November 10, 2018 | 10:20pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period

COACHING CAROUSEL CONTINUES TO TURN

 
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Joel Quenneville

 
 

MONTREAL, QC -- Last season was a phenomenon in the NHL. In a league that has so much turnover, the NHL saw a season go by in which not a single firing of a Head Coach was made. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

The trend of no Head Coach firings didn’t last long at all, as the axe began to come down immediately following the end of last year’s regular season.

Alain Vigneault, Glen Gulutzen and Doug Weight all were shown the door following disappointing seasons of their respective clubs. Furthermore, Barry Trotz, Bill Peters and Ken Hitchcock all willingly stepped away from their respective posts at the time, hence totaling six total off-season Head Coaching changes.

Following suit with the apparent trend, the first month of this season’s campaign has already seen the axe come down twice. Los Angeles fired John Stevens in just his second year behind the bench (although he has been on the team’s coaching staff since 2011), as the club is currently sitting dead last in the entire NHL despite the organization’s high expectations.

But the more earth rattling firing came at the expense of Joel Quenneville, who lost his job behind the Blackhawks’ bench. Quenneville, 60, was in the midst of his 11th (!) season in Chicago, in which he brought three Stanley Cups to the franchise that had not won a championship in over four decades prior to his arrival.

One month in and already two coaches down. A trend that seems almost impossible to continue... or could it?

The fact is that modern-day NHL coaches all have an expiry date. Whether it be a product of trying to coach millionaires or what have you, it is rare to see a Head Coach last the entirety of his contract. Don’t believe it? Just look at who is currently the league’s longest tenured bench boss now that Quenneville has been fired. Jon Cooper was hired in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has now had his job longer than anyone of his peers.

A little over five years is presently the longest going tenure amongst all NHL Head Coaches; doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But such is today’s NHL, and it doesn’t seem like it is going to change. In a league that is littered with parity, the margin for error is little to none. As a result, the question isn’t who will be fired next, but rather when?

Given early-season expectation in St Louis, Mike Yeo seems to be the favorite as the next Head Coach on the chopping block. The Blues went through some significant changes this past summer as a result of a disappointing season that saw them ultimately miss the playoffs. General Manager Doug Armstrong swung for the fences in a trade for Ryan O’Reilly (in which he gave up highly-touted prospect Tage Thompson), and inked free agent forwards Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon on three and one year deals, respectively.

But despite the Stanley Cup expectations from management, the Blues have gotten off to an underwhelming 6-6-3 start; which is good for last in the Central Division. Although a lot of the problems can be directly left at the feet of goaltender Jake Allen (3.99 Goals Against Average, .879 save percentage), Yeo has taken a ton of heat for the team’s struggles. If the ship isn’t righted shortly, Armstrong’s patience may wear thin and send Yeo packing.

A lot of analysts predicted a regression from the Anaheim Ducks this season. The club’s core is getting up there in age, while the team has experienced a plethora of injuries already this season. Although it may not be his fault, Randy Carlyle may be the one to pay for the Ducks’ step backwards.

After getting off to a hot start this season, the Ducks have fallen off a cliff in the last ten (2-6-2) games. Carlyle, 62, is in his third season during his second tour of duty with the Ducks. To his credit, he coached the Ducks to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 2007; but a lot has changed in 11 years. Carlyle has had much success (over .600) during both stints behind Anaheim’s bench, but with the organization regressing and a reset seeming all but imminent, Carlyle’s days may be numbered.

To a lesser extent, Detroit’s Jeff Blashill, Edmonton’s Todd McLellan and Philadelphia’s Dave Hakstol could be on the hot seat, as well.

The Red Wings have seen a massive change to its roster over the last number of seasons. Franchise cornerstones Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have moved on from the club, and the reigns have been gradually given to rising stars Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and, just this year, Filip Zadina. The Red Wings are experiencing the expected growing pains, and are on pace to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Although nothing is imminent in terms of ending Blashill’s tenure with the club, it is reasonable to entertain the thought of the club going in a different direction sooner rather than later. Though winners of three straight, Detroit is currently 14th (7-8-2) in the Eastern Conference, and could make some coaching changes if nothing changes by season’s end.

Given the mega expectations in Edmonton since the arrival of Connor McDavid, and only one playoff birth during that time, the clock may be ticking on McLellan to realize true success in Edmonton. McLellan seemed like a prime candidate to get axed early in the season, but has seemed to turn the tide (at least momentarily) as a result of Edmonton’s record (8-7-1) climbing above .500.

As for Hakstol, the NHL’s fourth longest tenured Head Coach (currently in his fourth season) seemingly has an endless leash. Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has publicly backed his coach on multiple occasions, including during the team’s 10-game losing streak last year, and has continued to beat that drum this season. After a slow start, the Flyers have gone 5-0-1 over their last six, which has temporarily silenced the critics. But if the team continues to spin its tires in terms of organizational advancement, Hextall may have no choice but to make a change behind the bench.

The shelf lives of NHL Head Coaches are notoriously thin; fair or not. An entire team cannot be traded, and as a result the man behind the bench is often the first domino to fall during tough times.

Last year’s campaign saw every bench boss last the season, but given the early season firings, and coaches like Vigneault and Quenneville currently without a job, this year’s fate of Head Coaches does not look nearly as bright.

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Anthony Di Marco is the NHL Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
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