December 13, 2011 :: 5:38pm ET Bench clearing changes
It seems the most dangerous job in the NHL these days is behind the
CHICAGO, IL -- So... anybody want to coach an NHL team?
In a little more than two months, and fewer than 30 games in the rear
view mirror for most of the league, five coaches have been replaced
already. Well, four if you consider Bruce Boudreau's "weekend" without
The Blues, Capitals, Hurricanes, Ducks and now Kings have all made a
move behind the bench. What do all five of those teams have in common?
The word "underwhelming" comes to mind.
St. Louis pulled the trigger on Davis Payne quickly, and their success
under Ken Hitchcock has been remarkable. Without question, the Blues
incredible turnaround has been a catalyst for other teams making a
move this early in the year.
But looking around the NHL, the teams that have made the change is as
puzzling as some of the teams that have stayed put.
Carolina and Anaheim are buried in their respective conferences.
Through Monday, the Canes have the fewest points in the Eastern
Conference (22) with the most games played (31). Anaheim, on the other
hand, is one point out of the basement in the Western Conference and
continues to trend the wrong way; they're 2-7-1 in their last 10,
showing little response to the change.
Washington is the most intriguing situation of the five because of the
amount of talent on their roster. The Caps are 5-5-0 in their last 10,
and are virtually ahead of New Jersey and Montreal (who also have 31
points, but with more games played) for the final playoff spot in the
East. As always, the question with the Caps is whether or not they can
consistently play good hockey on both ends of the ice.
Now, the Kings join the group. Similar to the Caps, they have a world
of talent that just hasn't clicked yet this year. After a bold move to
add Mike Richards this summer and a hold-out from Drew Doughty, the
high-powered Kings sit at the bottom of the NHL in scoring and in 12th
in the Western Conference. After losing their fourth in a row,
management felt a coaching change was needed to make clear to their
players that they weren't performing well enough.
It is surprising, however, that the Kings were the next team to drop
the axe. Rumors have the coaches in Montreal, Colorado, Tampa Bay and
Columbus all sitting on hot coals right now. The potential for any, or
all, of these three teams making a change is further complicated by
teams making changes and taking popular names off the market.
Certainly, there are people in Montreal that weren't thrilled when
Kirk Muller went to Carolina.
What's more, the conference standings aren't helping teams make a
decision either. Through Monday's games, the difference between sixth
and 12th in the Eastern Conference is three points; in the Western
Conference, four teams in the Pacific Division have between 30 and 33
Despite a fairly deep free agent class coming up in July 2012, it
appears teams are more willing to change coaches than make a
significant trade this season. It's possible that as much as one-third
of the league makes a coaching change this season before the trade
deadline arrives, hoping they can find a catalyst for success without
moving a key player.
If teams can capture the same lightning-in-a-bottle that the Blues
have had since making their move, the playoff race could be as dynamic
as any in recent memory.