Three more weeks, that is it! The 2015-2016 National Hockey League season is just that close! The anticipation grows as training camp for many teams around the league is about to begin in a matter of days.
We continue on with our season expectations series on Better Live Than Dead Sports, and today we focus on the head coaches around the NHL and who should feel like they are on the proverbial “hot seat” for the 2015-16 season if their team does not win this season.
Last season, a total of five coaches were fired either during the season or at the season’s conclusion. One coach was replaced while still on the job, and another coach left his team after his contract had expired to sign on with another team
This season, there could be the same amount of coaches that may have a similar fate to the others last season.
According to capfriendly.com, three coaches are currently in the final years of their contracts. Those three coaches are New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, and Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Cooper.
We will start with Capuano first, who has been on the “hot seat” a couple of times in his tenure with the Islanders. Capuano first became the head coach of the Islanders in the 2010-11 season when he replaced Scott Gordon. Capuano was the interim coach until the end of the season when he was signed on as the permanent bench boss after a 26-29-10 record to finish the 2010-11 season.
In his four years of being the full-time bench boss on Long Island, Capuano has a 139-119-35 record, and has led the Islanders to the playoffs in two of the four years. Over the past two years, even with last year being a playoff year, Capuano was on the bubble, and people questioned whether or not general manager Garth Snow would keep him or not. In the end, Capuano will remain with the team in its move to Brooklyn, for now.
Does Capuano stay on throughout the rest of his contract?
If his team performs the way they did last season and makes the playoffs again, then yes. If the Islanders make the playoffs for a second straight year, Snow would probably offer Capuano a contract extension.
But if the Islanders struggle early in the season, Capuano could be shown the door early before he even sees the end of his contract. If the Islanders come close and miss the playoffs, it would be tough to say what happens next for Capuano.
If Capuano is fired, you could see former Islander, Doug Weight take over as head coach. Weight spent the final three years of his NHL career with the Islanders playing 107 games and scoring 13 goals while adding 51 assists. He is currently an assistant coach on the Islanders staff.
From one coach who has only had a couple years of facing the “hot seat,” we go to another coach who has been in that seat numerous times in his coaching career.
Ken Hitchcock has been been a head coach in the NHL for 18 seasons. Hitchcock was first hired by the Blues as an interim coach during the 2011-12 to relieve Davis Payne of his job just 13 games into the season. After a rocky 6-7-0 start, Hitchcock went 43-15-11 in the final 69 games and led the Blues to a Central Divison Championship. Blues made it past the San Jose Sharks in the first round before being swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Los Angeles Kings.
In the three years after, Hitchcock has led the Blues to the playoffs, but first round exits in all three years. In Hitchcock’s near four-year span with the Blues, he has amassed a 175-79-27 record in St. Louis, but the early playoff exits have tarnished his regular season success. In the playoffs, Hitchcock has gone 10-17, and has twice went up two games to none in a series, only to lose the next four games to lose the series.
Hitchcock has been fired in-season in his past three coaching jobs. If Hitchcock has another slow start with the Blues, he could be fired early in his fourth coaching gig in the NHL.
Who could replace Hitchcock? On the Blues staff, Brad Shaw was an interim coach with the New York Islanders in the 2005-06 season. He has been with the Blues organization ever since the 2006-07 season as an assistant coach. Shaw became an associate coach with the Blues in the 2012-13 season, which most likely means he would be next in line to take the reigns in St. Louis.
As for Cooper, the Lightning would be crazy not to extend one of the youngest and best up-and-coming coaches in the NHL.
Besides the impending free agent coaches, there are a few other coaches in the NHL that could be in trouble of being without a job during the course of the season or after the season’s end.
One coach who was on the bubble, but was able to salvage his job for another year is Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins. Julien is currently the longest tenured head coach in the NHL, as he has coached the Bruins for the past eight season. In his eight seasons with Boston, Julien has a 351-192-79 regular season record. In 98 career playoff games coached with the Bruins, Julien has a 57-40 record.
Julien had gotten to the Bruins to two Stanley Cup Finals, winning one of them in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, the Bruins had missed the playoffs for the first time since Julien became head coach.
As a penalty of the Bruins’ failed 2014-15 season, general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired. Don Sweeney, the new Bruins general manager, he decided to keep Julien on as the bench boss. If the Bruins struggle once again, Julien may be the victim this time around.
If the Bruins were to fire Julien, it may be best to wait until the end of the season, as the crop of coaching talent available may be better once the 2015-16 season comes to a close. However, if the Bruins were to make an in-house replacement for Julien, Doug Houda would be the likely candidate.
Another head coach that may be on the “hot seat” for the 2015-16 season is Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff.
Ruff is about to enter his third year as the head coach in the Lone Star State after spending neraly 14 season behind the bench for the Buffalo Sabres. In Dallas, Ruff has posted an 81-62-21 record, and most recently missed the playoffs in the 2014-15 season. Last season he faced some criticism for the way he handled his defense and goaltending situation last season. However, the most recent offseason moves should help correct last season’s troubles.
But if Ruff cannot win with the group of talent he has in Dallas, would general manager Jim Nill make the change behind the bench? Maybe not during the season, but after the season, especially if the Stars miss the postseason again, Ruff may be as good as gone.
If Ruff is fired in-season, Curt Fraser or James Patrick could take over as the Stars head coach. Patrick served a couple games as bench boss when Ruff needed to step away for a few games in Buffalo. Fraser was most recently the head coach with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins from 2008 to 2012, and before that he was an assistant coach with the Blues and Islanders. Fraser did have a head coaching job with the Atlanta Thrashers from 1999 to 2003.
One coach who was in trouble of losing his job during the season last year, and could be in trouble once again is Minnesota Wild head coach, Mike Yeo.
Even though Yeo has gotten the Wild into the second round of the playoffs in the past two seasons, last season he almost lost his team until general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes. Before Dubnyk was acquired by the Wild, the team went 18-19-5 in the first 42 games of the season. After Dubnyk’s arrival, the Wild went 28-9-3 and finished as the top wild card team in the Western Conference.
Many people were calling for Yeo’s job after the team’s slow start, and even questioning the team’s confidence in him after a meltdown during the team’s one practice.
In his four years with the Wild, Yeo has posted a 150-110-34 record, and to three straight postseason appearances.
If Yeo has the start like he did with the Wild last season, he may not be so lucky this time around. The Wild have some elite talent on their roster, and now they should have a goaltender who can take the reigns in net. Does Yeo get fired at the end of the season if the team does not get as far as they did last season? Maybe.
As for a replacement for Yeo, Rick Wilson has been with the Wild since 2010 as an assistant. Wilson had spent one year as an associate coach with the Lightning before joining the Wild, and previously spent a span of 16 season in the Stars organization.
The final coach that could be in trouble of losing his job come the end of the 2015-16 season is Pittsburgh Penguins head coach, Mike Johnston.
After a string of successful years with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford hired the 58 year old coach to lead players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin behind the bench.
In his first season last year, Johnston and the Penguins got off to a fast start, but faltered down the stretch. Pittsburgh did make the playoffs, however had an early exit courtesy of the New York Rangers. The Penguins did suffer a lot of injuries to some of its depth players, however Johnston did not get the most out of his top players, especially when they were healthy.
Now the Penguins have another top talent in Phil Kessel, and the Penguins could be one of the most formidable teams in the NHL. But if the Penguins cannot compete and contend for a championship, Johnston may be in danger of losing his job. Especially if there is a repeat of last season’s late season drop off, that may spell the end of Johnston.
If the Penguins fire Johnston mid-season, Rick Tocchet is an eligible candidate for taking over behind the Penguins bench. Tocchet has had experience in the NHL as a head coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning from the 2008-09 season to the end of the 2009-10 season. If the Penguins do make a change, it is more likely to happen at the end of the season.
Besides the coaches that could be fired, some other coaching candidates that could be available for jobs are former Lightning coach Guy Boucher, former Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, former Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, former Washington Capitals coach and New Jersey Devils co-coach Adam Oates, former Devils co-coach Scott Stevens, and former Philadelphia Flyers coach John Stevens. Another coach from the American Hockey League that could be up for a job during or after the season could be Binghamton Senators, coach Luke Richardson.
NHL coaches will always face some scrutiny if their team is not playing up to par, and every year a coach will find themselves out of a job. It is never fun to see a head coach lose their job, but it is an unfortunate aspect of the game of hockey. This year will be no exception.
Keep it locked to Better Live Than Dead Sports for all the latest around the National Hockey League!