Coaches making their big league debuts and those taking over in new homes will be expected to impress in their first seasons, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the ones facing the most pressure in 2016-17.
With pre-season action underway, it’s almost exactly two weeks until the NHL campaign begins, and with it a bevy of expectations.
From the past season’s standout rookies to struggling scorers, players are preparing to face the pressure of another season. After all, it’s their duty to perform when their number is called. But those partaking in the actual on-ice action aren’t the only ones who will have to perform in order to keep management — and fans — happy. In fact, some of those facing the highest expectations won’t be on the ice, but rather behind the bench.
New coaches, like Calgary Flames bench boss Glen Gulutzan and Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, will face the pressure of trying to turn around struggling clubs in the span of one short off-season, while veteran coaches in new locales, such as Bruce Boudreau with the Minnesota Wild and Randy Carlyle in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, will be attempting to take already competitive teams to the next level.
Those coaches entering their first season with their respective clubs won’t be the ones facing the toughest tests, however. Here are the five coaches who will be under the most pressure:
5. Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings
Given that Sutter has produced a .608 points percentage in the regular season and .609 win percentage in the post-season, it may seem odd that he’s in the five-spot on this list, but the Kings’ championship window is slowly closing and in the past two seasons the team has won a grand total of one playoff game.
Yes, Sutter has helped bring two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles in the past five seasons and yes, Sutter is arguably one of the best coaches in the league. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations for him to get a team as strong as the Kings deep into the post-season on a consistent basis.
Bruce Boudreau looked to have the Anaheim Ducks in line to contend for the Stanley Cup for years on end, and that resulted in his firing after consecutive playoff failures. Sutter is facing the pressure of another potential let down in the post-season.
4. Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
Some coaches may face grand expectations stemming from their own success — take Sutter, for instance — while others have the unenviable task of rescuing a team from its own ineptitude. Blashill, though, faces the unfortunate pressure that comes with the Red Wings being so incredibly successful in regular season play over the past quarter-century.
It has been “The Year” for the Red Wings to miss the post-season for what feels like a half-decade, yet somehow Detroit has managed to get into the playoffs using the savvy of its veteran players mixed with free agent spare parts and a bit of young talent. That’s the same recipe the team will need in 2016-17 to get back to the post-season.
Already, the Red Wings are dealing with an ailing Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, and that’s not to mention the departure of long-time star Pavel Datsyuk. As such, young players are going to be what powers Detroit most this season, and Blashill no doubt wants to avoid his group being the first to miss the playoffs in 26 years.
3. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins
Julien is currently the longest-tenured coach in the league and he was behind the bench when the Bruins ended their 39-year Stanley Cup drought. That, paired with the fact he’s made the best of some mediocre rosters, has given Julien some rope after consecutive post-season misses. That said, missing the playoffs three years in a row — or even the threat of that happening — might be enough to send Julien packing.
The promising thing for Julien and the Bruins is that it’s not as if the playoff misses the past two seasons have been egregious. Boston missed the playoffs by a mere three points in 2014-15, which speaks to the importance of every single point over the course of a campaign, but 2015-16’s miss was even more heartbreaking. The Bruins finished the season tied with the Detroit Red Wings with 93 points, but were eliminated by way of the regulation-and-overtime wins tiebreaker rule.
Julien is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the history of a storied Bruins franchise, but, like most veteran-laden teams, the championship window is closing in Boston. Julien’s every move will be under scrutiny, especially if the Bruins get off to a slow start and a playoff appearance looks to be in peril early.
2. Willie Desjardins, Vancouver Canucks
His first season was a success in Vancouver thanks to a post-season berth, but Desjardins’ second campaign behind the Canucks bench wasn’t nearly as pleasant. Not only did the Canucks miss the playoffs, but they finished as the third-worst team in the entire NHL. Only the lowly Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs were worse, and no playoff team from the year prior had a fall from grace quite like Desjardins’ Canucks.
Maybe under most circumstances, in most cities, last season’s playoff miss wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario. It hurts, sure, but sometimes a step backwards is needed for a step forward. But missing the post-season at this stage in the careers of Daniel and Henrik Sedin is a worst-case scenario for the Canucks.
The Sedins can still be solid contributors, but the years of 80-plus points are behind them. If there’s one team that has to worry about their opportunity slipping away, it’s the Canucks, and it’s Desjardins’ job to give Vancouver — and the Sedins — the chance to make playoff magic.
1. Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens
No coach in the league will be under a bigger microscope than Therrien, especially after the Canadiens shipped fan favorite and Norris Trophy winning defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. While Therrien wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger on the deal, Subban’s playing style didn’t fit Therrien’s system and any struggles the team has — any maybe more specifically any struggles Shea Weber has under his new coach — will put Therrien in the spotlight.
Even though Therrien is facing the most pressure, though, he may be the coach on this list who ends up having the most success, all thanks to the return of all-world goaltender Carey Price. As the old adage goes: “Show me a good goaltender, and I’ll show you a good coach.” That rings true in Montreal. If the 2015-16 campaign proved anything, it’s that with Price, the Canadiens are a Stanley Cup contender. Without him? Well, not so much.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has given Therrien a vote of confidence a few times and didn’t blame him for Montreal’s struggles this past season, but the pressure is on Therrien this coming season. For Therrien’s sake, the Canadiens need to show vast improvement this season, especially because he’ll be the one bearing the brunt of the blame for any failure.
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