It’s too early to place a coach on the hot seat, per se, but a handful of bench bosses should already be feeling the pressue as the season gets underway. If you recall, Denis Savard, Barry Melrose, Peter Laviolette and John Stevens all got their walking papers early on in recent years.
1. Randy Carlyle When Anaheim sputtered out of the gates last season, I really thought Carlyle was going to get the axe. His club started 16-19-7 in the first three-plus months, failing to live up to lofty expectations after depositing the top-seeded Sharks in the preceding postseason. And don’t forget… that year that they snuck into the playoffs as the eight seed, Anaheim was a .500 team in March before a late charge.
The Ducks are off to yet another sluggish start, being outscored 13-2 in their first three games (all losses) and were even out-shot 53-14 yesterday in St. Louis. They also lead the league in penalty minutes with 141 (including four game misconducts)… 53 more than anyone else right now! Carlyle has gotten himself out of trouble before, but this could be his last chance. If Anaheim can’t turn it around in the next month or two, there could be a lot of talk out of SoCal of a change behind the bench.
2. Brent Sutter It’s only his second year in Calgary, but Brent Sutter was under a lot of scrutiny after last season’s disappointing finish. As much of the blame, though, deserves to be placed on GM Darryl Sutter (Brent’s brother), who tried to re-design the team at the mid-season point. That didn’t quite work out, did it?
The Flames have started the year hot and cold. Thursday’s loss in Edmonton turned into a nightmare; however, there were some positive signs on Sunday in a win over Los Angeles. Still, there’s an immense amount of pressure on the Sutters to have a bounce-back season. We’ll know a lot about this team by the end of November, after nearly a whole month of playing away from home. We’ll know a lot more about Brent’s future in Calgary, too.
3. Todd Richards To say the transition in Minnesota from Jacques Lemaire to Todd Richards has been difficult would be an understatement. In his first 21 games as a coach, Richards went just 7-12-2 in 2009/10. His Wild did creep back into the playoff picture, but never spent a day above ninth place in the West.
This season hasn’t started much better. Minnesota failed to get two points in Europe last week, looking inconsistent in the process. Also, they didn’t win one preseason game before heading overseas. There’s not a lot of positive mojo or optimism in St. Paul right now; and knowing how quick the plug can be pulled on NHL coaches, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him let go if Richards doesn't improve on last year's less-than-stellar debut.
4. John Tortorella Here in the States, the New York Rangers have to be the organization with the most pressure year in and year out. Toronto and Montreal face a lot more north of the border, but New York is New York… you are going to get crucified if you’re not successful in that city.
John Tortorella did pick up the pieces two years ago to get the Rangers into the playoffs, but inconsistency has littered his stay on Broadway ever since – from the playoff collapse against Washington to the hot start last year to the shootout loss that ended the season. In my opinion, Tortorella must get the Blueshirts back to the postseason this year if he wants to hang on to his job.
5. Ron Wilson Fans in Toronto have called for Ron Wilson’s head in the last year or so… but then again, it’s Toronto. A hot start will go a long way in Wilson solidifying his stay with the Maple Leafs. They are already 2-0 and playing with a lot of confidence. Remember how dreadful they were last October? They’ve taken a 180-degree turn in starting the season here in 2010/11.
Also remember that Wilson and GM Brian Burke are good friends; they were the architects of Team USA in February’s Olympics – a team that performed way beyond expectations. I think Wilson is fairly safe in Toronto as we speak, but he can’t be ignored in this mix if the Leafs fall apart yet again.
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