The Pink Slip Index: Which Coach Will Be First to Go?
We've made it through the first month of the NHL season and not one coach has gotten fired yet. That's got to be some kind of record. This is the NHL! Coaches are fired for lots of reasons and sometimes no reason at all. How is no team displeased enough to have fired a coach yet? And what have you got to say for yourself, Lou Lamoriello? Why is your finger not on the trigger?
As it turns out, a lot of teams have actually surprised us and played well, helping their coach's job security in the process. Before the season I named a few coaches whom I thought were starting the year on the hot seat. More than a few of them have been saved by solid starts. Joel Quenneville and the Hawks are 7-3-1 and atop the Central. John Anderson and the Thrashers started the year 4-1-1 before dropping their last two against good teams and the Kings may have saved Terry Murray's job by grabbing 17 points in 13 games to lead the Pacific.
The good news for me -- I was afraid I wouldn't have anyone to write about -- is that not every team is off to such a hot start. The Ducks have struggled out of the gate, the Flyers and Canucks are both hovering around .500 and Toronto has been an unmitigated disaster losing six of their first eight by two goals or more. So I'd like to take the time to thank those teams for lighting a fire under their coach's respective chairs.
So today, I present to you the first in a season-long series of coaches-on-the-hot-seat rankings. Five coaches. Five teams. Five fanbases that want blood -- sweet, sweet blood. We'll start at number five and head on through to numero uno, my prediction for the coach to get the axe first.
No. 5: Peter DeBoer, Florida Panthers. DeBoer is only in his second year with the Panthers and had some success last year as the team finished ninth in the East, missing out on the playoffs by losing a tiebreaker to the Canadiens. But in the NHL it's all about 'what have you done for me lately' and the Panthers have started this season 2-7-1 and are averaging 2.2 goals per game. Add that to their 29th-best ranking in goals allowed and things are not looking good. Personally, I don't believe the Horton trade rumors, but if they're crazy enough to trade him firing DeBoer will look sane in comparison.
Seat status: STEAMY
No. 4: John Stevens, Philadelphia Flyers. I said before the season that this could be a make or break year for Stevens and the Flyers. They had a talented roster and only improved it during the offseason. However, they've been short on postseason success and are 5-4-1, already nine points behind the division-leading Penguins in the tough Atlantic. The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup last year after firing their coach down the stretch. That means there will be copycats, and if the Flyers continue to be mediocre Stevens may be sent packing to shake things up.
Seat status: STEAMY
No. 3: Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have had a lot of success under Carlyle. In four seasons they've won a Cup and made another trip to the conference finals. The last two years have been less successful but nothing that should threaten a coach's job. But the Ducks are 3-6-1 to start this season, with the latest defeat being a 6-3 drubbing by the winless Leafs in front of the home fans. Half the reason Carlyle is on this list is because there really aren't a lot of other people to put here. The other half is because of the random stinkers the Ducks have put forth this season: 5-0 home rout by St. Louis, 4-1 opening-night loss to San Jose. He's not going anywhere yet -- he'll get a fair shake -- but the early news is not good.
Seat Status: TOASTY
No. 2: Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs. It's been a fun season already in Toronto. The team has started 0-7-1 before showing some life the last two games on, of all places, the road in Anaheim and Dallas. Fans are outraged. The media is making jokes. Wilson has already gotten a vote of confidence from the GM. All key ingredients to canning a coach. However, there's one thing standing in the way: that vote of confidence was actually legit. The problem with this team is not Wilson and GM Brian Burke knows it. The seat is very warm but there will be little action here. Move along.
Seat status: CALIENTE
No. 1: Rick Tocchet, Tampa Bay Lightning. The lame thing about NHL coaches this season is that there's no one you can point at and yell 'DEAD MAN WALKING!' A lot of thought-to-be-crappy teams are good. A lot of good teams are mediocre. A very small handful of teams are very bad. The Lightning are not very bad. But the Lightning are off to a bad start (4-3-3) and are led by a coach who was interim for most of last season and was hired by the previous coach. That latter is the coaching kiss of death, which is why I believe Tocchet will be the first to go this year. And also because anything goes at Cirque du SoLightning.
Seat status: CALIENTE MÁS UNO
Coaches recieving a free pass this time around: Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks. Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators. Paul Maurice, Carolina Hurricanes. Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey Devils (listed simply because his boss is Lou Lamoriello).