One of the more interesting stories of the 2017-18 NHL season is that no head coach has been fired yet. By this point last year, the Panthers had already left Gerard Gallant by the side of the road and the Islanders had moved on from Jack Capuano. Three other coaches would be fired before the start of the playoffs.
There’s been more stability on coaching staffs this season, which seems to be the result of two main factors. One, most teams are still in the playoff hunt, so they’re not desperate enough to blow things up. Second, looking at the teams already out of mix like Buffalo, Arizona, and Vancouver, most of them already changed coaches last summer. Understandably, they’re going to be patient with those guys.
But as the season goes on, more and more teams will consider whether it’s time to pull the trigger and insert a new voice into the locker room. Maybe it’s a desperate stab to turn this season around. Maybe it’s an effort to set a different tone for this spring and beyond. It’s hard to imagine that all 31 coaches make it into April unscathed, even if no single firing seems imminent.
So which NHL coaches have the toastiest seats, and who could be a goner sooner than later? Let’s look at the top candidates.
Alain Vigneault, Rangers
It was roughly a year ago around this time that the Rangers signed Vigneault to a contract extension through 2019-20. However, the team hasn’t made a deep playoff run under him since 2014, and even with Henrik Lundqvist back at his best this season, they’re still just on the cusp of a playoff spot.
Vigneault probably won’t get fired as long as New York can conceivably reach the postseason, but the team has a 5-7-2 record since mid-December, so it’s not exactly trending in the right direction. The offseason hiring of assistant Lindy Ruff seems to have accomplished little.
The Rangers have been just good enough to keep Vigneault safe, but for a team that doesn’t have a clear direction right now, big changes feel like they could come in a hurry.
Todd McLellan, Oilers
Whenever people are picking you to reach the Cup Final and you’re the third-worst team in the conference, there will be calls for your head. Much of the blame for the Oilers’ struggles can be directed at the roster construction under general manager Peter Chiarelli, but McLellan has been unable to take a team with the best player in the league and turn it into a competitive one.
A lot of that has been out of his control, but there’s been criticism of his defensive schemes and the team’s special teams are a total disaster. A power play with McDavid that’s 28th in the league and the NHL’s worst penalty kill are both his responsibility to some degree.
McLellen is clearly a smart guy, but his team is struggling and he hasn’t been to the conference finals since 2011. That’ll put you on the hot seat, even if it’s not scorching.
Bill Peters, Hurricanes
The conversation around Peters would be louder if new ownership didn’t give him a vote of confidence recently. Now it seems like Peters and the brain trust in Carolina are safe for now as Tom Dundon evaluates whether they’re the right people to run the franchise.
The reason for pressure on Peters is obvious: The Hurricanes are on their way to the draft lottery for the fourth straight season under him. The team has loads of talented young players and regularly ranks among the NHL’s best in shot attempt statistics, but it hasn’t translated to meaningful success on the ice for one reason or another.
For a team that’s seemingly on the brink of bigger and better things, it’s fair to wonder whether Peters was merely the guy to get them here, but someone else is needed to push them over the top.
Guy Boucher, Senators
It’s incredible to think that Boucher is on the hot seat less than a year after taking the Senators within a game of the Stanley Cup Final. But that’s how things operate in the wacky world of hockey, where Ottawa has shown its true colors with a disastrous season that’s fueled rumors of Erik Karlsson’s possible departure in 2019.
Boucher, who also coached the Lightning from 2010-12, has to be responsible for that collapse on some level, even if last season’s underlying numbers suggested regression was likely.
Jeff Blashill, Red Wings
Blashill hasn’t been given a ton of talent to work with in Detroit, so it’s hard to pin him down for the team’s middling results. He also deserves credit for getting Dylan Larkin’s development back on track after a sophomore season lost in the woods. Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou give the team some pieces to build around.
But back in November, there were multiple reports that the Red Wings might be interested in hiring former Coyotes coach Dave Tippett in the same role. It didn’t sound like anything was imminent at the time, but it underscored that the Red Wings might not be particularly confident in Blashill as their long-term guy.
Maybe the thing that will keep Blashill safe is the Red Wings’ lack of short-term ambition. They’re still a team in transition that needs to build for the future, so it’s possible they’re content to keep Blashill around until they’re ready for a new voice to help take them over the top. It’d be similar to how the last guy on our list got his job in Chicago a decade ago.
Joel Quenneville, Blackhawks
Yes, this is a total long shot. The idea of the Blackhawks firing Quenneville, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the second-most coaching victories in NHL history, seems unfathomable. He’s as good a coach as you’ll find in hockey, so it’d take some pretty extreme circumstances for Chicago to consider a change.
But with the Blackhawks dead last in the Central Division and not trending in the right direction, there have been increasingly loud calls for the team to do something. These are extreme circumstances. And with a roster tied up by the hard salary cap and no-movement clauses, the easiest major change that management could make is the man at the top.
Quenneville doesn’t really deserve to be fired based on his track record and the extenuating circumstances, but he’s been the coach in Chicago for rough 10 years, which is a long time in the NHL. It’s not inconceivable that the team considers whether a new voice could be necessary. It might be ill advised, though.