George McPhee has been GM of the Capitals since 1997, but will his reign come to a close if the team misses the post-season? (Photo by Greg Fiume/NHLI via Getty Images)
To say the stakes are higher in this lockout-truncated NHL season is to erroneously downgrade the stakes of previous years. In a league where playoff revenue can be the difference between turning a profit and crying poor, there is no such thing as low stakes. This is a results-oriented business – and if a GM, coach or player’s results don’t make for good business, it doesn’t take long for someone else to take over. Just ask Brian Burke, Scott Howson, Guy Boucher and Marian Gaborik.
Who are the people feeling the heat more than others this year? I’m glad you/I asked. In no particular order, here are the top five NHL figures under the gun:
As I said on Twitter on trade deadline day, the only way the Capitals GM’s deadline deal to acquire former Predators forward Martin Erat (which sent prized prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville) could have been more desperate is if he’d made it in a bar at three a.m. while buying a rose from the rose lady. McPhee’s Capitals have played better in recent weeks, but they’re still a two-or-three-game losing streak away from falling back out of a post-season berth. And if that happens, McPhee’s reign as Washington’s architect – which has lasted a whopping 16 years – almost assuredly will come to an end this summer.
The Rangers were one of the more active teams at the deadline and their coach’s fingerprints were all over the moves they made. Despite the Blueshirts’ struggles to put pucks in the net this year, Tortorella’s whipping boy Marian Gaborik was sent to Columbus for three players, none of whom have his offensive capabilities. The Rangers were right to look for a replacement for the obviously-missed Brandon Prust, but this team has now been remade fully in their coach’s image. And if this makeover ends in them (a) not making the playoffs; or (b) bowing out meekly in the post-season, the Tortorella Era in Manhattan will come to an end.
The Caps chose not to trade Ribeiro at the deadline and you can understand why. As noted above, their management needs to make the playoffs in the worst way and Ribeiro has been one of their best players this season. But Washington needs him to be just as good if they are to make the playoffs – and as a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, the 33-year-old is going to make or lose himself a lot of money on the market based on how he responds to the pressure.
It may already be too late to save Sherman’s GM job in Colorado, as the Avalanche will miss the playoffs for the third straight season (and the fourth time in the past five years). However, should the Avs play well in their final 12 games – and with games against Los Angeles, Columbus, Edmonton and St. Louis, they can play spoiler in a big way – head coach Joe Sacco might be the only one heading to the unemployment line.
Quick – who will be the most sought-after UFA defenseman this summer? You’re forgiven if Ron Hainsey’s name didn’t leap to mind; the veteran blueliner has never lived up to his five-year, $22.5 million contract. But he quietly has played quite well for Winnipeg this season, averaging 23 minutes a game and leading the NHL in blocked shots (99). In a thin market for d-men, the 32-year-old can raise his asking price with a strong end to the year.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.