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.)


Islanders’ D getting crowded with four-year deal for Adam Pelech

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If nothing else, quantity probably won’t be much of an issue for the New York Islanders’ defense in 2017-18.

GM Garth Snow locked down another blueliner on Monday, as he signed Adam Pelech to a four-year contract. The deal is worth $1.6 million per season ($6.4M overall), according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Pelech, 22, played 44 games at the NHL level in 2016-17, collecting 10 points and struggling from an analytics standpoint. He also appeared in nine games with the Islanders in 2015-16.

Staple notes that this could make for a logjam – or, to put a positive spin on it, make for a lot of competition – particularly if the Isles can strike a deal with Calvin de Haan soon. If that pans out, they’d have eight defensemen who would need to go through waivers.

On the bright side, the Islanders’ defense looks respectable on paper, and that’s assuming that Pelech doesn’t take a step forward. If he does, this could be another respectable, under-the-radar move by Snow.

At the moment, it mainly seems like adding depth and flexibility, which isn’t the worst thing, either.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.