by Ron Spence
We’re at the end of February and 20% of the NHL’s coaches have been fired (Dennis Savard of Chicago, Barry Melrose of Tampa Bay, Peter Laviolette of Carolina, Craig Hartsburg of Ottawa, Michel Therrien of Pittsburgh, and Tom Renney of the New York Rangers) so far this season.
The pundits were predicting the NHL’s demises long before the season began.
First were a group of The Canadian Press, who made their annual predictions (Bill Beacon, Robin Brownlee, Shi Davidi, Chris Johnston, Gregory Strong and Chris Yzerman).
Shi Davidi wrote:
“The only thing we could all agree on is that the Vancouver Canucks will make Alain Vigneault the first coach fired this season. Apparently we don’t think the extension through the 2009-10 season he signed back in May will do much to change his fate.
‘GM Mike Gillis is going to get his own man in there sooner rather than later,’ said one writer.”
Next, Jeff Hale of the New York Times predicted his five:
Andy Murray of the Blues. This was the favored choice at a recent meeting of the Lansdowne Road Hockey Brotherhood. Murray drives his teams hard and often loses the room because of this. Impatience for a playoff spot may be building in St. Louis in spite of the roster and Murray could pay the price for that.
Alain Vigneault of the Canucks. He is the choice of a panel of Canadian Press writers, and you’d think that if things sour new GM Mike Gillis would quickly install his own guy.
Mike Keenan of the Flames. Okay, another Western Canadian guy but one whose team is most likely to be scuffling for a playoff spot. There will also be the Bertuzzi circus to deal with. Iron Mike has apparently filed down some of his hard edges but if things start to slide, look for him to start calling out players.
Barry Melrose of the Lightning. The Lightning had no zap over in Europe and if the Bolts continue to short-circuit once back in North America then the Mullet gets sheared.
Denis Savard of the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks can’t hide any more. They’re on TV, they have good young talent and, now, all those Cubs and White Sox fans are at their disposal. Even the best spinarama might not be enough to ward off a balky start.
Puck Daddy agreed with three of Hale’s picks:
“Hard to argue with any of them. Vigneault’s job was in question this off-season, and Gillis is as impulsive as they come. The expectations are high for both the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks; should either of them falter, the exit is that-a-way.”
P.D. didn’t think that Melrose would get axed, however:
“But barring an epic failure in the standings — and we’re talking, like a 2-15 start — Melrose will still be the head coach at the end of the season. As impulsive as owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie have been, the hiring of Melrose was more symbolic of their maverick approach than anything else. Firing him would be as counterintuitive as McCain dumping Sarah Palin.”
With the firing of the first NHL coach already behind us, Denis Savard, who’s going to be next? Let’s take a look at 5 NHL coaches who could find themselves on the hot seat real soon, at least in my eyes:
1. Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks-
Coming into the season this name wouldn’t even have been associated with this topic. But, have you seen the way the Ducks have been playing this year? A team expected by many to challenge for Lord Stanley’s Mug, has two wins on the season, albeit one against the Toronto Marlies, and they’ve looked terrible in every game they have played, win or lose. His seat is warming up by the day.
2. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks-
Many were surprised he kept his job after the Canucks hired new GM Mike Gillis. The team is off to an unimpressive 3-4 start, and appear to have the same problem they have had for the past few seasons, they can’t put the puck in the net. If Vancouver is struggling through November, look for a change there.
3. Barry Melrose, Tampa Bay Lightning-
Usually a new coach has a bit of a longer leash to get through struggles, but there is already starting to be some disagreement between Melrose and the upper brass in Tampa. First overall pick Steven Stamkos is averaging just over 10 minutes a game, a far cry from the 15-18 minutes he should be getting. If Melrose fails to comply with ownership and management on playing the youngster significantly more, there may be a change.
4. Peter Laviolette, Carolina Hurricanes-
The club is off to a good start, but coming into the year I thought his job was in jeopardy. The Canes have missed the playoffs both seasons since winning the cup, and if the club gets in a rut this year, or fails to make it to late April again, expect a move.
5. Mike Keenan, Calgary Flames-
This is a bit of a long shot because he has a good working relationship with GM Darryl Sutter. However, Keenan is the type of coach who’s communication tools can be effective, but the life span on them doesn’t last too long. His team has struggled out of the gates, and it appears as if him and star goalie Mikka Kiprusoff do not always see eye to eye. However, don’t expect a move unless they tank real hard.”
A number of things are apparent from these predictions: none of the forecasters know or understand Mike Gillis; he sticks with his people; and Gillis knows that he put together the team, so how they fare is his responsibility as well.
“I kept telling everybody,” Vigneault said after the Renney firing, “I wasn’t looking over my shoulder, I wasn’t concerned about my job and I really meant it. You can only have that feeling when your relationship with your immediate boss is very, very good. And it is.”
Also, all of the fired coaches – with the exception of Savard – are from the Eastern Conference.