Thursday, September 5, 2019

Five coaches and five GMs who absolutely won’t get fired this year, maybe

The NHL season is almost here, which means it won’t be long before we start hearing about all the hot seats around the league. Is Mike Babcock in trouble in Toronto? Does John Chayka need to make the playoffs in Arizona? Would Minnesota’s Bill Guerin prefer his own guy to Bruce Boudreau? Can Jason Botterill afford another miserable season in Buffalo?

But while the hot seat conversation is standard issue in pro sports, it always feels a bit awkward. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods here. We have to cover this stuff, but it’s not a pleasant topic.

So let’s turn it around and stay positive: Who’s on the cold seat? In other words, which NHL coaches and GMs are all but assured of still being on the job one full year from now?

It’s a tougher question than you might think. Everyone in the NHL is hired to be fired eventually, and just about everyone’s job security is one bad losing streak from coming into question. I wanted to come up with 10 names, and honestly, that might be too many. But we’ll do it anyway, because half the fun of doing this sort of list is so that when one (or more) of these guys inevitably gets fired in a few months, you can all come back here to point and laugh at me. It’s OK, I’m used to it by now.

Before we start, there’s one important ground rule: No picking any recent hires who’ve been on the job for less than one full year. That’s too easy. With apologies to Paul Fenton, even the worst coaches and GM usually get at least a year or two on the job in the NHL, so picking a brand-new hire is cheating. You won’t be seeing slam dunk names like Joel Quenneville or Steve Yzerman on the list, which increase the degree of difficulty.

We’ll try to come up with five coaches and five GMs. And we’ll start in the front office, where the job tends to be a little bit more secure.

General managers

Doug Armstrong

We might as well lead off with the one name on the list that feels like a genuine sure thing. Armstrong is the reigning Cup winner, and getting fired after a championship is just about impossible. (Sorry, Al MacNeil.) And even if the Blues got off to an absolutely terrible start, well, they did that last year too and things worked out OK.

Armstrong is a well-respected GM with plenty of experience and doesn’t seem like he’d want to leave on his own anytime soon, so barring some sort of scandal or falling out with ownership, he’s just about as safe as anyone could possibly be. Which isn’t completely safe, because this is still the NHL. But it’s pretty safe.

Doug Wilson

We’re two names in, and this one already feels at least a little risky. But only a little. I think Wilson is the very best GM in the league today, and the Sharks should be a very good team. It’s hard to imagine them having a bad year unless they run into major injury problems, which GMs usually escape the blame for. With 16 years on the job and counting, this is Wilson’ team, and it’s a very good one.

That doesn’t mean it couldn’t all blow up in his face. We thought it already had a few years ago, when the Sharks were missing the playoffs and the franchise player was telling Wilson to shut his mouth. The GM survived that, so he should be able to weather any unexpected hurdles this year throws at him. If the aging Sharks hit a wall and miss the playoffs, could ownership decide that it’s time for a new direction and a fresh set of eyes? Nothing’s impossible, but it would take a total disaster.

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