

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]