The 2017-18 NHL season was a bit of an oddity due to the fact there were no in-season coaching changes for the first time since the 1966-67 season when the league still consisted of only six teams. Typically there are usually a handful of teams that, at some point in the year, decide they are in need of a new voice or a new direction in an effort to shake something up.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it is meaningless — but it still usually happens. Given the history of the league it seems highly improbable that we will go through a second consecutive season without a chance behind the bench somewhere around the league.
On Tuesday, the folks at Bovada released some odds on who the first coach fired this season could be and they put odds on some big names in the coaching ranks. Some that might be truly coaching for their jobs early in the season, and some that just seem … odd.
First, Bovada’s odds…
Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers: 11/5
Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators: 12/5
Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks: 11/4
Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings: 19/2
Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks: 19/2
Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers: 20/1
Dave Hakstol, Philadelphia Flyers: 30/1
Mike Yeo, St. Louis Blues: 30/1
Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs: 66/1
I think there are a couple of names that we can cross off the list already.
Mike Babcock, for example, isn’t going and the fact that there are any sort of odds on him seems a little outrageous. His recent coaching resume is certainly up for debate and should be scrutinized a little more than it has been, but his job security seems pretty rock solid at this point. Honestly, I would go as far as to say that his job is as safe as any coach in the league at this moment.
I also don’t know if I buy Bob Boughner being in any sort of danger, at least not right now. He is only entering his second season, and the Panthers were one of the hottest teams in the second half of the 2017-18 season. Maybe if the team misses the playoffs again he will be in some danger after the season, but not during it. He deserves a longer leash than that and should get it.
Boucher and Blashill are in tough spots because they are coaching teams that everyone knows has little — if any — chance to compete this season. They might very well be on the hot seat, and it is really difficult to imagine either one being behind the bench of their respective team over the long-term, but they would definitely fall into the “it doesn’t really make a difference this season” category of coaching changes.
McLellan is the obvious choice at the top of the list. The Oilers were odds on favorites to win the Western Conference at the start of the 2017-18 season and completely fell flat on their faces. When you have the best player in hockey, one that is as close to a slam dunk lock as you can get to win the scoring title, and a legitimate MVP candidate every single season you do not get a terribly long leash. Especially when there are high expectations for him and the team that have consistently not been meant. McLellan has missed the playoffs twice in three years with McDavid and their first game to open the 2018-19 season was more of the same.
Quenneville is a tough one because his resume is as complete as any coach in the league. But the Blackhawks are coming off of their first non-playoff season in nearly a decade and have not advanced beyond the first-round in three years. Professional sports are definitely a “what have you done for me lately” business, but if you are going to fire a coach with that sort of track record you better be darn sure you are getting a clear and definitive upgrade. Is that coach available? A fast start (which the Blackhawks definitely have had) would erase all doubt about his job security. At least for now.
Yeo and Carlyle seem to be in a similar situation, where they are coaching good teams (or what should be good teams) but more is probably expected of them. Within that group you could probably add another name that does not show up on the list: Minnesota’s Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau is an outstanding coach and has had success everywhere he has been. But at some point the management behind a good team gets tired of just being good enough to compete and not taking enough steps toward a championship. That has been Boudreau’s undoing in every stop. It was also the same thing that happened with Yeo in Minnesota. And Carlyle in his previous stops.
Hakstol, like the team he is coaching, is the true wild card on the list. This is his fourth season in Philadelphia and the team has been pretty much the same in every season. They’ve averaged around 95 points in the standings, they made the playoffs twice (and got bounced in the first round each time) and missed the playoffs once. If everything goes right his team could be outstanding. If a few things don’t go right his team could be what we saw on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks. It largely comes down to what he gets out of his goalies and his young defense, which is pretty much what makes or breaks every coach in the league whose job security is on the bubble. Nothing in this sport makes or breaks a coach like a goalie can.
With all of that in mind, which coaches are in most danger early in the season and could potentially be the first one changed? My rankings would go as: 1. Todd McLellan, 2. Guy Boucher, 3. Jeff Blashill, 4. Dave Hakstol, 5. Randy Carlyle, 6. Bruce Boudreau, 7. Mike Yeo, with Quenneville and Boughner being extreme long shots and Babcock not even being worth discussing.