Being 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.
The 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.
Finally, 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.)