October 30, 2009
The end of October gives us a decent enough sample to at least catch a whiff of the coaches that could be in danger. No one has been given the Bob Hartley or Barry Melrose swift kick to the curb just yet, but there are certainly a few names on the watch list for a pink slip.
Over on FanHouse, Schultz has a list of five coaches he feels are in the guillotine: Peter DeBoer, Florida Panthers; John Stevens, Philadelphia Flyers; Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks; Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs; and Rick Tocchet, Tampa Bay Lightning, whom Schultz believes will be the first coach axed.
This preliminary list has some merit, although Schultz doesn't even sound convinced the majority of them are under fire. ("Half the reason Carlyle is on this list is because there really aren't a lot of other people to put here.") The Panthers and Ducks are off to rather putrid starts, but DeBoer and Carlyle may have built up enough good will from last season's exploits to ride it out.
Ron Wilson ... well, Brian Burke already promised "numerous, multiple player changes before the coaching staff would even be looked at, let alone considered." It all depends on what the Leafs look like after the process plays out and, presumably, if their struggles continue when Phil Kessel(notes) finally suits up.
That leaves two coaches listed in "The Pink Slip Index": One we completely agree with, and one with whom we really, really don't.
Whenever the coaching hot seat is mentioned in casual conversations with NHL insiders, Stevens's name comes up. The Flyers have had a middling start (11 points in 10 games), and having seen them a few times there's something a little off about them, especially up front.
But the reason Stevens is always mentioned, we think, is because the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers could easily become the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins: Chug along as an average, underwhelming team until the coach is replaced by one with a completely different personality and approach; and then kick a very talented roster into high gear for the postseason.
Michel Therrien and Dan Bylsma were divergent personalities. If Stevens were to be replaced, it would actually mirror the Penguins' move, with a yielding players' coach getting flipped for (one assumes) some sort of Mike Keenan type to whip these guys into shape.
So until the Flyers turn it around, Stevens is a legit name on this list. Tocchet's might be too, but not at No. 1. No way, no how. To paraphrase Natalie Portman on "Top Chef" this week: Who is Schultz's dealer and is he looking to take on any new business?
From FanHouse, the justification of Rick "Second in the Southeast" Tocchet being in the most danger for dismissal:
No. 1: Rick Tocchet, Tampa Bay Lightning. The lame thing about NHL coaches this season is that there's no one you can point at and yell 'DEAD MAN WALKING!' A lot of thought-to-be-crappy teams are good. A lot of good teams are mediocre. A very small handful of teams are very bad. The Lightning are not very bad. But the Lightning are off to a bad start (3-3-3) and are led by a coach who was interim for most of last season and was hired by the previous coach. That latter is the coaching kiss of death, which is why I believe Tocchet will be the first to go this year. And also because anything goes at Cirque du SoLightning.
While his last point is taken, it wasn't Barry Melrose that gave Rick Tocchet a two-year extension after the interim tag was lifted -- it was the current management. Their 3-3-3 start isn't bad at all; the Panthers and Thrashers wish they were that "bad."
(Ed. Note: Ben Wright from the Thrashers checked in on Twitter: "ATL is 4-4-1. Same point total after 9 games and with a better win total.")
Plus, this is simply a better roster than last season's disjointed mess: Better goaltending, better blue line, deeper scoring and Steven Stamkos's(notes) NHL testicles have finally descended. Good times.
If nothing else, Tocchet's already removed himself from the hot seat, at least in the eyes of local media in Tampa. From Lightning Strikes on Oct. 23:
Let's give credit where it is deserved. in his first mini-crisis of the season, coach Rick Tocchet handled it just right, and he got results.
I'll admit I write this in part in response to e-mails I have received and some questions on this week's chat that wondered if it was time to fire Tocchet. It is the worst kind of knee-jerk reaction to a couple of bad games (geez, at least Barry Melrose got 16 games). That said, a lot would be deduced by the way the players responded to whatever the coach came up with to break a terrible two-game stretch in which the team lost twice and was outscored 11-2.
For Tocchet and his coaching staff, it was all business. The four days of "extended training camp" leading up to Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Sharks were full of intense skating drills and drills targeted to what was not going well, specifically defensive zone coverages, breakouts and winning battles for the puck.
Again, this isn't to say Tocchet isn't a name to watch as far as coaches' fate. It's Tampa Bay: anything goes. Oren Koules might fire him in a fit of rage because "Paranormal Activity" killed the "Saw" franchise; who knows?
But odds are that Tocchet stays. If we, you know, had to wager.
But he shouldn't be No. 1 on the list by any current measure. In fact, Schultz is right: Outside of Ron Wilson and potentially Stevens, it's difficult to see another coach that could be canned in the coming months. Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks? Not with those injuries. Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators? The time could be nearing, but they're a pesky team. Scott Gordon of the New York Islanders? What, and hurt the team's lottery chances?
The Carolina Hurricanes are a complete mess, but Paul Maurice in the first year of a three-year deal. The only scenario that could play out? Maurice moves upstairs and Ron Francis takes the bench to shake things up.
What do you think? Any coaches in serious trouble this season?