Bring back or move on? Pondering the futures of 12 NHL coaches

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There are 10 days left in the 2021-22 NHL regular season, which means we’re approaching the time of year where teams make decisions on their current head coaches. Around the league, some are in charge on an interim basis; others are on expiring contracts; while a few may have term left but the on-ice results could lead to a change.

Let’s take a look at 12 NHL coaches and what the next few weeks and months might hold for their futures in their current jobs.

INTERIM

Andrew Brunette, Panthers
Martin St. Louis, Canadiens
Jay Woodcroft, Oilers

These three are easy, and it’s hard to imagine them not returning.

Brunette took over a 7-0-0 team from Joel Quenneville and has guided them to the top of the Eastern Conference and put them into the mix for the Presidents’ Trophy. The Panthers are Stanley Cup contenders and it’s only a matter of time before general manager Bill Zito lifts the interim tag and gives the 48-year-old a contract and the full-time gig.

St. Louis has breathed new life into the Canadiens during what was a dismal season. He’s 12-15-4 since taking over from Dominque Ducharme on an interim basis and his relationships with Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton and GM Kent Hughes will likely lead to a return.

“I was brought in here to finish the season, so I’m going to focus on that,” St. Louis said last week. “Is my goal to be back next year? Yeah, absolutely. I don’t see many things why I wouldn’t be back, but you never know. But if I’m visualizing myself six, seven months from now, I see myself behind the bench. Until everything is concrete and stuff I’m going to stay the course of what I’m doing.”

Since Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett on Feb. 10, the Oilers have the fourth-highest points percentage (.703) and have improved greatly offensively. Edmonton is heading towards the playoffs and getting production from more than just Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Balance up front and better goaltending has put the Oilers in a good position as the First Round approaches.

Derek King, Blackhawks 

King took over from Jeremy Colliton on Nov. 6. The Blackhawks have gone 24-31-9, including losing 13 of their last 16, under his watch as the franchise goes through a transition phase. There will be no playoff hockey for the second straight spring. GM Kyle Davidson has a lot of work to do in the summer as he begins a rebuild and big questions will need to be asked of the futures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Given the expected changes, it doesn’t look like King will be the coach here going forward and Davidson’s next pick will give an indication of what type of roster he wants to construct for the future.

Dave Lowry, Jets

Speaking of franchises that need a refresh, Winnipeg has not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet but they’re on the verge of making it official.

Lowry was thrown into the fire following Paul Maurice’s surprising resignation in December. In 48 games the Jets have gone 22-20-6 and shown the roster needs a bit of a touch up. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to nail his next coaching hire as Winnipeg isn’t a team in need of a rebuild, but rather, some freshening up. Will experience be important for a team that’s typically been middle of the pack when it comes to average age or is there a long-time assistant out there (Lane Lambert, Kirk Muller) ready for a shot?

Mike Yeo, Flyers

A 15-32-7 record after replacing Alain Vigneault says it all in Philadelphia. The team is in need of a major injection of life in the post-Claude Giroux era. With management promising not a rebuild but an “aggressive retool,” does that mean another veteran coach should be in line to replace Yeo? Claude Julien is taking up as many Team Canada coaching jobs he can to keep his name out there, while former Flyers Jim Montgomery and Rick Tocchet are interesting options as coaches looking to do better their next gigs.

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EXPIRING

Bruce Boudreau, Canucks

Since Boudreau took over from Travis Green on Dec. 5 the Canucks have 68 points in 51 games and have given themselves a chance at a playoff spot. They also have the sixth-best points percentage over that span (.667) — better than Pittsburgh, Calgary, Minnesota, and the Rangers.

But as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this month, his contract features an interesting wrinkle:

“He’s on a one-year contract and there’s an option for next year. Nobody will tell me exactly what it is but I think that I’ve kind of pieced it together, and that is that the Canucks have an option to keep him or not, but if they don’t, there’s a payment that has to go to Boudreau and also, Boudreau has an option not to return and if that was to happen, I don’t think he gets a payout but it would put him on the open market at the end of the year.”

Boudreau has said he loves the city and wants to stay. He’s certainly done enough to show that his voice was needed and it has worked. It’d be wise of GM Patrik Allvin and president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford to want to continue this positive momentum into next season.

Rick Bowness, Stars

It’s been a weird ride for Bowness in Dallas. He replaced Montgomery on an interim basis in Dec. 2019, took the team to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and then was given a two-year extension. This season, Dallas was looking out of it in January but has gone on a 24-12-3 run since Jan. 20. They are in the thick of the Western Conference Wild Card race and have a four-point lead on Vegas with six games to go (and a game in-hand).

It could have been easy for GM Jim Nill to let Bowness go at any point earlier this season, but he stuck with Bowness and now the two will have to have a conversation this summer about the future. It could simply boil down to what the 67-year-old Bowness wants in the end.

John Hynes, Predators

The Predators are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot during a season that’s seen a number of offensive turnarounds on the roster. Matt Duchene (77 points) and Ryan Johansen (58 points) are having bounce-back seasons; Filip Forsberg has career highs in goals (38) and points (75); and Roman Josi is having an other-worldly year (88 points). There is language in Hynes’ contract that allows the Predators to pick up an option for next season and when you look at the consistency in some of the management positions within the organization since they entered the NHL, it seems like a no-brainer he’s back for at least one more year.

jeff blashill
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TERM LEFT

Jeff Blashill, Red Wings

Blashill was given a two-year extension last spring, but this season will mark six straight years without playoff hockey. The Red Wings are 201-258-72 with him in charge and the only consistency he’s delivered is in losses. This season Detroit has only won three straight games once and have five losing streaks of four games or more. Let’s not forget fans have started the “Fire Blashill” chants at Little Caesar’s Arena.

There have been bright spots — Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond — but the time given to have the roster take steps forward under Blashill has passed. It has to be in GM Steve Yzerman’s plans to install a new coach who can further the development of the core of his team and not have them stagnate as the franchise continues its rebuild. Playoffs doesn’t have to be the No. 1 goal for 2022-23, but you want to see improvements up and down the roster that can be attributed to better coaching and a better system.

Bob Boughner, Sharks

How does Doug Wilson stepping down as GM and the potential of an outside hire coming in to take over the full-time job from Joe Will affect Boughner’s standing? He signed a three-year contract in 2020 and has a 64-82-22 in charge since replacing Peter DeBoer. Does the new GM keep everything in place for one season to evaluate or is there enough seen already to choose going in a different directon behind the bench?

Lindy Ruff, Devils

Sometimes a coach can only take a roster so far before a replacement needs to come in and take them further. That’s the feeling with New Jersey. While they were hamstrung by goaltending issues this year, the likes of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich, and Dawson Mercer give hope for the future. But a minus-46 goal differential is more than just who’s between the pipes.

Ruff has 782 career NHL wins as a head coach. He also has 765 total losses in 19 years behind the bench. The Devils have made the playoffs once in 10 seasons. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

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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.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.