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It seems like every year there's a good number of coaches whose job security happens to come up for discussion because their teams are dramatically under-performing, or things just aren't working out.
Last year alone, seven coaches were shown the door, and for the most part, the reasons why seemed obvious. Davis Payne got out to a 6-7-0 start with a team that ended up nearly having the best record in hockey under Ken Hitchcock. Paul Maurice got canned for going 8-13-4 in his first 25 games. The same day, Bruce Boudreau was shown the door because the room got sick of his voice, or something. Randy Carlyle was fired a few days after that because the Ducks started the year 7-13-4. Terry Murray couldn't coax more than a 13-12-4 record out of an insanely talented team that couldn't put the puck in the net. Jacques Martin had one of the worst teams in the league last year. Ditto for Scott Arniel.
Pretty good reasons across the board, as is usually the case with coach firings and even rumors that some of them are playing every game like Damocles.
You could say the same thing about Lindy Ruff, who got canned after 17 years in Buffalo. The Sabres are an awful, nouveau riche team and have been for two years now, and someone had to go before the axe fell on Darcy Regier, who doesn't deserve the right to clean up his own mess but will probably get it because that's how poorly-run that organization is. Ron Rolston has fared little better in the near-institutional Ruff's place, which tells you all you need to know.
Of course, some coaches who have also been mentioned as facing the firing line with due cause include Colorado's Joe Sacco, Winnipeg's Claude Noel, and San Jose's Todd McLellan, whose teams are playing poorly to some extent or another, and for various reasons.
Colorado was never going to be very good this year but the thought was that it would at least improve; not having Ryan O'Reilly at all, then losing Steve Downie for the year and Gabriel Landeskog for 13 games helped not at all. Noel, like Sacco, is a victim of circumstance, a coach on a team that is inexplicably considered to be competitive in any sense of the word, and Noel has it worse because he's saddled with the worst starting goaltender in the NHL.
McLellan ... well, there's a very credible case to be made that he deserves to go. The Sharks are barely hanging onto a playoff spot largely due to an incredibly unsustainable hot start from his top line and despite the ever-advancing age on that team — they're the Red Wings of two years ago without the Stanley Cup credentials — but at some point there's going to come a time when that team has to all explode into firing and finger-pointing, and one suspects it's about a four-game losing streak from happening.
The two that make the least sense to me in terms of people being talked about as having their jobs in jeopardy are John Tortorella and Peter Laviolette.
I've seen a few places where the possibility of either or both getting fired in the relatively near future was brought up without any of the scoffing you would have heard around early March last year.
Evidence that Tortorella especially should be one of the few absolutely bulletproof coaches in the NHL today at least until things go really and truly to pot has been piling up for a couple seasons now, and the fact that they're currently just a few points out of a playoff spot shouldn't change that.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but they won the East by a pretty healthy margin last year, didn't they? Went to the Eastern Conference Final? Lost a bunch of pretty important pieces in the offseason and really only added Rick Nash — no small addition, I know — to replace them?
And haven't the Rangers missed guys like Nash and Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, who were expected to be pretty regular contributors, for decent stretches?
Yeah, I don't know, that just seems like enough mitigating circumstances that a .500ish start to the season doesn't have me telling Torts to pack his crap and hit the street.
Ditto, though to a lesser extent, for Laviolette, whose team is technically still in a playoff spot as of this writing, but like the Sharks, the hold is tenuous. And certainly there are fewer reasons why he shouldn't be fired than what Tortorella enjoys, apart from the fact that his general manager is slowly trying to make the team's roster a mess, seemingly on purpose. A team coached by the Platonic ideal of a Scotty Bowman-type at the height of his powers couldn't play at a 100-point pace with that defense, so I don't know how anyone expects the same of Laviolette, whose closet at home has Stanley Cup and Eastern Conference Champions banners; and while it's never a good idea to go around hanging your hat on past accomplishments like that, they're certainly instructive in some ways, aren't they?
How have the Hurricanes done since they fired Laviolette again?
No one, by the way, is really saying this about Mike Babcock from what I've seen. The reason for this is that Ken Holland — inflated though his reputation for judicious moves may be — is not some kind of idiot. Mike Babcock is a world-class coach, and wouldn't dare think of giving him his walking papers because aren't in a playoff spot less than halfway through the season. Sure the team's losing daylight, but the odds that they'll replace Babcock with someone as good as Babcock (or better) seem to be more or less nil. Unless Tortorella comes on the market.
The point, I guess, is that coming into this short season, we all knew for a fact that some weird stuff was going to happen. Teams were going to get oddly hot (or cold) at strange times and get a bunch of points that the numbers suggest they don't necessarily deserve. And even beyond that, all the different issues directly related to the fact that the league just went through a lengthy lockout and lots of players didn't get much competitive ice time in between September and mid-January was going to cause some goofy things to bounce out of the results.
Plus the compacted schedule plus the weird travel plus the added risk of injury plus the lack of interconference play. Et cetera.
Some firings are going to happen and they're going to be deserved. But if you have a coach who's only got you hanging around the playoffs right now instead of dominating the conference like you're more accustomed to seeing, it might be wise to ride the storm out and see what happens next year when the league is like to be considerably saner.
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