Which coaches are in the greatest danger of being fired?


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.)

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.