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The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next week, which means we’ve almost reached the point at which grown men pack up their offices and attempt to contain their seething anger in exit interviews with the media.
Yes … it’s nearly coach firing time!
Here’s a look at some of the probable and potential coaching changes in the NHL this postseason, which may or may not be influenced by a certain Detroit Red Wings coach deciding he wants to find a new challenge. And by “new challenge” we mean getting paid the gross national product of Ghana to coach somewhere else.
Good As Gone
Peter Horachek, Toronto Maple Leafs
A good man thrown into an absolutely thankless position, the still-interim coach was like a substitute teacher trying to get a bunch of graduating seniors to give a toss about their final exams. We applaud any coach that references a team’s “give a [crap]-o-meter” and, in theory, can successfully operate a toaster. But the Leafs will have a new coach next season after Babcock rejects a billion-dollar offer.
Ted Nolan, Buffalo Sabres
He was set up to fail, and ultimately that’s what his team did, but Nolan maintained his dignity throughout the “Dishonor For Connor” campaign. One assumes Tim Murray will want his own guy behind the bench as the Sabres begin the McDavid or Eichel era – hello, Luke Richardson.
Question is whether Teddy has earned another NHL chance after years of being blackballed, or if it’s back to Latvia. (OK, the other question: Why is there so much chatter about Mike Babcock coaching whomever drafts McDavid?)
Out Of Playoffs, Out Of Job?
Craig Berube, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers were high on Berube before he took the gig, and he helped lead their turnaround last year to the postseason. Are the team’s cap issues and injuries enough cover to keep him in a job heading into next season? Potentially, but with a short leash.
Then again, perhaps Berube’s personnel issues, including the misuse of Steve Mason that may have led to the departure of goalie coach Jeff Reese, are grounds enough to turf him. As always, the bottom line is that Ed Snider isn’t getting any younger…
Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks
McLellan is under contract for another year. If he decided to leave the Sharks, it would cost that new team a third-round pick. Granted, it would be worth a third to hire one of the best coaches in the NHL, and one assumes this was the last ride for McLellan and the Sharks, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Unless they do the smart thing, which is to fire GM Doug Wilson and hang onto McLellan. But they’ll undoubtably do the dumb thing, which is the opposite.
On The Bubble
Mike Johnston, Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s difficult to imagine how Johnston comes back if the Penguins miss the playoffs, even if this is more a problem with construction than with coaching. They’ve made it every season since 2007.
If the Penguins make the cut, and they should, Johnston might get a stay of execution, even if they lose in the first round. But if Mike Babcock decided he wanted to coach Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin … well, Mike will get a nice severance package.
Claude Julien, Boston Bruins
Peter Chiarelli has already shown some inklings that he’s rethinking “Bruins Hockey” as we’ve known it, and if Boston misses the playoffs it could mean Julien is out of a job. He’s clashed with management for years, but had success as his ultimate defense.
Hence, if the Bruins make it, he’s still likely safe.
In The Playoffs, But Potentially Out Of a Job?
Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks
It’s entirely possible that the Ducks will have a third-straight first-place regular season finish followed by a postseason that stalls in the first or second round. It’s just what Boudreau does – outside of the season when the Capitals fired him, his teams have won the division title every season. Seven times in eight years. That’s insanely good.
But again: The postseason’s a different story. This is Year 4 for Boudreau and the Ducks. He lasted five with the Capitals, and was only fired when that regular season success was jeopardized. The same scenario would have to play out for Boudreau to go in Anaheim, because he’s not (yet) blamed for the Ducks’ postseason failures.
Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues
This is arguably the best roster Hitchcock’s been given since arriving in St. Louis. Expectations are justifiably high. A first-round ousting would make for an interesting call by GM Doug Armstrong. Hitchcock is in Year 4 for the Blues; he lasted four seasons with the Flyers and Blue Jackets in previous stints. There isn’t much more Armstrong can do to this roster. If disaster strikes, it might be time for another voice. And it might be Hitchcock who walks away, as he's without a contract for next season.
Those Weird-Ass Situations in Edmonton and New Jersey
Todd Nelson doesn’t exactly have the wins and losses for proof of concept, but there’s no question that the Oilers’ young stars are playing for him and the rest of the roster seems to want him back. “(Nelson) understands that there are 20 individuals in here, and not all of them learn the same way. He’s very good at figuring out each individual … that’s something that has improved,” Matt Hendricks told Sportsnet.
One assumes Nelson will be back. Unless Kevin Lowe’s goal is to have Taylor Hall play for every coach on Earth at some point in his career.
New Jersey Devils
Lou Lamoriello has said he won’t be back to coach the team next season, much to the chagrin of no one. So will the next Devils coach be Scott Stevens or Adam Oates? Or both? Or neither? Do you honestly think we can accurately predict what Lou’s going to do, considering the last time he made a coaching change he hired three people and one of them was Lou Lamoriello?!
The Free Agents
Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
We’ve mentioned his name several times, so let’s get to it: His contract is up. The Red Wings are going to have to ante up the richest contract for a coach in NHL history to keep him, or he gets it somewhere else. He likes working with Ken Holland and for Mike Ilitch.
Talk to people in Detroit, and they put it at 60 percent that he stays.
But what if he’d rather find a new challenge? What if he wants to coach Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid? What if he wants to end a drought in Philadelphia, or turn the kids in Edmonton into winners? What if he hits his head on a metal pipe, wakes up and decides he’d like to be the ringmaster in the Toronto circus?
Babcock’s decision affects several others. In the end, we think he stays. But this should be fun ...
Dave Tippett, Arizona Coyotes
It’s hard to imagine GM Don Maloney firing his coach after a season in which the Coyotes were intentionally pointed downward in the standings and their goaltending was hot garbage.
Tippett’s under contract for three more seasons. How much does he want to be a part of a prolonged rebuild? Darren Dreger suspects Tippett has an out in his contract, and could use it this offseason.
Then again, if Connor McDavid arrives in the desert …
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