September 12, 2019 | 9:30pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
WHICH COACHES COULD END UP ON THE HOT SEAT?
Bruce Boudreau, head coach
MONTREAL, QC -- Professional hockey is always unpredictable. Whether it is breakout stars, rising underdogs, or irrelevant goaltenders finding lightning in a bottle, you never really know what to expect when the NHL season gets underway.
That is, all except for one thing.
Aside from the anomaly that was the 2017-18 season, the NHL is always good for (at least) a couple of coaching firings throughout the season. Just last season, which followed up one that had no coaching firings, John Stevens, Joel Quenneville, Todd McLellan, Mike Yeo and Dave Hakstol were all handed their pink slips before the calendar flipped to the New Year.
One other coach, Randy Carlyle, eventually got canned too before season’s end; totaling six Head Coaching changes to conclude the 2018-19 season.
As always, we can expect some more of the same in the coaching carousel department for the upcoming season. While nothing is set in stone, there are my early favorites who could lose their jobs by season’s end.
5: John Tortorella
It’d be hard to find a Head Coach in a tougher situation to start the 2019-20 season than John Tortorella. Following up a season in which they swept the President Trophy champion Tampa Bay Lightning in near impossible fashion, the Columbus Blue Jackets got quite the kick in the teeth once NHL Free Agency rolled around.
The Blue Jackets watched forwards Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Artemi Panarin, and star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky walk away from the team. Given all of the significant subtractions, and only a Gustav Nyqvist addition to compensate, the Blue Jackets are projected to be a team to take one of the biggest steps back this season.
While Tortorella is far from the biggest one to blame, it is no secret that Head Coaches always take the first bullet when dominoes start to fall. Given this, it isn’t impossible to imagine a scenario where Tortorella doesn’t end the season behind the bench for Columbus.
4: Bruce Boudreau
It isn’t often that a Head Coach lasts the duration of two General Manager tenures. Well, Bruce Boudreau is on GM number three.
After Bill Guerin was named GM of the Minnesota Wild, questions arose as to whether or not he’d like to insert a Head Coach of his choosing. It seems as though the Wild will at least start the season with Boudreau at the helm, but how long that lasts is anyone’s guess.
The expectations in Minnesota are low, which may delay Boudreau’s dismissal. The Wild aren’t expected to make the playoffs this year and could very well end up in the basement of the ultra-competitive Central Division. But even given the miniscule expectations for the Wild, Boudreau’s dismissal seems more likely than not.
3: Peter Laviolette
Just the second Head Coach in Nashville Predators franchise history, Peter Laviolette is one of the most accomplished active coaches in the NHL. As the only active Head Coach to bring three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final (Predators, Flyers and Hurricanes), it is tough to find one of his peers who carries a bigger pedigree than Laviolette does behind the bench.
But his pedigree can’t keep him employed forever.
After a disappointing season that ended with the Predators bowing out to the Dallas Stars in Round One of the playoffs, questions surrounding Laviolette’s job began to surface. The Predators have been Stanley Cup hopefuls since their 2017 finals loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, GM Dave Poile has been as aggressive as anyone to give his team a chance to win, but has yet to get back to the Western Conference Final.
With a relatively similar roster as last season, other than the subtraction of defenseman P.K. Subban and addition of centre Matt Duchene, the upcoming season seems to be Laviolette’s final kick at the can in Nashville.
2: Paul Maurice
Much like Laviolette and the Predators, the upcoming season could very well be Maurice’s last shot at success with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets had one of the worst summers of any NHL team; losing defensemen Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot, along with forward Kevin Hayes. But the true problem in Winnipeg is their RFA situation, as forwards Kyle Conner and Patrick Laine (who has been at the heart of trade speculation) are still without contracts and may not be with the team when training camp opens.
With all the subtractions to the roster, the RFA situation far from settled and a vastly improved Central Division, the Jets’ Stanley Cup hopes are dwindling fast. In fact, this writer doesn’t even expect the Jets to make the playoffs, as the Blackhawks, Stars, Blues, Avalanche and Predators all stayed just as good or improved this offseason. If the Jets do struggle to contend for the playoffs, Maurice could be looking for a new job.
1: Mike Babcock
It is not secret: the window is officially open for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the pressure is on. After signing Austin Matthews to a $58.17 million contract, the Leafs have effectively given themselves a five-year window at Stanley Cup contention.
Entering his fifth season as Head Coach of the Maple Leafs, no coach will be feeling the heat as much as Mike Babcock this coming season. The highest paid Head Coach has brought the Leafs to three consecutive playoff appearances; having failed to pass the first round in all three years. The last two playoff berths ended in near identical fashion: losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
A lot of critics wanted Babcock’s head after the latest playoff defeat, as his player deployment, coaching philosophies and lack of self-accountability have been questionable to say the least. But GM Kyle Dubas, who was not the one to hire Babcock, stuck behind his coach, at least for one more year.
Dubas has completely revamped the defense, which was an area of concern; bringing in Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci over the summer. But the ongoing Mitch Marner saga continues to loom over the Leafs, as the RFA superstar is still without a contract.
Any way you slice it, anything less than an Eastern Conference Finals appearance will be a complete and utter failure for the Leafs this season. If such is the case, you can be sure that Babcock will take the brunt of the blame. While he has never been one to show signs of pressure, Babs must know it is do or die.
Long-Shot: Jon Cooper
A year ago, at this time, Jon Cooper would’ve been the last name you’d expect to see on this list. After a four game, first round series loss to the Blue Jackets, the Tampa Bay Lightning were left in utter shock.
While the Lightning are expected to rebound this season as strong as ever, Cooper’s job will at least be under close surveillance. The Lightning re still Stanley Cup favorites, and Cooper doesn’t seem to be even remotely on the hot seat. But one must wonder if that tune will change should the Lightning disappoint again in similar fashion.
Cooper is fresh off of a three-year contract extension he signed this past March, so it would take another extreme circumstance for him to lose his job. But with expectations as high as ever in Tampa Bay, all bets will be off should the Lightning fail to meet them.