Six NHL teams are starting this season with a different GM and coach than they had last season and more than half the league has replaced either a GM or coach in the past two seasons. In the salary cap era, there has never been less security than working for an NHL team.
Around this time of year when we all get antsy for hockey to get going, one of the most popular topics of conversation centers around which coach will be the first to get fired. Randy Carlyle and Paul MacLean look to be the early frontrunners in that department. And with the average lifespan of a coach running at about 2.4 years, why wouldn’t they be in peril? Carlyle is approaching that with the Toronto Maple Leafs and MacLean has already exceeded that in Ottawa, having been there for the past three seasons. After two seasons in which he could do no wrong, MacLean was blamed for everything from his handling of the Senators goaltenders to how clueless his team was in its own end last season.
And that’s fair, since it comes with the territory. No one goes into coaching or management thinking he’s getting the job security of working at the post office. But even knowing that, the NHL is in the midst of an unprecedented period of front office turnover. And while you can often chalk fired coaches up to GMs covering themselves, the fact is there has been a lot of shuffling of personnel in the executive suites as well. Consider this: there are a total of 60 GM and coaching jobs available in the NHL. Of those jobs, only 36 of them are held by the same men who held them when the league came out of the lockout early in 2013. That means at the coach and GM level, almost half the league has turned over in the past two seasons. That’s mind-boggling. A total of 14 coaches have changed since the puck dropped for the 2012-13 season, but even more shocking, 10 GMs have had the keys to the executive washroom taken away from them in that time. (And that does not include Greg Sherman, who is the GM of the Colorado Avalanche in name only, having had most of his powers and responsibility stripped from him by team president Joe Sakic.) What’s more, just 14 teams or less than half the league, has the same GM-coach tandem with which it began the 2012-13 season. Six of those teams – the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals – have neither of them from 2012-13. What does this tell us about today’s NHL? Well, in a salary cap era in which there is no limit on the amount teams can spend on executives, this is where teams know they can make meaningful change. What we’re also seeing more of is the presence of a new kind of executive, the president of hockey operations, some of whom are acting as de facto GMs themselves. These are guys who have been hired by ownership to get the hockey department in order and, as such, have added another layer of management between the owner and the GM. Wanting to put their own stamp on the situation, they seem pretty eager to get their own GMs in place. So coaches will get fired this season as sure as the swallows return to Capistrano. That much is certain. But we’re also entering an era when it has become more and more difficult for GMs to cover their mistakes by firing coaches because they’re the ones on the firing lines as well: Listed below are the GMs and coaches for each team. The ones whose names are bolded were not in their current roles at the start of the 2012-13 season: