Monday, November 5, 2018

Weekend rankings: Coaches coroner

Last​ year, NHL coaches​ made​ it​ to​ very​ end​ of the​ season before anyone​ was fired. This​ year,​ they almost made​​ it one month.

Hey, at least NHL GMs are getting better at something.

The first pink slip of season arrived yesterday, with the Kings firing John Stevens and replacing him on an interim basis with Willie Desjardins. The move came as a bit of a surprise; Stevens was only in his second year behind the Kings’ bench, had made the playoffs last season, and was coming off of a nice win over the Blue Jackets despite his star goalie being hurt. On the other hand, the Kings are tied for dead last in the league, so nobody can claim to be completely shocked.

We’ll get to what this means for the Kings in a bit – spoiler alert, they might show up in the bottom five rankings. But there’s a more pressing question: Now that the firing squad has broken the seal, who’s next?

We’re not exactly short on candidates. When The Athletic rounded up our opening night predictions, ten coaches received votes in the “first fired” category, and Stevens wasn’t among them. But Randy Carlyle was. So were Dave Hakstol and Mike Yeo, although with just a single vote each. Jeff Blashill finished second to Guy Boucher. And nobody even cast a vote for Florida’s Bob Boughner. (But we did have him ranked third for Coach of the Year honors. We might need a mulligan on that one.)

There are plenty of names in play, although some of them are safer than others. But you wonder if seeing the Kings make a move this early turns up the heat on other struggling teams. If the Kings run off a few wins to get back into the playoff picture, it might get awfully tough to preach patience.

That’s a topic of particular interest to the league’s bottom-feeders. But first, let’s get to the top five, which inconveniently features way more than five teams with a solid case this week. Will I be able to sort it all out? Not really, no, but read on.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

We’re into November, which in theory means the top five should be getting fairly stable. We’ll have some movement each week, and maybe even the occasional team moving in or out of the list, but for the most part we should all be settling in on the same page. One big happy family, am I right?

Oh wait, I’m told I have some reader feedback, let me just crack that open …

Huh. OK, maybe we’re not all on the same page just yet.

First things first: despite last week’s throat-clearing, the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t make the grade after all. Three losses in three games will do that. I’m not saying I jinxed them by writing that we all needed to “[s]tart mentally preparing yourself now for a world where the Carolina Hurricanes are considered one of the very best teams in the NHL,” but if they go 0-and-68 the rest of the way, I’m going to feel just a little bit responsible.

That said, there is opportunity for some new blood in this week’s top five. With teams like the Jets, Sharks, Bruins and Penguins all wobbling, maybe it’s time to get just a little bit crazy.

5. Calgary Flames (9-5-1, +2) – Like I said … a little crazy.

Look, I’m not sure the Flames will be here at any other point this season. I’m far from convinced they deserve to be here now. These are the guys who got speedbagged by the Penguins just over a week ago. But they’ve won four straight, including some impressive outings against the Leafs and Avalanche. Their underlying numbers are good. They’re basically unstoppable in the third period. They’re in first place in a bad division and are tied for top spot in the league in goals scored.

Should all that be enough? In a typical year, maybe not. But with just about everyone apart from the top two teams looking decidedly iffy, it’s enough to get the Flames in for now. I called them one of my most confusing team in the offseason and they’re not doing much to make me feel wrong.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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