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Seat Already Warm for Some Coaches

Sep 29, 2009 – 3:21 PM
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Kevin Schultz

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The NHL season is almost upon us. That means the weather is getting colder, leaves are falling off trees and coaches are ever closer to getting the proverbial axe. Last year, it took only four games for the Chicago Blackhawks to fire Dennis Savard. The Penguins let Michel Therrien go with 25 games left in the season and it was just what the doctor ordered. The team went 18-3-4 under Dan Bylsma the rest of the season on their way to a Stanley Cup victory. Here, I'll be taking a look at the coaches most likely to end up like Savard -- coaches who are starting the season on the hot seat.

Rick Tocchet, Tampa Bay (19-33-14): Tocchet is the obvious choice to start this list off with. He replaced Barry Melrose on Nov. 15 and the circus ... er ... team continued to struggle under his watch. With owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie still at the helm anything is possible, heck probable, especially considering the feud the two owners are involved in. Hey, at the circus anything goes. If the Lightning struggle out of the gate, don't be surprised if Tocchet is looking for a new job come November.

Joel Quenneville, Chicago (45-22-11): The Chicago Blackhawks had a rough offseason, thanks to their star player punching a cabbie, their former GM Dave Tallon almost botching qualifying offers to their RFAs and then his getting fired in a sketchy manner anyway. The team has added a few big names this offseason, among them Marian Hossa and John Madden, and this year could be the team's best opportunity at a title. After this season Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith become RFAs and will likely take up a much, much larger chunk of the team's cap space. If the Hawks don't contend for the division in the first half -- in addition to the fact that Quenneville is now under new management (GM Stan Bowman) -- look for the Hawks to make a move and shake up the locker room. Considering the Pens did it and went on to win the Cup, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few copycats out there.

John Stevens, Philadelphia (107-98-33): Stevens has had a solid team for a few seasons now and has had a good share of regular season success, finishing fifth and sixth in the conference the last two seasons. However, the Flyers have been bounced in the playoffs by the Penguins both times. After the additions of Chris Pronger and Ray Emery not to mention a possibly healthy Simon Gagne (although that's asking a lot), Stevens could be in a similar situation as Quenneville. If things aren't going as planned, the Flyers may look for someone to shake things up for the stretch run.

John Anderson, Atlanta (35-41-6): Does anyone outside of Atlanta remember that the Thrashers won the Southeast in 2006-07? Probably not because they got swept by the Rangers in the playoffs that year and have yet to recover. They finished at the bottom of the conference the last two years and one has to think that GM Don Waddell should be out sometime soon. Anderson was not very successful in his first season in Atlanta and is now facing a big season as Ilya Kovalchuk will be unrestricted at year's end. If Kovy isn't re-signed -- which looks doubtful -- Waddell and Anderson could be on the outs.

Andy Murray, St. Louis (101-85-32): The Blues made the playoffs for the first time post-lockout last year. Under Murray's leadership they finished the year 9-1-1 to sneak in the backdoor of the playoffs and likely save Murray's job. However, they proceeded to get swept by Vancouver in four games. If Murray can't find the magic the team had to finish last year, he could go.

Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey (0-0-0): Lemaire is one of the least likely candidates to get fired this season but as long as Lou Lamoriello is in charge in New Jersey, I'm obligated to put the Devils' head coach on this list.

Honorable Mentions: Ken Hitchcock, Columbus; Terry Murray, Los Angeles.

Many times the coach that gets fired first is the one whose team gets off to the worst start. For what it's worth, my pick in that regard is Rick Tocchet in Tampa Bay. Chances are, there will be a surprise firing or two before Christmas. But here are a few folks who I think are rock solid and not going anywhere this season:

Randy Carlyle, Anaheim
Paul Maurice, Carolina
Scott Gordon, Islanders
Todd McLellan, San Jose
Ron Wilson, Toronto
Filed under: Sports