NHL coaching hot seat index: Is Gerard Gallant in trouble?

NHL

With a few exceptions, NHL coaches are hired to eventually get fired. It’s the circle of life, the way of the world. It’s understood and just a matter of “when.”

Teams generally aren’t shy about making alterations behind the bench. Last season, the NHL saw four coaching changes by this point in the season. In 2019-20, there were four coaching changes by Dec. 10.

“I think decisions are sort of made by U.S. Thanksgiving, but not necessarily executed. The execution period is the four weeks following Thanksgiving,” said Neil Glasberg, a sports agent who represents coaches with PBI Sports.

Yet through Dec. 6, the NHL had yet to see a coaching change this season. Some of that is due to how many coaching changes were made in the offseason, when 12 teams named new head coaches. But some seats are heating up as the season continues.

Here’s a temperature check on the NHL’s coaching hot seats for all 32 teams. Contract information is courtesy of CapFriendly and NHL sources.

image

Burning up

Bruce Boudreau, Vancouver Canucks
Dallas Eakins, Anaheim Ducks
Gerard Gallant, New York Rangers
D.J. Smith, Ottawa Senators

I reached out to several sources about the first coach they felt could be fired this season. All of them responded with one name: Bruce Boudreau.

It’s not difficult to understand why. Wild comeback victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night notwithstanding, Vancouver has been one of the season’s biggest disappointments. The Canucks have a .481 points percentage and are the third-worst defensive team in the NHL.

That’s on the ice. Off the ice, president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford has criticized the team’s structure and player accountability while refusing to express support for Boudreau, whom Rutherford has indicated is still the head coach out of contractual obligation rather than managerial preference. Please recall that owner Francesco Aquilini hired Boudreau as his coach, giving him an option for this season, before he hired Rutherford as his head of hockey operations.

“It’s only a matter of time,” one NHL source said.

Gallant being in this tier might have been a shock to anyone watching the Rangers make the Eastern Conference finals last postseason, especially considering the talent they were returning for 2022-23. Through 27 games, the Rangers have a .537 points percentage. Gallant’s line juggling has taken heat even though it can produce results, like pairing Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko with Mika Zibanejad in a win against the Blues this week. His lack of personal accountability has also come under fire.

The Rangers are a conundrum. Analytically, they’re a better 5-on-5 team than they were last season. But their star players haven’t shown up consistently and their young supporting cast — such a key in their playoff run — has been disappointing. Combine that with Igor Shesterkin playing excellent but not Vezina Trophy worthy, and the Blueshirts are where they are.

Gallant is in his second season coaching the Rangers and is signed through 2024-25. Logic would dictate he’s safe. Logic sometimes has no home on a team owned by James Dolan.

“Do I think Gallant is on the hot seat? No, I don’t. I think [GM Chris] Drury is going to be able to talk sense into Dolan,” an NHL source said.

As disappointing as the Rangers are, the Senators are multitudes more disappointing. Injuries have been a factor, but their .438 points percentage through 24 games is the second lowest in the Eastern Conference. That’s for a team some had in the playoffs thanks to an offseason spree that landed Ottawa both Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat up front.

Smith is signed through next season with a team option for 2024-25. Complicating matters is the fact that the Senators are for sale. That could impact not only Smith but the man who hired him, GM Pierre Dorion. If we’re D.J. Smith, we’re hanging a Deadpool poster in the office, just in case …

As for Eakins, he was inherited by new GM Pat Verbeek and is in the last year of his contract. Verbeek has said on multiple occasions that the coaching staff will be evaluated at the end of the season.

“It’s hard to be able to look at 20 games and [ask] ‘Where are we?'” Verbeek said on his podcast. “When I’ve gone back and looked at 20-year-olds playing in the minors, some of those players don’t start reaching their stride until January, believe it or not. It’s hard for them to figure things out. We’re kind of in the same process here with some of our younger guys, so I’m giving the coaching staff and the players some time. To give them some runway to figure things out.”

Given the state of the Ducks and the time-honored tradition of a GM wanting his own hire behind the bench, it’s hard to imagine Eakins returns after this season. The question is whether Verbeek would replace him in-season to give a new coach some of that aforementioned runway to better connect with Anaheim’s young players.


Hot in the summer

Don Granato, Buffalo Sabres
Brad Larsen, Columbus Blue Jackets
Peter Laviolette, Washington Capitals
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Capitals are in that nebulous space between contending for a playoff spot and having to reload a roster that has no less than 16 free agents after this season. They might be just good enough to avoid an in-season talent sell-off, and in turn, good enough to have Laviolette finish out the last year of his contract. Then the two sides can figure out next steps for a coach who makes nearly $5 million per season.

Remember when the Maple Leafs started the season 4-4-2 and there were demands that GM Kyle Dubas hold an emergency news conference to explain their mediocrity? (Ah, Toronto media, never change.) Keefe’s Leafs are the second-best team in the Atlantic Division behind the Bruins through the quarter mark of the season. But as always, it’s all about the playoffs. Another first-round exit could mean the end of the GM reign for Dubas, who doesn’t have a contract beyond this season, and thus the end of Keefe, whom Dubas signed through the 2023-24 season, because that’s what friends do.

Larsen is in his second full season with the Blue Jackets, and the returns have been diminishing. Columbus is in the bottom of third of the league offensively and defensively, ranking second to last in goals-against average through 31 games (3.96). Larsen has one more year on his deal after this season. Columbus could have a successor in Pascal Vincent, the team’s associate coach who has been waiting for his shot at an NHL head-coaching gig.

Then there’s Granato. We all love Donny Meatballs. Great guy. The Sabres love him, too, having signed Granato to an extension last month that locks him up through the 2025-26 season. Now, that should make his seat a lot less toasty than the three others mentioned here. But if the Sabres end up worse than last season at a time when they should be trending up, could Granato pay the price?

Terry Pegula has owned the Sabres since 2011. They haven’t had a head coach last more than two full seasons since then. This is Granato’s second full season. Just sayin’.


Centrally hot, depending on the week

Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues
Dean Evason, Minnesota Wild
John Hynes, Nashville Predators

The Central Division is a pressure cooker, thanks to hot starts from the Stars and Jets combined with an early-season stumble from the injury-plagued Stanley Cup champion Avalanche. Hence, things are a bit tense for some of those middle-pack contending teams.

Berube was just handed a contract extension last season that has him signed through the 2024-25 campaign. The Blues are one of the NHL’s most unpredictable and streaky teams, but one whose lack of defensive cohesion is surprising for a coach and a franchise that have prided themselves on it. Firing Berube would be a stunner for St. Louis, but he is in his fifth season with the team after leading the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019.

For what it’s worth, GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan that Berube is safe. “I thought it was beneficial for myself to get that out there because we had lost five [in a row]. If we lost another game or two, I knew that would be the narrative,” he said. “I figured if we squashed the narrative before it started, we didn’t have to deal with it. But also … Craig is a good coach.”

The Wild had high expectations entering this season after their first-round stumble in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. But they looked very average early on, going 9-9-2 in their first 20 games. Some fans were getting restless, knowing that the cap-strapped Wild didn’t have many moves outside of firing their coach if conditions didn’t improve.

Well, they improved: Minnesota won four in a row, including a 6-5 shootout victory at Dallas. They were back in a playoff seed, back on the positive side of goal differential and back to looking like the Wild.

Evason’s seat was lukewarm at best, to be honest. He wasn’t GM Bill Guerin’s hire — he was a member of Boudreau’s staff before Guerin replaced GM Paul Fenton — but Guerin did extend him through 2024-25 with a new contract last December. And the Wild are still playing well under Evason: Their 2.22 expected goals against per 60 minutes is fourth in the NHL. When your starting goalie is rocking a .895 save percentage in 16 games, that effectiveness can be overshadowed. And the coach isn’t the guy who re-signed 38-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Predators were off to a 5-8-1 start. Hynes, signed through next season, appeared to be in trouble as Central Division opponents sprinted out to an early lead. Then Nashville won seven of nine games, going 7-1-1 in that span. The Predators gave up three or fewer goals in eight of those games, as goalie Juuse Saros shook off an early-season funk to get rolling.

Hynes is signed through the 2023-24 season. Nashville is still just outside the playoff picture as of Tuesday. The Predators’ 5-on-5 play remains a problem, as they’re under 50% in shot share and expected goals.

As one source noted, there’s an elephant in the room that has 762 wins. Barry Trotz was the first coach in Predators history and spent 15 seasons behind their bench. There was speculation over the summer that he could return to the team in a hockey operations role, which was only further fueled when news hit that Trotz and his wife had purchased a home in Nashville.

“He’s there and they know they’ll be at risk of losing him to someone else if they wait,” one NHL coaching source said.


Off the hot seat (for now)

Dave Hakstol, Seattle Kraken
Lindy Ruff, New Jersey Devils

Ruff was named the leader for the Jack Adams Award in our latest NHL Awards Watch, and one voter summed up why: “When you get your fans to apologize to you, you’ve got something going.”

The Devils entered Tuesday night with a 20-4-1 record, good for the second-best points percentage in the NHL. They’re on pace for 135 points in the standings, which would be a new NHL record if the Boston Bruins don’t establish an entirely new one this season. That would also be a 72-point improvement year over year. The Devils are near the top of the NHL in offense and defense by any statistical measurement. Ruff started the season with fans calling for his firing. He could very well end it with him holding his second Jack Adams Trophy.

Hakstol also had his critics after the Kraken didn’t meet expectations in their inaugural season, with just a .366 points percentage. But internally, Seattle was bullish on the way the team played and felt its positive progress was undercut by factors like the worst goaltending in the NHL last season. The Kraken’s goaltending is marginally better, the arrival of rookie Matty Beniers bolstered their center depth and they are playoff contenders, quieting the pessimism about Hakstol’s future.


Just seated

Rick Bowness, Winnipeg Jets
Bruce Cassidy, Vegas Golden Knights
Peter DeBoer, Dallas Stars
Derek Lalonde, Detroit Red Wings
Lane Lambert, New York Islanders
Jim Montgomery, Boston Bruins
Paul Maurice, Florida Panthers
David Quinn, San Jose Sharks
Luke Richardson, Chicago Blackhawks
Martin St. Louis, Montreal Canadiens
John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers

There were 12 NHL teams that made coaching moves after the past regular season. That included two coaches who were elevated from interim status to the permanent gig: St. Louis and Jay Woodcroft, whom we’ll get to in a second.

The rest of these recent hires are presumably safe from one-and-done status. Most are finding success their first seasons behind these new benches: Only Tortorella, Quinn and Richardson had teams that weren’t within four points of a playoff seed after Monday night’s games. In the cases of Montgomery, Cassidy, DeBoer, Lambert and — perhaps most surprisingly — Bowness, there could be some Jack Adams candidates from this collection of new hires, too.


Hot (Oil) seat

Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers

After leading the Oilers to the Western Conference finals last season as an interim coach, Woodcroft earned the permanent gig and a three-year contract. But the pressure to win in Edmonton is enormous.

Edmonton’s early-season struggles have been defined by injuries, including a significant one to top-line winger Evander Kane; poor performances, including from alleged free agent goaltending cure-all Jack Campbell; but most of all, from a team that’s earning less than 50% of the expected goals and shot attempts while getting just over 50% of the scoring chances at 5-on-5. The Oilers are a bad defensive team — 24th in team goals-against average, down from 18th last season.

How much blame does the coach deserve for that? Woodcroft was given high marks for improving the Oilers defensively last season after replacing Dave Tippett, but something’s slipped. They are allowing fewer goals at 5-on-5 (2.79) than expected (2.89), but that’s thanks in part to rookie goalie Stuart Skinner.

“There is zero excuse for that team not to make the playoffs,” one coaching source said. “I know they extended Woodcroft, but if we’re talking coaches on the hot seat, wouldn’t he be there?”

This isn’t to say we expect Woodcroft to take the fall if the Oilers can’t make the playoff cut. But it is a reminder that off in the distance of this wide-open championship window is Leon Draisaitl‘s free agency in summer 2025. The pressure only builds for the Oil.


Ice cold

Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche
Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
Todd McLellan, Los Angeles Kings
Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
Darryl Sutter, Calgary Flames
Andre Tourigny, Arizona Coyotes

These coaches are secure in their spots, for one reason or another.

In the cases of Bednar and Cooper, that reason is Stanley Cup success — although in Cooper’s case, he’s also signed through 2024-25. In the cases of Brind’Amour and Sutter, it feels like both will coach their respective teams until they decide it’s time to move on. Sullivan just inked a contract extension in August that runs through the 2026-27 season.

Tourigny, meanwhile, was hired by GM Bill Armstrong, has a contract that runs through next season and is unburdened by expectations. If the Coyotes are competitive, that reflects well on him. If the Coyotes stink … well, it’s not like they were designed to be competitive, right?

One name that might be a surprise here to some is McLellan, as some Kings fans on social media have clamored for his removal. Perhaps that’s why one source told ESPN, “I’d watch McLellan.”

But I get the sense that there’s zero chance McLellan doesn’t finish the season, and I’d expected him back for 2023-24 — the final season of a contract that pays him upward of $5 million annually. GM Rob Blake handpicked him to oversee the Kings’ return to contention. They made the playoffs ahead of schedule last season and are currently in a playoff seed. Even if they miss the cut in 2022-23, we wouldn’t expect management to make a panic move with a coach it trusts — and it’s not like owner Phil Anschutz is micromanaging hockey operations decisions to force one.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Dallas RB Pollard broke leg in loss, sources say
Afghanistan to tour UAE for three T20Is in February
The Conti Cup is unique and fun, but should Arsenal and Chelsea get a free pass to the final eight?
‘A little adversity’: Bruins lose 2 in row for 1st time
Monahan, Pelley won’t be part of OWGR’s LIV call

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *