What does a slow start mean in the NHL? In some cases, it’s a harbinger of more poor play. Other times, it’s bad puck luck, which is correctable. Regardless of the cause, however, poor starts make heads roll every year. The advanced stats tell us GMs are often too hasty to axe their coaches, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The most common victims are bench bosses who ended the season prior on thin ice. They often get the boot as soon as they give their GMs an excuse to do so.
Here are five coaches who have to think about updating their resumes in the near future.
5. Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs
Carlyle entered 2014-15 on the most scalding of seats, but he’s chilled it to lukewarm thus far. A horrible early-season start would’ve all but cemented Carlyle’s demise, but he has the Leafs playing better than expected. Toronto has even improved its possession game so far, albeit in a small sample. So if the Leafs are winning, and winning differently than they did last year, with scoring chances instead of luck and goaltending, it bodes well for Carlyle’s future. The team did extend his contract two years in the off-season.
4. Ted Nolan, Buffalo Sabres
Nolan’s job should be safe. Buffalo extended his contract in March, giving him a nice vote of confidence, and he seemed to get more out of the star-crossed Sabres, especially Tyler Myers, after taking over for Ron Rolston last season. Nolan also shouldn’t shoulder too much blame for helming a bad team that was always supposed to be bad in 2014-15, a.k.a. Operation McEichel. The problem is the Sabres are somehow worse than expected, and they’ve publicly voiced their terribly low morale. Nolan has lost his patience and publicly slammed his players for their lack of effort. He put them through a brutal practice after last week’s embarrassing defeat at Toronto. An angry coach publicly butting heads with players on a bad team isn’t exactly a recipe for a long, harmonious relationship.
3. Craig Berube, Philadelphia Flyers
There’s a precedent for early-season firings with Ed Snider’s Flyers. Ken Hitchcock lasted eight games in 2006-07. John Stevens made it through 25 in 2009-10. Peter Laviolette last season? Try three games. Snider and his GMs over the years have been hasty to snuff out poor starts, and Berube’s Flyers have disappointed early on, losing seven of their first 11 games. Berube has to have some leash left considering he helped this team rally from a poor October to make the playoffs last season, but perhaps newly christened GM Ron Hextall wants to put his stamp on this team and bring in his own guy. Berube has also drawn criticism for a few odd decisions, such as rolling out low-percentage scorers in shootouts and starting Steve Mason both games in a back-to-back situation.
2. Dave Tippett, Arizona Coyotes
Tippett is a lot like Barry Trotz was in Nashville: a coach who preaches stingy, disciplined hockey and gets a lot out of a relatively mediocre talent pool. The Preds, however, decided to stop playing it safe and finally parted ways with Trotz over the summer. Is it time for the Desert Dogs to do the same? This team’s calling card was supposed to be an emerging young blueline led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, not to mention steady goaltending from Mike Smith. But the Desert Dogs are allowing more goals than any other team in hockey and they aren’t generating many chances either, ranking 25th in Corsi Close. In short, the Coyotes are doing nothing well at the moment. Sooner or later the blame must fall on the coach. Maybe Arizona needs a fresh face.
1. Dallas Eakins, Edmonton Oilers
Just when the Oil start gaining momentum, winning four straight games, Taylor Hall injures his knee and they lose two straight. Eakins is not out of the woods. According to one report, last week’s winning streak stopped the Oilers from pink-slipping him. On a seven-game homestand, Edmonton went 4-3. Ho-hum. Now comes a five-game road trip. What happens if, say, the Oil lose four or more of those contests?
DON’T WORRY YET
Paul MacLean: His job was reportedly in jeopardy last last season as his methods had “changed” following his Jack Adams win, but the Walrus has his mojo back. In other words, he has the Senators overachieving again.
Jack Capuano: Which Isles team is the real one? The juggernaut that flew out of the gate or the suddenly sputtering group that has lost five of seven games? Talent doesn’t seem to be the problem any more. If Capuano can’t continuously get the most out of this group, GM Garth Snow may have to find someone else who can. Stick tap to an Isles fan named Claudia for pointing out my omission. Capuano warrants watching.
Paul Maurice: Winnipeg’s 9-2 start after bringing in Maurice last winter hasn’t faded from memory yet, but if the Jets don’t commence a prolonged hot streak again soon, their record will look an awful lot like it did under Claude Noel.
Todd McLellan: There were calls for McLellan’s firing after his team’s collapse in the 2014 playoffs, but he has the Sharks playing their typical strong regular season hockey again. He’s safe, at least until the off-season, depending on how far San Jose goes in the big dance this time around.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin