Friday, January 4, 2013
Updated: January 9, 1:00 PM ET
Five coaches on the hot seat
By Scott Burnside
You can make a case that all 30 head coaches are on the hot seat, especially with a season cut almost in half by the lockout, but let's cut to the chase. There are a few every year whose place behind the bench is significantly more perilous than the balance of their peers. Here are five coaches who might be looking over their shoulders:
After guiding the Hawks to their first Cup win since 1962 back in 2010, veteran coach Joel Quenneville has been one-and-done the past two playoff seasons. Yes, were it not for a couple of brain cramps by netminder Corey Crawford in the first round against Phoenix, Chicago might have written a different ending last spring, but that's not how it played out. Perhaps more concerning for the talent-laden Blackhawks was their dismal performance on special teams, as they were tied for 25th on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill. There were rumblings that Quenneville was in trouble in the offseason, and he'll need his team to start strong and show improvement on special teams to keep those rumblings from becoming something more.
No NHL head coach has been with his current team as long as Lindy Ruff, who became the Sabres' coach in July 1997. Although he has one of the keenest hockey minds in the game, the rope has frayed considerably in recent years. After appearances in the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007, the Sabres have failed to get out of the first round and, in fact, have missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons. Last season was especially disappointing, as the Sabres, under new ownership, opened the vault to bring in players such as Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, then staggered through the first two-thirds of the season before falling short of a playoff berth in the final days of the regular season. Have to imagine a slow start will not be acceptable for owner Terry Pegula.
Yes, we know Mike Yeo was a rookie bench boss a year ago and has to be cut some slack as he learns the ropes. The problem for the former Pittsburgh assistant is that in December 2011, he had his Wild in first place in the NHL standings, but then couldn't arrest a tumble that saw them finish a distant 12th in the Western Conference. They also had a minus-49 goal differential that was second-worst in the conference. GM Chuck Fletcher went wild (as it were) with owner Craig Leipold's money in the offseason and brought in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and the Wild are expected to not only improve but become a contender. We think Yeo will be up to the challenge, but we're guessing he gets one shot to get it right.
Remember when Guy Boucher was the "it" coaching prospect back in the fall of 2010, and the passionate Montreal native delivered the goods in guiding the Tampa Bay Lightning to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals against eventual Cup winner Boston? Seems like a long time ago, no? Last season, the Bolts didn't just take a step back, they took a whole staircase back, falling out of the playoffs thanks in large part to shoddy goaltending and suspect defense, finishing dead last by a country mile in goals allowed per game (3.39). Special teams were also a problem, as they were tied for 25th on the power play and 26th on the penalty kill. Anders Lindback will be asked to stabilize the goaltending, but the pressure will be on Boucher to get his mojo back and get the Lightning off to a good start to the season, especially with another "it" coaching prospect in Jon Cooper coming off an AHL championship for the Bolts' American Hockey League affiliate.
Pretty sure Joe Sacco started last season on most folks' hot-seat list, and we think he's going to be OK. But with GM Greg Sherman continuing to move pieces around in the hopes of building the Avs back into a perennial playoff team, Sacco must show that he can evolve with his lineup.