Three coaching changes within two days dominated the NHL headlines entering December.
On Nov. 28, the Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau, replacing him with Dale Hunter, while the Carolina Hurricanes replaced long-time bench boss Paul Maurice with Kirk Muller.
Not even three days later, the Anaheim Ducks announced they’d hired Boudreau to take over for Randy Carlyle, who was sacked 40 minutes after his Ducks defeated the Montreal Canadiens for only their second win in November, and their seventh of the season.
These moves left observers pondering if more coaching changes were in the works around the league.
The most obvious candidate are the Columbus Blue Jackets, who’ve had the dubious distinction of being the worst team in the league since the season began.
By early November, rumors were rampant coach Scott Arniel would become the first coaching casualty of the season.
The front office, however, has stubbornly stuck by the embattled Arniel, laying blame for the Jackets’ poor performance on injuries to first-line center Jeff Carter and a lengthy season-opening suspension for top defenseman James Wisniewski. Goaltender Steve Mason’s struggles were also a factor.
While management’s patience toward Arniel is admirable, it’s not improving the Blue Jackets, who remain mired at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
At some point, a coaching change in Columbus is inevitable, though it may not come until after the season.
With the New York Islanders struggling through another disappointing start, coach Jack Capuano’s job appeared in jeopardy.
Since Nov. 26, however, the Islanders have shown signs of improvement, going 3-0-1, winning the back end of a home-and-home split with New Jersey, edging Buffalo and Dallas and losing in overtime against Chicago.
Team owner Charles Wang gave a vote of confidence to Capuano and GM Garth Snow, but if the coach is to retain his job, the Isles must build on this recent improvement.
Like the Isles, however, the Avs have shown signs of life since Nov. 26, winning four of their past five, taking close games over St. Louis and Detroit.
Picking up eight of a possible 10 points shot the Avalanche back into the Western Conference playoff chase, meaning Sacco’s job is safe, for now.
In Calgary, speculation over right winger Jarome Iginla’s trade status has dominated the news in recent weeks, but there’s also been some chatter over Brent Sutter’s future.
GM Jay Feaster squashed the Iginla trade rumors and also rejected the notion Sutter could be fired.
The flickering Flames have also been showing signs of life, going 3-1-1 in their past five dating back to Nov. 27. They downed the league-leading Minnesota Wild and rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat their hated rival, the Edmonton Oilers.
Given Feaster’s vocal backing, the possibility of Sutter’s firing appears as remote as an Iginla trade.
Finally, there are the Montreal Canadiens, who entered this week with an 11-11-5 record and perched just outside a playoff berth.
The Canadiens’ inconsistency in recent weeks led to calls for Jacques Martin to be replaced.
It’s not the first time Martin has been mentioned as a potential coaching casualty this season. When the Habs stumbled out of the gate with a 1-5-2 record, his firing was anticipated in the press.
Instead, GM Pierre Gauthier surprised everyone by handing assistant coach Perry Pearn his walking papers, a move seen as a “shot across the bow” of Martin.
The Canadiens subsequently rallied, winning seven of their next 10, but since mid-November have struggled again, winning only three of their past nine.
Injuries to veteran defensemen Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek, a recent three-game suspension to left winger Max Pacioretty, and the possibility right winger Brian Gionta and left winger Mike Cammalleri are playing hurt will make Gauthier reluctant to shake things up behind the bench.
With the NHL schedule now in the second quarter of the season, however, none of the aforementioned coaches can relax.
A lengthy losing skid that jeopardizes their team’s playoff hopes could see one or more of those coaches sharing the same fate as Boudreau, Maurice and Carlyle.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.