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Who stays and who goes: A look at NHL coaches on the chopping block this off-season

There hasn't been a single coaching change all season, but the off-season could see a number of organizations change their bench boss following disappointing campaigns.

You may have heard this statistic by now or seen it floating around on Twitter, but this season could be the first without a coaching change since 1966-67. Yes, we’ve seemingly come close to a few firings throughout the year, but be it by the grace of an unexpected winning streak or simply an organization wanting to see how things play out, not a single bench boss has been canned since the start of the campaign.

Unfortunately, chances are we’ll see some firings come the off-season, particularly after a season that saw a few seasons go off the rails and a couple of teams fail miserably to meet pre-season projections. 

Here are nine coaches who appear as though they could be on the chopping block, and reasons why they may stay or go after the season comes to a close:

BILL PETERS, Carolina Hurricanes

Why He Stays: Listen, no one’s denying this has been another disappointing season for the Hurricanes, but Peters has done seemingly everything right with this group but has been sunk time and again by poor goaltending. No team has had a worse save percentage this season, and this despite the fact Carolina boasts the league’s best possession rates. Scott Darling was supposed to be the answer, but he struggled mightily in his first season as a split-time starter. Peters deserves another look, another chance to prove that with even league-average goaltending the Hurricanes can compete. They’re just one piece away.

Why He Goes: His record would support it. Even if the Hurricanes have been close, Peters’ Carolina clubs have a combined record of 136-137-53, which leaves him with a sub-.500 points percentage across nearly 330 games. Eventually, management might feel as though a coaching change is what’s required to take the next step despite solid underlying numbers out of Peters’ teams. Likewise, a new GM might want to bring in a staff of his own, and that might spell disaster for Peters. 


Why He Stays:
Vigneault’s resume in New York speaks for itself. He’s made two trips to the Eastern Conference final and has one conference championship to his name in the Big Apple. He’s had a points percentage greater than .600 in each of the past three seasons and the Rangers have accumulated at least 100 points in each of those campaigns. This season has been a disaster, that much is clear, but New York is trying to rebuild without blowing the whole thing up. That hardly falls on Vigneault, so why not give him a chance to show what he can do with a younger group?

Why He Goes: If everything around the coach is changing, it might be time to change the bench boss, too. Most of the vestiges of the Stanley Cup contending Rangers are gone. Derek Stepan is in Arizona. Dan Girardi was bought out and headed to Tampa Bay. Likewise, Ryan McDonagh was shipped off to the Lightning, and that’s a move that wouldn’t have had to happen if New York was in a playoff position. This is one down season, but one down season might be enough to cost Vigneault his spot.

DOUG WEIGHT, New York Islanders

Why He Stays:
In the back half of last season, Weight had the Islanders firing on all cylinders and posted a 24-12-4 record across 40 games. Then he had New York fly out of the gate hot and look like a real threat to win the Metropolitan Division. He’s been great for the offensive play of the Islanders, too, as New York has the fifth-most goals in the entire NHL since Weight stepped behind the bench. If some work can be done to bolster the blueline and crease, the Islanders could be a threat as early as next season. He’s also handled his young talent well.

Why He Goes: You probably noted the absence of any mention of the back half of this season. There’s reason for that. From Weight’s hiring to Dec. 31, 2017, New York had the fifth-most points in the NHL. Since Jan. 1, 2018, the Islanders are tied for the least. The collapse has been all too real for New York over the second half of this season and the inability of the Islanders to hunker down on defense doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff.

TODD MCLELLAN, Edmonton Oilers

Why He Stays: McLellan didn’t forget how to coach overnight. He’s a bench boss with 150 more wins than losses in his career, one who led the Oilers to the playoffs last season and within a win of the Western final. But nothing went right for Edmonton this season, and it’s as much on individual players as anything. One aspect of the Oilers season that truly hurt was the regression in Cam Talbot’s game. He watched his SP drop by 12 points. Add in a few off-season moves that backfired — the signing of Jussi Jokinen, trading Jordan Eberle to the Islanders — and McLellan didn’t have the depth at his disposal.

Why He Goes: Expectations can be a tricky thing. Fulfill them and it’s not talked about all that much. After all, you were supposed to accomplish whatever it is that was expected of you. Fail to meet expectations, though, and you’re on the chopping block. And true as it is that this season reflects as poorly on Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli as it does anyone, McLellan might not avoid the axe. Edmonton was perceived as a Western Conference contender, and instead they’re in the mix for another first overall selection. The failures of this season could result in big changes for the Oilers.

JEFF BLASHILL, Detroit Red Wings

Why He Stays:
For what it’s worth, Detroit wasn’t really that far out of a playoff spot — seven points back of the second wild-card team — on Jan. 1. That the Red Wings were even within 10 points seemed like a minor miracle given the team has basically been stripped of any semblance of the depth it once had. It’s also somewhat commendable that Detroit, while they could have folded the tent on this season, continues to play in competitive games. Maybe it’s not best for the Red Wings’ chances at the first-overall pick, but at least it’s not allowing bad habits to sink in.

Why He Goes: The past two seasons have been disastrous in Detroit. As if the playoff streak coming to a close in 2016-17 wasn’t bad enough, this campaign has been even worse. The Red Wings have the fourth-worst attack in the league and only eight teams allow more goals against per game. Not only that, were it not for the shootout, Detroit would likely be sitting second from the bottom in the standings. If this trend continues, next season could end with Detroit finishing last in the league. Maybe a change can spark something, though.

CLAUDE JULIEN, Montreal Canadiens

Why He Stays: Julien’s situation in Montreal reflects McLellan’s in the sense that a lot of the blame will fall on the GM’s shoulders. Be it failing to re-sign Alexander Radulov or leftover anger from the P.K. Subban-Shea Weber swap, Marc Bergevin has taken most of the flack for what ails the Canadiens. Both of those moves have really hamstrung Julien, too. Radulov is having a career season in Dallas and Montreal, with the NHL’s second-worst offense, could have really used his contributions. Likewise, Subban is worthy of Norris Trophy contention while Weber’s campaign, even before he fell injured, was just OK. That Julien was only recently hired — and to a deal that pays him $5 million per season — is also going to play a part in him sticking around. He’d have a short leash going forward, though.

Why He Goes: In three of the past four seasons that Julien has coached a club from the start of the campaign, that team has missed the playoffs. Granted it was by the slimmest of margins in two of those seasons, but Montreal’s season has been dreadful under Julien and they’re legitimately in the mix for the top selection in June’s draft. Defensive and possession play has also generally been the calling card of Julien teams over the past few seasons, but the Canadiens are a middle of the pack team in terms of possession and have surrendered the seventh-most goals this season.

GUY BOUCHER, Ottawa Senators

Why He Stays:
No one expected the Senators to battle their way to the East final last season, and while it may not have been pretty, Boucher’s style of play worked to perfection for a team that’s not as loaded with talent as others in their division or conference. Goaltending has absolutely sunk any chance the Senators have had to repeat that performance, however. Craig Anderson is having the worst season of his career and Ottawa has the league’s worst 5-on-5 SP and second-worst total SP. That has completely nullified the Senators’ slight offensive uptick.

Why He Goes: Boucher’s coaching career in the NHL has followed a pattern. In Tampa Bay, he made the playoffs, came within a win of an Eastern Conference title and then the Lightning came crashing down the very next year. In Ottawa, he made the playoffs, came within a win of an Eastern Conference title and then the Senators have come crashing down the very next year. He has almost perfected a style of play that makes life incredibly tough on opposing offenses, but once teams get wise, it has historically started to sink Boucher’s teams. If Ottawa no longer believes in the style, it may be time for Boucher to go.

JOEL QUENNEVILLE, Chicago Blackhawks

Why He Stays: All of those who rolled their eyes at the Corey Crawford-as-Blackhawks-MVP might be starting to understand that talk now. When Crawford played his last game full game of the season on Dec. 21, Chicago was holding onto a wild-card spot with a 17-12-5 record. Since Crawford’s exit, the Blackhawks have a 15-25-5 record. That’s been a bigger blow to Chicago than anything to do with Quenneville. It should also be noted that a few youngsters, particularly sophomore Nick Schmaltz and rookie Alex DeBrincat, have shown great growth under Quenneville this season. Plus, you know, Quenneville has done more than enough to earn a pass for one bad season.

Why He Goes: The Blackhawks made it fairly clear this past summer that they’re not an organization that takes losing lightly. A sweep in the first round of last season’s playoffs saw GM Stan Bowman make sweeping changes to his lineup, including shipping Artemi Panarin out of town and trading defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson. So, if that was the reaction — albeit partially salary cap related — to making the playoffs and getting swept, what will Chicago do in a year where they’ve missed the playoffs altogether? If they want to make a big move, changing up the voice in the room and behind the bench would definitely be it.

BARRY TROTZ, Washington Capitals

Why He Stays: More aptly, this section would be called “How He Stays.” And the answer is likely one way and one way only: He has to, at the very least, guide the Capitals to the Stanley Cup final. There can be no more almosts or moral victories in Washington, especially not as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom begin to exit the later stages of their prime years. Winning a conference championship or Stanley Cup puts Trotz in position to sign an extension. It has to, right?

Why He Goes: Anything other than winning the Eastern Conference championship won’t and shouldn’t be accepted, particularly not with Trotz’s heir apparent, Todd Reirden, seemingly ready to step into the top role at a moment’s notice. Letting Trotz go is also an easy move for the Capitals to make. He’s in the final year of his contract. Washington wouldn’t be firing him as much as they would be simply choosing not to extend his deal.

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