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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: Tatar’s three-point night; Matthews makes more history

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Three Stars

1. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. Two big wins in a row for the Canadiens. Two big nights for Tatar, who now has six points in his last two games. During a 7-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Tatar scored a goal and assisted on two others. Last season, Tatar had only two multi-point games the entire year.

2. Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs. Kapanen continued his red-hot start with a pair of goals during the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He now has four goals and eight points through seven games this season, really making most of this opportunity in William Nylander‘s absence.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. A 37-save effort from Anderson helped the Senators dispatch the Dallas Stars 4-1. It was Anderson’s second win in a row and over his last two games he’s stopped 73 of 75 shots faced.

Highlights of the Night

• During their game Monday night, the Senators remembered the late Ray Emery:

• Maxime Lajoie can’t stop scoring. The Senators defensman potted his fourth of the season and now has seven points on the season.

• In his 1,000th NHL game, Tomas Plekanec scored:

• One of Kapanen’s goals was this bank shot:

• Good luck trying to stop this Matt Dumba rocket:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Maple Leafs 4, Kings 1

Senators 4, Stars 1
Canadiens 7, Red Wings 3
Predators 4, Wild 2

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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.

Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The NHL announced on Monday evening that Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson has been suspended two games for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct” against Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson over the weekend.

Petterson has been entered in to the NHL’s concussion protocol and is expected to be sidelined for the next 7-10 days as a result of the play.

The incident took place early in the third period of Saturday’s game in Florida and left the Canucks completely furious. Just after Pettersson had dangled around Matheson in the offensive zone, Matheson again encountered the talented rookie along the boards and after checking him, proceeded to slam him to the ice with the puck nowhere near the two players.

Here is the video as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner tried to defend his play on Monday by saying that Matheson is an honest player and that he was just attempting to finish his check hard, while Matheson’s agent said that his client was “surprised” by how light Pettersson is and that it all happened very quickly.

On Monday, Canucks coach Travis Green was still upset about the play and how it resulted in his team losing a bright young star to injury on a play that was not necessary.

“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I’m really upset, I still am,” Green said. “We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary. I’m pissed off right now, still talking about it.”

Matheson forfeits $52,419.36 in salary and is eligible to return to the Panthers’ lineup Saturday against Detroit.

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.

Crosby, MacKinnon surprise Kenyan hockey team (Video)

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Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon have teamed up before to promote Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee and donut shop, but their latest venture saw them help spread the gospel of hockey.

Tim Hortons flew 12 members of Kenya’s senior men’s hockey team to Canada over the summer for a game. The African team, which was formed in 2012 and has set a goal for future Olympic participation, has only been able to play against themselves back home and this would be a new experience playing against an actual opponent.

As the players gathered inside their locker room, which featured brand new equipment and Kenya hockey jerseys, in came the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and Colorado Avalanche star to join their team.

“It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play – for the first time – in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game,” said team captain Benard Azegere. “When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn’t even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we’ve played a real game with some All-Star teammates.”

“That’s the best part about the game, just how it reaches so many people in a place like Kenya where you wouldn’t think there’s even ice,” Crosby said on Monday via the Tribune-Review. “To meet people from different places and to share the game that we love to play, I think I had as much fun as any of those guys today.”

The Kenyan Ice Hockey Federation is coming soon, and the men are not alone in their pursuit of a national team. As ESPN.com documented last week, a group of five women make up the Nairobi Ice Lions, who, like the men, see Olympic participation in their future.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Alex DeBrincat is Blackhawks’ next rising star

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Alex DeBrincat spent three seasons between 2014 and 2017 absolutely dominating the Ontario Hockey League. He was one of the most productive and prolific scorers in all of junior hockey during his time with the Erie Otters, and never finished a full season with less than 50 goals or 100 points.

That sort of production, combined with his obvious talent level, should have made him one of the first picks in the 2016 draft class.

It didn’t. Mainly because he was listed at 5-7 and under 170 pounds, making him one of the smallest players in the class and, today, one of the smallest players in the NHL. As he slid out of the first round in 2016 there was always the potential for somebody to get a steal of a player.

That somebody turned out to be the Chicago Blackhawks, who ended up snagging him with the 39th overall pick in the draft.

Today, that pick is looking like one of the steals of that draft.

DeBrincat has been one of the offensive stars for the Blackhawks in the early going this season and already has nine points (including six goals) in the team’s first five games. That comes after a rookie season that saw him finish as the Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer. So far, he is one of the most productive players to come out of his draft class as the only players to outscore him have been Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mathew Tkachuk, and Clayton Keller, all of whom were among the first seven players taken in the draft.

Only Matthews, Laine, and Keller have been better on a points per game basis.

All of this is a huge development for the Blackhawks.

Given their current salary cap situation they are going to need young players on cheap contracts to fill in around their big-money stars at the top of the lineup. DeBrincat is well on his way to giving them such a player and should be part of the organization’s next wave of young talent. And that next wave seems to have some promising prospects. Along with DeBrincat the Blackhawks are also getting a ton of production out of rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, and they also have Adam Boqvist, the No. 7 overall pick from 2018, waiting in the wings.

The lesson that the rest of the teams in the league should take away from this is to never let a player’s size stand in the way of giving them a chance. Over the past decade teams have been far more willing to take “undersized” players than they used to be, but they are still a little too fearful of that lack of size because there was nothing in DeBrincat’s production or play as a junior player that should have resulted in him being anything other than a first-round pick … and probably a very high one. Obviously if all things are equal with players the bigger, more physical player is preferable. But in cases like DeBrincat (and Johnny Gaudreau, and Nikita Kucherov, and so on and so on before him) all things are not usually equal.

DeBrincat has always been a highly skilled player that produced at an obscene level. There was always the potential for him to be a top-line player. A lot of teams couldn’t get past the lack of size and allowed him to slip all the way down to the second round. The Blackhawks were the team to take the “chance” on him and are being rewarded with an emerging star that could be a potential difference-maker for them for a very, very long time.

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.