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Jeff Hale of the New York Times' Slap Shot blog handicaps what he believes is the field for the first coaching casualty of the 2008-09 NHL season. Beating Bob Hartley's mark of six games with the Atlanta Thrashers from last season is going to be difficult.

Hale lists five names. Let's toss Barry Melrose out of the mix right away. Yes, the team looked awful opening against the New York Rangers. But barring an epic failure in the standings -- and we're talking, like a 2-15 start -- Melrose will still be the head coach at the end of the season. As impulsive as owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie have been, the hiring of Melrose was more symbolic of their maverick approach than anything else. Firing him would be as counterintuitive as McCain dumping Sarah Palin.

Let's also drop Andy Murray of the St. Louis Blues from this list. With Erik Johnson's injury and so many young players, the season's practically a mulligan anyway. Murray's been accused of "losing the room," but seeing him as a casualty in what's a rebuilding year is a stretch.

That leaves these three names, from Slap Shot:

Alain Vigneault of the Canucks. He is the choice of a panel of Canadian Press writers, and you'd think that if things sour new GM Mike Gillis would quickly install his own guy.

Mike Keenan of the Flames. Okay, another Western Canadian guy but one whose team is most likely to be scuffling for a playoff spot. There will also be the Bertuzzi circus to deal with. Iron Mike has apparently filed down some of his hard edges but if things start to slide, look for him to start calling out players.

Denis Savard of the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks can't hide any more. They're on TV, they have good young talent and, now, all those Cubs and White Sox fans are at their disposal. Even the best spinarama might not be enough to ward off a balky start.

Hard to argue with any of them. Vigneault's job was in question this off-season, and Gillis is as impulsive as they come. The expectations are high for both the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks; should either of them falter, the exit is that-a-way.

What's compelling about either of those vacancies are the potential replacements up in the front office: Darryl Sutter with the Flames and -- yes, this is unabashed speculation without an ounce of fact -- some guy named Scotty in Chicago.

Any one else on the chopping block early this season?

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