Following Laviolette: Which Coach is the Next in the Line of Fire?
It really came as no surprise that Peter Laviolette was the first coaching casualty of the 2013-14 NHL season. It was common knowledge going into the year that the Flyers bench boss was on the hot seat after a dismal 2013 campaign, and was among the favourites to be the first relieved of his job. However, nobody expected the firing to come after just three games, as disappointing as those three games might have been. But as the saying goes, “it is all part of the business”, and if history is correct then Laviolette is just the first in a long line of coaches who will lose their jobs.
Ironically the man who may have been partially responsible for the letting go of Laviolette is in fact squarely in the crosshairs himself. Kirk Muller’s Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Flyers 2-1 in what turned out to be Laviolette’s last game behind the bench. But this game could provide plenty of foreshadowing for Muller. Carolina are a team who over the past couple of years have been built to win. The additions of Alex Semin and Jordan Staal were supposed to make this team a dark horse in the Eastern Conference, not an annual bottom dweller. The expectation to turn this roster into winners is somewhat unfair to Muller but it does exist and because of it he will suffer. Muller and his Canes squad will have to pull off a big surprise in order to insure that he isn’t the next man to fall.
On the contrary, for Jack Capuano of the New York Islanders it might be his team’s success last year that could be his undoing. As the franchise continues to develop around the benefits of multiple years of NHL mediocrity the stakes have now been raised. The Isles showed last year that they were capable of making the playoffs and gave the mighty, or at least they were considered mighty at the time, Pittsburgh Penguins an unexpected run for their money. However, with the new divisional structure the team this year will have far more difficulty repeating what happened last year. For an organization that has had so much suffering, a return to that anguish may prove to be too much for management.
Furthermore, of all the teams that are highlighted on this list Todd Richards’ Columbus Blue Jackets are generating the most hype heading into the 2013-14 season. There is legitimate belief among Blue Jackets faithful, and other NHL sources for that matter, that this squad is playoff caliber. The problem with expectations for Richards is that a scapegoat has to be addressed if they are not attained. The way GM Jarmo Kekalainen may see it is that Richards was never his guy. He may want to put a new coach is place should the team fail to make good on this season’s potential.
Meanwhile, in a city known for its frigid climate, Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel is on some pretty thin ice. The only bench boss the franchise has ever known has been incredibly bold since joining the Jets, something that has seen him embraced by many. However, the early going of this season could be the beginning of the end for Noel. To begin with, this summer there were reports that highly touted youngster Alexander Burmistrov left the team because of the deteriorated relationship between the two. Even if those reports aren’t true the fact that his name surfaced as the reason is not a welcoming sign. Winnipeg are another team who after a couple of years of waiting are now expecting to win. The brush near the playoffs last year only increases this drive. Should the Jets have difficulty attaining this goal all eyes will turn towards Noel.
Moreover, it is a man who in preserving his job contributed to the possible termination of Noel’s who represents another at risk coach. Adam Oates was a revelation last season after he turned around a dismal Washington Capitals team, on the back of an Alex Ovechkin whom he helped revitalize. This season, Alex Ovechkin has started exactly where he left off, proving to be one of the most imposing figures in the league. But in Ovechkin’s shadow has been the fact that Washington have not looked incredibly good to start the season. Sure, something has to be said about the fact that it is only three games in, and over-analyzing those games is ludicrous. But mediocre hockey in Washington is more of a norm than the team would like to accept. They came dangerously close to missing the playoffs last year before recovering at the expense of the Winnipeg Jets. Should Washington struggle to find footing this season the first couple of months of 2013 will begin to creep back into the headlines. For Oates’ job security he would like to see the ghosts of those headlines vanquished as soon as possible.
The last coach to have his name whispered around his employment’s version of death row is Todd McLellan, coach of the San Jose Sharks. San Jose has long been a team in the spotlight, but like Conference rival Vancouver they have never been able to get passed the final hurdle. In fact, they have never even reached that final hurdle. It is more than a whisper now that this team is nearing its best before date. The San Jose Sharks that were once viewed among the league’s elite are now debatably a fringe playoff team. But in theory the thirst for victory remains and the time to accomplish that victory is ticking away at a rapid pace. Todd McLellan’s team could go far this year but they could also miss the playoffs. If the later happens expect to see a new coach try to pick up the pieces.
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