Top 10 players/coaches on The Hot Seat

Rick Nash (Photo by Rebecca Taylor/NHLI via Getty Images)

The most daunting challenge when it comes to forming a list of people on The Hot Seat™ for 2014-15 is keeping the list to just 10. Heck, you could have 30 just by placing every coach in the league on there. Because as your trusty correspondent recently pointed out, coaches and GMs are getting whacked at a dizzying rate these days.

But some, obviously, are feeling the heat a little more than others. You wouldn’t think the Los Angeles Kings would be too concerned about Darryl Sutter if they don’t get off to a great start this season. And during football season, is anyone going to notice if Bill Peters can’t turn the moribund Carolina Hurricanes around?

With that in mind, we’ve kept our list to 10, evenly divided between coaches and players. These are people who will be under pressure to produce results or face either (a) the prospect of being fired, in the case of coaches; or (b) the prospect of feeling shame, in the case of players.

So, here we go:

10. Ken Hitchcock: The St. Louis Blues coach has done everything right with this team, with the exception of win a playoff series. Since he took over in 2011-12, the Blues have won just one playoff series and compiled an 8-13 record in the post-season. There were rumbles that Hitchcock was in jeopardy after the Blues lost in the first round to Chicago, but they were quelled by GM Doug Armstrong. But if Hitchcock can’t find a way to get his team over the Chicago/Los Angeles hump, there might be no choice but to make a change.

9. Ryan Johansen: Even though they appear to be playing hardball with him, the Columbus Blue Jackets will sign Johansen at some point. But after an acrimonious summer in which Johansen felt his team’s offer was a “slap in the face,” there will be pressure on Johansen to prove he was worth all the off-season angst, particularly if he misses training camp or some of the regular season. Johansen is at a critical point in his development as a player and he has every right to sit until he gets what he feels is a fair deal. But with that comes the pressure of living up to it.

8. Bruce Boudreau: The Anaheim Ducks coach is quickly becoming known as The Man Who Can’t Win Game 7. The Ducks won the Western Conference regular season title last season, but the fact they didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the regular season cost them in the playoffs. Boudreau will have to do the delicate dance between being good enough to compete in the west, while not burning his team out for the time when the games get really important.

7. Alex Ovechkin: How does a 50-goal scorer end up on the list of players on the hot seat? By piling up points on the power play, being an uninspired player 5-on-5 and not leading his team to the playoffs, that’s how. Ovechkin might be one of the least-feared 50-goal scorers in the history of the game, primarily because he does precious little other than feast when the Capitals are on the man advantage. He’ll also have to adjust to a new coach in Barry Trotz who will demand more defensive accountability. For real.

6. Todd McLellan: There were rumors the Sharks coach was on his way out of San Jose and to Toronto after last season, but GM Doug Wilson opted to keep him after his team blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings. Instead of firing the coach, which would have been the convenient thing to do, the Sharks instead emasculated Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If the Sharks stumble out of the gate, McLellan might be an easy target.

5. P.K. Subban: The Montreal Canadiens defenseman became the first player in NHL history to reach a contract agreement after an arbitration hearing and before a decision was rendered. And what an agreement! Subban will undoubtedly face pressure to justify his $9 million-per-season cap hit, but he will be courting trouble if he internalizes it and tries to do so every time he touches the puck.

4. Paul MacLean: There were rumblings that MacLean lost his golden touch last season with his players and mismanaged his players last season. Not surprisingly, he was not able to coax the results out of his team that he got in 2013. Even though the Senators are closer to being a lottery winner than a playoff team, expectations are always high in Canadian markets. And if the Senators get off to a disastrous start, the only guy at the Canadian Tire Centre with a bushy moustache will be MacLean’s doppelganger in the first row.

3. David Clarkson: The Toronto Maple Leafs winger is a classic example of expectations gone awry because of a huge contract. Clarkson was never going to be able to live up to the deal he signed with the Maple Leafs, but even by those standards, his 2013-14 season was an unmitigated disaster. Clarkson’s best course of action would be to forget the contract and resist the temptation to be something he’s not.

2. Randy Carlyle: Clarkson’s coach with the Maple Leafs is undoubtedly on the shortest leash of any coach in the NHL right now. With analytics gaining more prominence in the game, the Leafs cannot afford to continue getting Corsi-ed to death on a regular basis. The Leafs have significantly improved their bottom six, but if they don’t tighten up defensively, Carlyle will likely become the first coach looking for work this season.

1. Rick Nash: The New York Rangers winger led the team in goals with 26 last season, but Nash simply can’t produce when his team needs him most. Including all his NHL playoff games and the two Olympics in which he has participated, Nash has seven goals in 54 games. There was a time when Nash seemed to be able to carry players on his back on his way to the opposing net. It seems now he can’t even get himself to the net, which is why he finds himself on the periphery so much.

Jagr on verge of almost unheard of distinction this season

Jaromir Jagr (right). (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.

That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.

When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.

Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.

Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.

With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.

Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.

And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.

Top 10 wacky NHL predictions

Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pre-season predictions are a mug’s game at the best of times, because the truth is often far stranger than any fiction we could dream up. Well, we’re going to put that to the test, because today’s predictions are all of the…um, far-fetched variety. So sit back, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy THN’s Top 10 Wacky Predictions for the NHL’s 2014-15 campaign.

10. After hearing one too many questions about his future in Detroit, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock snaps and vows to only say, “I am Groot” in all media interviews for the rest of his career. Babcock’s inimitable speaking style translates so well into the single line of dialogue spoken by the Guardians of the Galaxy character, he replaces Vin Diesel in the sequel to the blockbuster movie.

9. In their ongoing attempt to employ every key member of the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Lightning, Rangers acquire Vincent Lecavalier from Philly and Dave Andreychuk and Fredrik Modin from retirement. John Tortorella also hired as director of dressing room security.

8. Following years of speculation, NHL announces expansion to Long Island and Atlanta in 2016. “Don’t worry about it,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says in a news release welcoming expansion franchise owners Charles Wang and Atlanta Spirit, L.L.C. Jr. into the league. “Let’s just see what happens.” Read more

Rumor Roundup: Where will Brodeur, Alfredsson & other UFAs end up?

Martin Brodeur (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the start of NHL training camp only three weeks away, several notable unrestricted free agents remain available.

Topping the list is goaltender Martin Brodeur. Earlier this month THN associate editor Matt Larkin suggested the Winnipeg Jets could make the most of Brodeur’s services. Larkin expects the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer could await an injury to open up a spot with an NHL club.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff seems content with his team’s tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and the inexperienced Michael Hutchinson. If the pair struggles in pre-season, however, the Jets could contact Brodeur. But they might not be the right fit for him, as it’s believed he prefers signing with a playoff contender.

Earlier this month the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe proposed left winger Dustin Penner as a potential replacement for the departed Devin Setoguchi, who recently signed with the Calgary Flames. Wiebe also reported the Jets offered gritty Jordin Tootoo a one-year, two-way deal, but the winger rejected the deal.
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So how good is Kevin Hayes really? He signs today with the New York Rangers

Brian Costello
Kevin Hayes (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Right winger Kevin Hayes has bid adieu to one of the league’s strongest franchise and signed instead with the New York Rangers. The deal is a two-way contract, as per CBA guidelines for entry-level contracts, and is expected to be worth the rookie maximum salary if he makes the NHL.

The Modus operandi was all about getting to the NHL sooner for the Boston-area native. The Hayes watch has been on high alert since the NCAA graduate rebuffed the Chicago Blackhawks and became a free agent Aug. 15. Social media has been abuzz this week speculating where Hayes may sign. At one point today, the Kevin Hayes Wikipedia page showed him a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The next minute he was a Ranger. Then he was a free agent again as rational heads prevailed leading up to his announcement.

Some wondered, tongue in cheek, if his Hall of Fame announcement would precede his NHL destination of choice.

So how good is this Kevin Hayes?

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Rumor Roundup: Flyers need help on the blueline, but don’t expect it to come soon

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The state of the Philadelphia Flyers defense core remains a troubling issue. They’ve lacked a true top-two defenseman since Chris Pronger’s career was ended by injury nearly three years ago. They attempted to address that issue in July of 2012 by signing Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber to an expensive offer sheet, but the Predators swiftly matched it.

Former GM Paul Holmgren attempted to bolster the overall blueline depth, acquiring Luke Schenn, Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald via trade and free agency. None of them, however, can fill Pronger’s skates.

The Flyers underwent a front-office shakeup this spring when Ron Hextall took over as GM. Despite Hextall’s stated preference for building from within, rumor-mongers believe the Flyers still seek a stud defenseman, linking them to Winnipeg Jets blueliner Zach Bogosian. Read more