It's that special time of year again.
Stores are filled with holiday decorations, snow is on the ground in most NHL cities (except major markets like Glendale, Sunrise and
Atlanta), the World Juniour Hockey Tournament is days away...
And teams are firing coaches as playoff hopes fade like frost on the window of a car being warmed up to go to the rink.
Yes, not every person in the NHL will have a jolly holiday. Kevin Dineen, Peter Laviolette and Ron Rolston are all looking for work after being canned in the early stages of this 2013-2014 season. On the flip side, guys like Peter Horachek, Craig Berube and Ted Nolan have big time gigs.
Some of the teams that are struggling are under new coaches this year, and those franchises will be more likely to give their guys a little slack as the season progresses. Dallas Eakins with the Oilers and Alain Vigneault with the Rangers don't need to be looking over their shoulders despite their teams' early struggles.
However, there are a few guys that need to be wary of their job security in the coming weeks, as teams not trending towards playoff spots may be looking to make mid-season changes.
Claude Noel with the Jets, Bob Hartley with the Flames, Todd Richards with the Blue Jackets and Jack Capuano with the Islanders are among the coaches on the hot seat as the Christmas break approaches.
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Noel oversees a team that is 15-16-5 on the season, having just lost to the Sabres. The team sits in last place in the Central Division, well out of a playoff spot. They have allowed the 6th most goals in the NHL thus far, as porous defence and inconsistent goaltending have been compounded by special teams that fail to get the job done. In parts of 3 seasons with the Jets and an interim gig with the Blue Jackets, Noel's NHL career coaching record is 86-80-24, good enough for zero playoff appearances. Fans and media types alike have been getting restless with the lack of results, and the calls for Noel's firing grow louder every time they lose to a team like Buffalo.
Firing the coach is just half of a plan though, because once the dust settles and the coach is fired....who takes over?
Do you go with a guy with NHL Head Coaching experience? Do you promote an assistant coach? How about calling up your coach from the farm team? And maybe there's a person toiling in junior hockey looking for a jump to the show, like Patrick Roy seamlessly pulled off this year.
AIH has compiled a list of a few names, in no particular order, that teams (looking at you, Winnipeg) in need should be considering this holiday season:
Everybody's favourite Bond villain, Guy Boucher coached the Tampa Bay Lightning from the 2010-2011 season until he was fired in March of 2013. He lead the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, but missed the playoffs the next season and was at a record of 13-17-1 when he was fired last season. His record with Tampa was a combined 97-78-20. Boucher recently turned down an offer from SC Bern of National League A in Switzerland.
This Winnipeg Jets alumnus has had his name tossed around as a potential replacement for Claude Noel, as he has overseen the turn around of the Barrie Colts franchise in the Ontario Hockey League. His first season as bench boss saw a dismal record of 15-49-4, but the next two season saw massive improvement and trips into the playoffs, including going all the way to the 7th game of the OHL finals last year. His familiarity with Mark Scheifele makes him an enticing option, and even after a horrid first season as coach his overall record is 116-105-14. The Colts are 17-13-3 this year.
True North Sports and Entertainment would undoubtedly take a look at McCambridge of their farm affiliate St. John's IceCaps to fill a Head Coach void. McCambridge was an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose from 2009-2011, and took over as head coach when Claude Noel jumped to the NHL team in 2011. McCambridge has a 90-72-19 record with the IceCaps, and has the team in 2nd in the Atlantic Division with a 15-11-3 record so far this year.
Hard to argue with 1401 games of experience and 8 trips to the playoffs. Wilson is currently undergoing the longest unemployment of his career, after being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in March of 2012. He broke into the league with the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993, and coached every season until the 2012-2013 campaign. He also coached for the Capitals and Sharks, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals with Washington in 1998. Things didn't go well in Toronto, but is that really a shock?
A product of Gladstone, Manitoba, Murray was head coach of the Los Angeles Kings for parts of 6 seasons, and held the same title with the St. Louis Blues for parts of 4 more, amassing a record of 333-278 with 58 ties and 71 overtime or shootout losses. He made the playoffs 3 times with the Kings, and once with the Blues. Since being fired in 2010 he has become head coach of the Western Michigan Broncos. The team now plays in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and is 42-28-17 under Murray's guidance.
1294 games played. 613 wins. 12 trips to the playoffs. The resume of Jacques Martin is pretty impressive, if you ignore the absence of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. martin likes to play a defence-first type game, so it might not always be fun to watch, but he has proven that he can get positive results. He currently serves as an assistant coach under Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it is extremely unlikely the Penguins would part with him mid-season.
Sutter has been pure gold in the past for Team Canada, going 19-0-1 in his time as head coach of the Junior Team between 2005 and 2007, winning WJHC gold in '05 and '06. He will try for another gold when he takes the reigns of the 2014 team starting in a week. His success with Team Canada lead him to take on an NHL head coaching gig with the New Jersey Devils in 2007. He took the team to the playoffs in each of his two years there, but stepped down in order to take the same job with the Calgary Flames, allowing him to be close to home. After 3 seasons in Calgary, he and the Flames parted ways, and Sutter returned to his Owner/President/GM/Head Coach job with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. I doubt he can be lured out of Alberta, but the distance between Calgary and Winnipeg isn't that big.
While he compiled a 333-182-61 record with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL,Desjardins has just one year of pro coaching experience. But since he began his time behind the bench of the Texas Stars of the AHL, he lead the team to a South Division title as the team went 43-22-11 in the regular season, before losing in the Oklahoma City Barons in the Conference Semi-finals. Desjardins won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the most outstanding coach in the AHL. Texas is 17-8-4 this season.
I was sold on the merits of Troy Ward based on this article. He has a 96-66-20 record in parts of 3 seasons with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL, and will be getting a shot with an NHL team sooner rather than later. While he does not have a great amount of head coaching experience, he has been coaching NCAA, ECHL, USHL, IHL and AHL since 1987.
Laviolette was fired after an insurmountable 0-3-0 start to the season with the Flyers. Despite 389 career wins, 6 trips to the post-season and a Stanley Cup ring on his resume, Philly saw fit to let him go on October 7th of this year. Since then, his name has been high on the list of names whenever discussion comes up about "who might be the next head coach of _____________?" Laviolette is a passionate and emotive coach, and his outgoing nature might be the kind of shakeup the Jets locker room needs after 3 years of Claude Noel.
After being fired by the Florida Panthers on November 8, I wasn't strongly considering Dineen as a replacement for Noel, as his tenure with the Panthers benefited from a Southeast Division title in 2011-2012 that fancy stats suggest shouldn't have happened. However, Dineen was seen good enough to fill the sudden void left by Dan Church after his sudden resignation as Head Coach of Canada's women's nation hockey team. Dineen stepped into the role on December 17, and will be behind the bench when the team tries to repeat as gold medallists at the Olympics in Sochi in February.