Friday, March 8, 2013
Five coaches on hot seat
By Scott Burnside
After starting 6-1, the Lightning have been plagued by defensive breakdowns, poor goaltending and a lack of timely scoring. Apart from the ongoing heroics of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Lightning seem to have lost their way, having gone 4-11-1 and fallen out of the playoff bracket in the Eastern Conference. Is the fact that the Lightning are first in goals per game and seventh on the power play but 26th in goals allowed per game a function of coaching or a team that is still coming together under a relatively new GM in Steve Yzerman and a coach in just his third NHL season in Boucher? No question the Bolts should be better, especially with the addition of Sami Salo and Matt Carle along the blue line. With top-notch minor league coach Jon Cooper waiting in the wings, you wonder how long Boucher's leash is if the Lightning continue to look like a team destined to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row after a surprise run to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. If Yzerman decides that Boucher's message isn't getting through, does he try and get ahead of the inevitable interest in trying to coral former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff with whom Yzerman is familiar because of his place on Mike Babcock's Olympic coaching staff in Vancouver? Or is Cooper's ascension a foregone conclusion?
Not Sacco's fault that his lineup has been decimated by injuries or that Ryan O'Reilly was absent because of a contract impasse that was only recently resolved by a Calgary Flames offer sheet. But after missing the playoffs the past two seasons, the Avs still struggle on special teams, where they are 25th on the penalty kill and 29th on the power play. Those are the kinds of stats that keep you out of the playoffs and make job security a problem. With the Avs sitting in 14th place and looking like a playoff long shot again this year, GM Greg Sherman needs to make an offering to the gods of ownership at some point unless Sacco can coax more offense out of his group in the coming weeks and they sneak into the top eight.
The team's front office is in a state of flux with John Davidson coming in as president and replacing GM Scott Howson with Jarmo Kekalainen. So it seems inevitable that Richards' days in Columbus are numbered. With the Blue Jackets in line for a second straight 30th overall finish, it would be understandable if Kekalainen wanted his own man behind the bench come next fall. Like many coaches, Richards has been saddled with injuries to top personnel, and he has been hamstrung with a lineup that simply doesn't match up in talent. Unlike other teams, the Blue Jackets win only infrequently; they did not win back-to-back games until the season was almost half over. Still, they compete like heck. Just not sure that will be enough to give Richards a stay of execution given the transition at the top of the organization. Because Ruff is an obvious star-quality coach, do the Blue Jackets try a pre-emptive strike and make a move before the end of the season? Or do they play out the string with Richards, hope the lottery balls finally fall in their favor and provide them with the No. 1 overall pick they were denied a year ago, and then decide on their coaching strategy in the offseason? One thing worth noting: The Blue Jackets' compete level may actually open a door for Richards elsewhere if his time is up in Columbus.
The expectations with this franchise are perpetually low given the dysfunction that starts at the top, but when you have one of the game's emerging superstars in John Tavares and solid contributors like Matt Moulson and Mark Streit, simply settling into last place in the Atlantic and out of the playoffs year after year shouldn't be the team's fallback position. Under Capuano, the Isles have shown tantalizing bursts of consistent hockey -- like the one they're producing now to move two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But the Isles are a grisly 4-8-1 at home and their young talent, like Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo, has failed to develop. The question is whether ownership has the will to go after a top-end coach or whether it prefers to maintain the status quo because it's the path of least resistance financially? For instance, wouldn't Ruff bring instant credibility to the Isles bench? But Ruff won't work for peanuts, which may rule him out of contention for the Islanders job. Of course, Capuano could erase all talk of a potential replacement if his team got on the kind of roll they have to this point in time been unable to produce.
This isn't to suggest that Laviolette, who guided the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010 and whose team has won at least one round in the last three playoff seasons, is not a good coach. But his team isn't playing good hockey. Injuries have the Flyers treading water and Philadelphia hits midseason outside the playoff bubble. Given the impatience ownership has shown in the past, is it beyond the pale that the Flyers could make a coaching move? We don't see it as likely, but the Flyers are nothing if not unafraid to make a bold move, in spite of assurances from management that Laviolette is safe. This is too good a team to miss the playoffs. Isn't it?