When the Philadelphia Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette after only three games earlier this season, it was a stark reminder to bench bosses across the NHL that the dreaded pink slip could come at any time. Since then, Ron Rolston of the Buffalo Sabres, Kevin Dineen of the Florida Panthers and Claude Noel of the Winnipeg Jets, have also paid the ultimate price for their teams’ performance (or lack thereof).
And now, with only two weeks left in the regular season, more firings are yet to come. Some will get the axe because of poor coaching, some because of poor management from above and others simply because losing teams need scapegoats. Hockey is, after all, a business. And in the business world, when something goes wrong, somebody has to pay.
Whether they deserve it or not, here are five head coaches who may be looking for work in the near future.
Note: while John Tortorella of the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Eakins of the Edmonton Oilers have accumulated their share of criticism in their short tenures with their new teams, it is reasonable to expect they will both be given more time to prove their worth. Then again, general managers aren’t always reasonable, and as all too many coaches know, anything is possible.
5. Adam Oates, Washington Capitals
Whether or not Oates is still with the Capitals next season may come down to whether or not they make the playoffs – and if they do, whether or not they make it out of the first round.
After winning their division last season – Oates’ first with the team – the Capitals were knocked out of the first round in seven games by the New York Rangers. This season, despite being seven games above .500, the Caps are locked in a four-way battle for the final two wildcard spots and at risk of missing the postseason for the first time since 2006-07. But when general manager George McPhee went out and acquired forward Dustin Penner and goaltender Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline, you can be sure he did it with the expectation of a lengthy playoff run. Anything less than the conference semi-finals for a team including Halak, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and John Carlson, could very well cost Oates his job.
4. Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Trotz behind the bench in Nashville, but within a couple weeks it could be reality. As the team’s only head coach in its 16-year existence, Trotz has compiled a record of 551-478-99 (along with 60 ties) and led his team to the postseason seven times (although never past the conference semi-finals).
Sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, however, the Preds are on the verge of missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02 – and Trotz may be the one to pay for it. While Trotz has managed to do a decent job with a lack of superstars and a consistently low payroll in the increasingly competitive Western Conference, his team has seemed to be regressing instead of getting better over the past few seasons. And while it may not all be his fault, sometimes change for the sake of change is the best course of action.
3. Kirk Muller, Carolina Hurricanes
Since making it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008-09 under head coach Paul Maurice, the Hurricanes have failed to make the playoffs. And seven points out of a wildcard spot with only nine games left this season, it looks like they will miss out again.
Brought in to right the ship part way through the 2011-12 season, Muller went 25-20-12 to start his head coaching career, but things have gone downhill ever since; between last year’s lockout-shortened campaign and the first 73 games of this season, he has gone only 51-57-13. And while he may not have the stacked rosters of some of the teams in his conference, Muller does have stars like Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin to work with. With long-time general manager Jim Rutherford reportedly stepping down next season (and former Hurricane player Ron Francis reportedly replacing him), the franchise may be inclined to launch a complete overhaul – and Muller may just be one of the casualties.
2. Jack Capuano, New York Islanders
The situation on Long Island has been so bad for the past decade or so that it’s impossible to know exactly where to point the finger. Yes, management has made some questionable trades and handed out some ludicrous contracts. But the roster is also far from the worst in the league and boasts former first-rounders including John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner, as well as Evgeni Nabokov, Frans Nielsen and a handful of talented prospects.
So while owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow certainly deserve some of the blame for the team missing the playoffs in six of the past eight seasons, so too does the man behind the bench. Now in his fourth season with the Isles, Capuano has a record of 112-118-38 and has gotten them to the postseason only once – a first-round knockout last season. While his losing record is one thing, the way Capuano and the Islanders are losing is another; through 73 games, the team has allowed a league-high 246 goals and has lost an astounding 11 games in which they led heading into the third period. Had they been able to even salvage half of those games, they would be in a much better position to make the playoffs. And Capuano would be in a much better position to keep his job.
1. Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs
A few weeks ago, Carlyle’s job security with the Toronto Maple Leafs looked as certain as any head coach in the NHL; the Leafs were challenging for second place in their division and seven points clear of the ninth-place Columbus Blue Jackets. Since the Olympic break, however, Toronto has gone only 4-8-2 (including a recent six-game losing streak) and are currently on the outside looking in.
While Carlyle may not deserve all of the blame for his team’s slide, one can’t but help remember another collapse by the Carlyle-led Leafs in Game 7 of last year’s first-round series with the Boston Bruins (a game Toronto led 4-1 in the third period and ended up losing 5-4 in overtime). And as a former Norris trophy winner as the league’s best defensemen, shouldn’t his team rank higher than 26th in goals against and dead last in shots against?
That said, if the Leafs manage to squeak into the playoffs anything can happen and Carlyle’s job will likely be safe. But if not, the team will likely be looking for a new head coach come spring.