It’s Halloween season, so which coaches are scared they might not see Thanksgiving? Less than a month into a six-month long campaign is plenty soon to reach some hasty conclusions.
John MacLean, New Jersey
If the season were to end today, the Devils would have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft. This team won the Atlantic Division as recently as oh, last year. MacLean is in his first season as a head coach and the results have been, well, less than promising. New Jersey can’t score, even with the re-signing of Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils can’t defend. The rapidly-aging Martin Brodeur can’t stop a puck.
Worst of all, general manager Lou Lamoriello came out with the dreaded vote of confidence recently. MacLean, himself a former Devil, went so far as to bench Kovalchuk for a game. The move hasn’t paid off. If MacLean doesn’t turn things around soon, the country’s unemployment will rise up a notch.
Verdict: Lou says MacLean is safe, but how much losing can they take?
Randy Carlyle, Anaheim
The Ducks have a rebuilt defense. Well, in theory. They’re in the process of rebuilding that defense. Anaheim signed defensive stalwart Toni Lydman and Andy Sutton, but injuries to both cost each several games. That all but forced Anaheim to play 2010 first-round pick Cam Fowler significant minutes and Fowler, himself injured, has shown he belongs.
Still, it’s been a work in progress for Carlyle, whose team has been atrocious at times this season. The Ducks couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start but are slowly turning it around. Still, their goal differential is minus-9. Only the Devils have a worse number. Not only has Anaheim gotten embarrassed in several games, the Ducks have resorted to goonism at times.
Verdict: Cooling off but still warm to the touch. The team needs to start stringing together some wins and soon. The Ducks have yet to win two straight games.
Mike Babcock, Detroit
Just kidding. It's true that the Red Wings are last in their division but it's looking like the Central is the toughest this season. Detroit still has a 5-2-1 record.
Lindy Ruff, Buffalo
Here's an intriguing situation. Ruff is currently the longest tenured coach in the National Hockey League (this is his 13th season.) He's been as much a mainstay with the Sabres as has an internal budget. This is also a team, with this coach, who won the Northeast Division last season. They consistently lose quality players and rarely can afford to bring in replacements.
But the Sabres are winless at home. Last in their division, third worst in the Eastern Conference. Not known as a player's coach (just ask Maxim Afinogenov), at some point, you have to wonder if his voice becomes a mindless drone to the players. Last year was their first playoff trip in three years and just the third in the last seven. It's probably not his fault that Ryan Miller has regressed a tad, that management/ownership couldn't find adequate replacements on the blue line or up front, but this team needs a spark of some kind.
Verdict: Has probably earned enough respect to try to right the ship, especially given the restraints in place regarding personnel, but if you can't change the players, you change the coach, right?
Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia
It's pretty much time I think to start the annual question about the Flyers coach, if no one else has done it. Laviolette's done a fine enough job since taking over, including coaching the team to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. But Philadelphia isn't very good this season, with as-usual shaky goaltending and a lack of firepower from a lot of big-name, high-priced talent.
It's possible the Flyers have shaken that mantle of being unable to score. They've won two of their last three games, scoring 11 goals in the two wins. It's also possible those games were fluke efforts. They have 14 goals in their other seven games. Not surprisingly, Nikolay Zherdev isn't working out - at least so far - in Philadelphia, and James van Riemsdyk isn't living up to last year's promising rookie season.
Verdict: Fire a coach the season after he got you to the final? Hey, it worked for Pittsburgh.
Cory Clouston, Ottawa; Todd McLellan, San Jose
McLellan is probably a reach at this point. Still, the Sharks came in with pretty high expectations, as usual, and have faltered this season. McLellan did finally get the team out of the first round, however. San Jose also is playing better hockey over the last week. (To play devil's advocate, two of their wins in that time came against Edmonton and New Jersey.) It's unlikely San Jose will stay down for long.
Clouston's had some adversity this season, with injuries to presumptive No. 1 goaltender Pascal Leclaire and top center Jason Spezza. Top offseason acquisition Sergei Gonchar doesn't have a goal, is a minus-6 and playing over 26 minutes a night. Alexei Kovalev is becoming less of an enigma and more of a nuisance. Mike Fisher seems to be in too much marital bliss. Milan Michalek is not making Ottawa fans forget Dany Heatley. At this point, the Senators should blow up and start over. That could start with the coach.
Obviously I had tongue firmly planted in cheek when I said it was time to make some conclusions. All these teams have time to turn the season around and perhaps none of them will be fired. There could be others (Paul Maurice in Carolina, John Tortorella in New York, perhaps even Vancouver's Alain Vigneault or Minnesota's Todd Richards) who take over the list.
(Personally? I doubt Richards gets fired. At least this season.)
It's a long season. But some teams need to make rapid changes or they won't be going anywhere. (Just like Rizzo.)