September 02, 2010
There are a few obvious choices as far as NHL coaches looking at the axe glistening above their heads this season.
Todd Richards was brought in to help change the culture and philosophy of the Minnesota Wild; it's not outlandish to believe he could be gone if the offense sputters and the defense is as porous as last season.
Ron Wilson's job may have been saved last season by cronyism and the Olympics, but the Toronto Maple Leafs now have Dion Phaneuf(notes) and (finally) some expectations this season -- even if those expectations are to not give Boston a second consecutive top-two pick.
Seeing either of these guys' ass-on-curb wouldn't be a surprise.
ESPN's Scott Burnside has both of them, as well as John Tortorella of the New York Rangers, on his coaches' hot-seat list. (S/T Kukla.) But he also lists two others of interest: Marc Crawford of the Dallas Stars and Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals.
Crawford's first season was a bum one because the team underachieved and because former coach Dave Tippett was leading a bankrupt team to its best season in franchise history a few states over in the West. Burnside feels Crawford's make-or-break task is with young players:
One of the knocks on Crawford in his previous role as coach of the Los Angeles Kings was he didn't handle the team's young players properly. Crawford will have to prove that was either untrue or a blip on the radar, as the Stars' hopes ride on the shoulders of a young nucleus, including James Neal(notes), Jamie Benn(notes), Loui Eriksson(notes) and Fabian Brunnstrom(notes), among others.
Another reason to doubt Crawford's long for this team if it struggles: New ownership can sometimes mean new personnel, and Dallas will eventually have new ownership.
As for Boudreau, Burnside writes that it's all about the postseason:
One of the challenges for Boudreau (for our money, still the same quality coach who a year earlier won coach of the year honors) will be in keeping the gruesome memories of April at bay. It won't be easy given that nothing the team does during the regular season will be good enough. Only playoff success, and meaningful success at that, will push this talented team forward and dispel the notion that it's San Jose East.
Ouch. Burnside goes on to praise Boudreau's game management -- although we've seen him outcoached in the playoffs -- but notes that it all comes down to "keeping this squad on the right mental plane." It's something Ken Campbell of The Hockey News mentioned in a piece last spring that questioned Boudreau's future:
Boudreau has his strengths as a coach and perhaps it's those attributes that bring out the best in his players. But he's certainly not going to instantly become the hard-ass the coaching cycle of this team seems to require at the moment.
If the Capitals are out in the first round, there's real danger for Boudreau. He's well-liked, his regular-season numbers are great and management's supported him in the past; but he's not found the postseason success expected of him. Which kind of makes him the Evgeni Nabokov(notes) of coaches, if you wanted to continue the San Jose East meme -- and look where he ended up, comrade.
Hey, maybe Tortorella will be available, if one is in the market for a hard-ass.