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Which NHL coaches are on the hot seat?

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The 2017-18 NHL season was a bit of an oddity due to the fact there were no in-season coaching changes for the first time since the 1966-67 season when the league still consisted of only six teams. Typically there are usually a handful of teams that, at some point in the year, decide they are in need of a new voice or a new direction in an effort to shake something up.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it is meaningless — but it still usually happens. Given the history of the league it seems highly improbable that we will go through a second consecutive season without a chance behind the bench somewhere around the league.

On Tuesday, the folks at Bovada released some odds on who the first coach fired this season could be and they put odds on some big names in the coaching ranks. Some that might be truly coaching for their jobs early in the season, and some that just seem … odd.

First, Bovada’s odds…

  • Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers: 11/5
  • Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators: 12/5
  • Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks: 11/4
  • Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings: 19/2
  • Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks: 19/2
  • Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers: 20/1
  • Dave Hakstol, Philadelphia Flyers: 30/1
  • Mike Yeo, St. Louis Blues: 30/1
  • Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs:  66/1

I think there are a couple of names that we can cross off the list already.

Mike Babcock, for example, isn’t going and the fact that there are any sort of odds on him seems a little outrageous. His recent coaching resume is certainly up for debate and should be scrutinized a little more than it has been, but his job security seems pretty rock solid at this point. Honestly, I would go as far as to say that his job is as safe as any coach in the league at this moment.

I also don’t know if I buy Bob Boughner being in any sort of danger, at least not right now. He is only entering his second season, and the Panthers were one of the hottest teams in the second half of the 2017-18 season. Maybe if the team misses the playoffs again he will be in some danger after the season, but not during it. He deserves a longer leash than that and should get it.

[Related: Bob the Builder: Panthers’ coach putting his stamp on things]

Boucher and Blashill are in tough spots because they are coaching teams that everyone knows has little — if any — chance to compete this season. They might very well be on the hot seat, and it is really difficult to imagine either one being behind the bench of their respective team over the long-term, but they would definitely fall into the “it doesn’t really make a difference this season” category of coaching changes.

McLellan is the obvious choice at the top of the list. The Oilers were odds on favorites to win the Western Conference at the start of the 2017-18 season and completely fell flat on their faces. When you have the best player in hockey, one that is as close to a slam dunk lock as you can get to win the scoring title, and a legitimate MVP candidate every single season you do not get a terribly long leash. Especially when there are high expectations for him and the team that have consistently not been meant. McLellan has missed the playoffs twice in three years with McDavid and their first game to open the 2018-19 season was more of the same.

Quenneville is a tough one because his resume is as complete as any coach in the league. But the Blackhawks are coming off of their first non-playoff season in nearly a decade and have not advanced beyond the first-round in three years. Professional sports are definitely a “what have you done for me lately” business, but if you are going to fire a coach with that sort of track record you better be darn sure you are getting a clear and definitive upgrade. Is that coach available?  A fast start (which the Blackhawks definitely have had) would erase all doubt about his job security. At least for now.

Yeo and Carlyle seem to be in a similar situation, where they are coaching good teams (or what should be good teams) but more is probably expected of them. Within that group you could probably add another name that does not show up on the list: Minnesota’s Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau is an outstanding coach and has had success everywhere he has been. But at some point the management behind a good team gets tired of just being good enough to compete and not taking enough steps toward a championship. That has been Boudreau’s undoing in every stop. It was also the same thing that happened with Yeo in Minnesota. And Carlyle in his previous stops.

Hakstol, like the team he is coaching, is the true wild card on the list. This is his fourth season in Philadelphia and the team has been pretty much the same in every season. They’ve averaged around 95 points in the standings, they made the playoffs twice (and got bounced in the first round each time) and missed the playoffs once. If everything goes right his team could be outstanding. If a few things don’t go right his team could be what we saw on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks. It largely comes down to what he gets out of his goalies and his young defense, which is pretty much what makes or breaks every coach in the league whose job security is on the bubble. Nothing in this sport makes or breaks a coach like a goalie can.

With all of that in mind, which coaches are in most danger early in the season and could potentially be the first one changed? My rankings would go as: 1. Todd McLellan, 2. Guy Boucher, 3. Jeff Blashill, 4. Dave Hakstol, 5. Randy Carlyle, 6. Bruce Boudreau, 7. Mike Yeo, with Quenneville and Boughner being extreme long shots and Babcock not even being worth discussing.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Bruins can’t handle Eichel; Jets beat Bolts

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel

Remember when people were really worried about Jack Eichel receiving $10 million per season? (Cups ears.) Hmm, not hearing much of that these days.

Eichel gave the Bruins more than they can handle on Sunday, collecting two primary assists (including a beauty on Jeff Skinner‘s game-winner) and two goals to help Buffalo beat Boston. He was really all over the place in this one, firing six shots on goal, enjoying a +3 rating in what was mostly a tight contest.

Buffalo’s captain now has 14 goals and 45 points in 34 games in 2018-19. A healthy portion of that total came during this current six-game point streak, as Eichel has nine goals and four assists for 13 points during that span.

The win was notable for the Sabres, as they at least briefly passed Toronto for second in the Atlantic.

Skinner’s two goals give him 24 for this season, matching last year’s total in just his 34th game of 2018-19.

2. Mark Scheifele

Once you go beyond Eichel, you really start splitting hairs, as there were a lot of three-point games on Sunday.

One tough call is Scheifele vs. his Jets linemate Nikolaj Ehlers. After all, while Scheifele’s three points came from one goal and two assists, Ehlers grabbed two goals and one assist. Under certain circumstances, you’d go Ehlers.

Scheifele assisted on Ehlers’ second goal, which sent the game into overtime. Scheifele then cleaned up a loose puck created by a nice drive to the net by Patrik Laine, ending the game with an overtime game-winner. It’s his second consecutive game with an OT-clincher, apparently.

It sounds like Scheifele has a knack for these situations.

3. Brent Burns

When in doubt, make a significant milestone a tiebreaker. Burns is a rare breed even when you ignore the notion that he could nest baby birds in his beard:

Brent Burns generated three assists as the Sharks took down the Blackhawks on Sunday. With that, he now has 600 points in his career. One can only imagine how many points Burns would have if he had blossomed earlier/a coach as smart as Peter DeBoer came along sooner and optimized his unique set of skills earlier. (His stats with Minnesota vs. San Jose are resoundingly stark, and he really started to get monster minutes around the time DeBoer took over, though Todd McLellan did get that started.)

Other highlights

Maybe a 48-save game wasn’t enough for Andrei Vasilevskiy? The Lightning’s ultra-talented goalie earned a second assist on Sunday, and it’s one of the primary reasons this is such a fun highlight. Just a fantastic goalie-pass:

If Linus Ullmark pans out like Buffalo hopes, opponents better watch out for the Sabres.

More Factoids

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the list of all-time wins for goalies.

In case you’re wondering, Jacques Plante ranks eighth all-time with 437 wins.

Few teams can match the Flames’ top-end talent, and this Johnny Gaudreau/Matthew Tkachuk stat really drives that point home. Gaudreau’s one of those players who had three points on Sunday, by the way.

Scores

VGK 4 – NYR 3 (OT)
CAR 3 – ARI 0
CGY 7 – STL 2
BUF 4 – BOS 2
SJS 7 – CHI 3
WPG 5 – TBL 4 (OT)
VAN 4 – EDM 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Will Flyers’ disastrous road trip spell end for Hakstol?

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To put things mildly, there are a lot of reports and rumors revolving around the Philadelphia Flyers possibly firing Dave Hakstol to make Joel Quenneville their new head coach.

With a lot of conflicting information in the air (things do seem dire for Hakstol in most scenarios), let’s consider how the Flyers got to this point.

Terrible road trip

Look, the Flyers weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before the disastrous five-game road trip, which concluded on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping by the Vancouver Canucks.

Optics obviously matter, though, and things really devolved as this went along.

After beating the Sabres 6-2 on Dec. 8, the Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak, only managing a single standings point in a 6-5 OT loss to Calgary on Dec. 12.

Three of those four losses were absolute blowouts; Philly fell 7-1 to the Jets on Dec. 9, then really stunk up the joint during the last two losses, falling 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday and 5-1 to the Canucks on Saturday. There was little denying the negative feelings about that team, and Hakstol drew a lot of the blame for seemingly tepid efforts.

After scrapping their way to a somewhat surprising berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points in 31 games (12-15-4).

Good and the bad

If there’s one obvious tweak Hakstol made that produced huge dividends for the Flyers, it was moving Claude Giroux from center to the wing.

Heading into 2017-18, there were serious concerns about Giroux. It seemed like his offense was slowing down, possibly pointing to him hitting the dreaded low end of the aging curve. Instead, Giroux appeared to be liberated by the freedom of playing the wing, often ceding the center duties to Sean Couturier this season. Giroux enjoyed an MVP-like season, powering his way to career-highs of 34 goals and 102 points.

One can debate how Hakstol used younger players versus veterans. You could do that with many teams, not to mention other Flyers staffers, whether you’re pondering Carter Hart or, say, Travis Sanheim.

There have been some structural issues. Much like Todd McLellan in Edmonton, much of Hakstol’s tenure has been marked by a questionable strategy to lean heavily on shots from the point.

Sure, it’s nice to get the puck on the sticks of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere when it makes sense, yet you’re far more likely to hit paydirt if you generate high-danger chances from the slot. Easier said than done? Yes, but some teams emphasize shots from defensemen to the detriment of creativity, making things too easy for the opposition.

The fall of a great power-play unit and a generally terrible PK might explain some of Hakstol’s struggles.

Since Hakstol came into the league in 2015-16, the Flyers’ PK unit has killed 77.1-percent of penalties, the worst mark in the NHL. If Quenneville or another coach could find answers where Hakstol and his crew failed, that could be a nice area of growth.

On the bright side, the Flyers have often had a deadly power play, although their overall mark (19 percent) under Hakstol is actually just tied at 17th.

Some of that might be tied up in Philly’s steps toward adding more talent over the years, but either way, that unit hit a big wall in 2018-19. They’ve connected on just 12.9-percent of their PP opportunities, the third-worst percentage in the NHL.

Hakstol didn’t sign the Flyers’ goalies, and it wasn’t his final call to opt against getting someone more established to compliment Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. A new coach’s system could absolutely make life easier for whoever ends up in Philly’s net going forward, but that could still be an area of serious concern.

A new coach – if the Flyers were to make such a rumored change – might be able to install systemic changes that could help optimize this team. Some might come from finding more innovative special teams strategies, or maybe tweaking personnel decisions. Leaning on different players in different situations may also move the needle.

It’s not necessarily a matter of Hakstol being a terrible head coach, but rather that there could be areas of improvement.

Granted, the Flyers have dug themselves a big hole, so if they’re making changes, they might want to keep their expectations in check.

Big decision coming Monday, and more later this week?

Working past the understanding that people have been wondering about Hakstol for a long time, and beckoning for Coach Q to take over in Philly basically the second he was fired, things seemed to escalate on Sunday. Business picked up as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported that the Flyers would make that decision. Things got blurry from there, with TSN’s Darren Dreger describing the situation as “status quo” and that “no decision has been made.” Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo reports that Hakstol’s firing could be announced “within 24 hours,” but an interim coach may be named, possibly because there might be some wrinkles to iron out with Quenneville. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi backs that up, noting no change officially happening Sunday night, yet to expect a “busy” Monday.

Maybe some of this comes down to semantics (official versus looming?), it all seems a touch odd, and a bit confusing.

A lot to take in, right? PHT will keep you updated, whether Monday ends up being busy or just … awkward for Hakstol and the team, if nothing is actually happening. Buckle up.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford leaves game with concussion

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As the hockey world wonders what’s going on with former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville (is something happening with Philly?), Chicago worries about more immediate concerns.

Sunday’s game between the Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks already began as a tough one for goalies, as Martin Jones was eventually pulled after allowing three goals, including two on Chicago’s first two shots. The night is rougher for Crawford, however, as he left the contest late in the first period after a very hard collision involving Blackhawks teammate Dylan Strome.

Crawford isn’t that far removed from vertigo and other issues that prompted at least some concerns about his career being in jeopardy, so seeing his head hit the post so hard was very disconcerting:

Afterward, the Blackhawks announced Crawford had suffered a concussion.

“Crow is such a big part of our team,” said defenseman Connor Murphy. “To lose him is not good. You just feel for him. In a game like that where there were parts where our goalie is hung out to dry and then for them to take guys crashing on him is not fair either.”

Some have wondered about the Blackhawks possibly hitting the “reset” button by trading Crawford (among others), yet you wonder if other GMs would be worried about health challenges.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ilya Sorokin submits save of the year candidate at Channel One Cup

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With a little more than two weeks left in 2018, goaltender Ilya Sorokin wanted to make sure he got his name on the list of potential saves of the year during Saturday’s Channel One Cup game against the Czech Republic.

During a 7-2 victory, the Russian netminder, a third-round pick by the New York Islanders in 2014, made an incredible stick save to keep the Czechs at bay. One that you will really appreciate once you see it through the various camera angles.

There’s a chance we see Sorokin later this season in the NHL. As Arthur Staple of The Athletic reported earlier this month, the 23-year-old Sorokin could join the Islanders once his season with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow ends. Through 24 games he’s posted a 1.18 goals against average and a .943 save percentage, continuing a trend of strong numbers since the 2015-16 season.

As the Islanders figure out if their answer in goal for the future is Robin Lehner, Thomas Greiss, or maybe even Sergei Bobrovsky, Sorokin’s presence gives them a possible in-house option to ponder.

Stick-tap Jeff Veillette

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.