Thursday, November 20, 2014

Checking in on the NHL's hot seat

Almost one-quarter of the NHL season is in the books, with several teams hitting the 20-game mark this week. And as usual, we’ve seen the usual array of goals, saves and bloopers, tight games and blowouts, inspiring upsets and outright tanking.

But something has been missing. Somehow, we’ve made it this far without a single coach or GM losing his job, which is rare. We usually get at least a firing or two over the first month, and last year we had one after just three games.1 But this year … nothing.

Or at least nothing yet. It’s inevitable that the pink slips will eventually start flying, and probably sooner than later. It’s never easy to see somebody lose his job, even in the big-dollar world of the NHL, but it does help to be prepared. So here’s a look at 10 seats around the league that are already getting warm or worse.

Sharks Coach Todd McLellan

Why he’s in trouble: McLellan has been on the hot seat for years, and his firing seemed like a sure thing after last season’s playoff collapse against the Kings. He was given a surprising reprieve by GM Doug Wilson, who vowed to overhaul the roster instead. That led into the summer’s odd standoff with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and the team emerged without a captain but with essentially an unchanged core. So far, that patience hasn’t paid off, as the team has hovered around the .500 mark.

Their most recent effort, Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the lowly Sabres, will turn up the heat. It also doesn’t help McLellan’s case that the Sharks have a Stanley Cup–winning head coach on the staff in Larry Robinson, although Robinson has long maintained that he doesn’t want to run a team again.

What could save him: McLellan wasn’t the one who promised to reshape the roster and then didn’t deliver; that’s on Wilson, and maybe he’s the one who should be feeling the heat instead. That’s a mixed blessing for McLellan, since a GM under fire will often have to throw his coach overboard to buy time. But Wilson has shown patience so far.

More importantly, while the Sharks have been a disappointment, they haven’t been all that bad. They’ve been mediocre, sure, but they’re still right in the mix in a surprisingly tight Pacific, and one good week could have them pushing the Ducks for first place.

How hot is it? 4/10 now; 7/10 if they’re not in first place by February; 11/10 if they don’t win at least two playoff rounds.

Prediction: If the team is still stumbling along in December, the comparisons to the 2011-12 Kings will mount. That team made a midseason coaching switch to Darryl Sutter, who’s led them to a pair of Stanley Cup wins.

Flyers Coach Craig Berube

Why he’s in trouble: He’s the head coach of the Flyers, which is one of those positions where the seat starts getting warm on the day you take the job. That’s especially true when the team struggles to get over .500, which the Flyers have for much of the season. And he’s working for a GM who didn’t hire him; Ron Hextall was the assistant GM when Berube got the job last season, and could want to put his own guy in place now that he’s in charge.

What could save him: He’s been on the job for only a year. And last year’s Flyers struggled through the first few months, too, before eventually heating up enough to make the playoffs and then take the Rangers to a seventh game.

How hot is it? 3/10

Prediction: Berube makes it through the season, but needs another playoff spot to keep his job beyond that.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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