NHL coaching contracts are a weird thing. Sure, they are guaranteed, but they’re not really guaranteed. That is to say, if an NHL coach signs an eight-year deal worth $50 million, he will be paid that amount by the team he signed that contract with. However, that doesn’t mean he will be paid that money while he stands behind the team’s bench — he may collect that salary after he has been canned.
The goal of every NHL team is to win the Stanley Cup, so the 30 NHL general managers (presumably) assemble the best team they can within the confines of the salary cap in pursuit of that goal. As with the coach, each player on each NHL team has a guaranteed contract, which means it’s always easier for a team to fire a coach than trade away every player on the team. This is especially true when the salary cap restricts the moves a team can make.
One NHL coach has already been replaced this season. The Columbus Blue Jackets dumped Todd Richards after starting the season 0-7. Richards was the coach of the Blue Jackets since the mid-point of the 2011-12 season. His team made the playoffs once, losing in the first round of the 2013-14 campaign. John Tortorella, winner of 2003-04 Stanley Cup as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, replaced Richards.
If history tells us one thing, it’s that there will be more coaching changes before the 2015-16 Stanley Cup is awarded. Last season four coaches lost their jobs during the season, another seven were replaced in the off-season.
What follows is a list of five coaches on the hot seat this year.
5. Darryl Sutter
Darryl Sutter has a long and storied NHL coaching career. He began his stint as an NHL bench boss in 1992-93 with the Chicago Blackhawks. Today, after stops in San Jose and Calgary, he stands behind the Los Angeles Kings bench. Five seasons into his coaching tenure with the Kings, Sutter has two Stanley Cups to his name with the team, winning in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Last season, one year removed from that second Cup, the team missed the playoffs.
The Kings started this season slow, but have picked things up as of late. It is unlikely that Sutter will be fired during the season if his team remains in the playoff hunt. However, if they begin to slip, Sutter could be replaced. If Sutter does have the Kings in the playoffs when the season ends but doesn’t make a deep run, he could be replaced in the off-season.
4. Claude Julien
Claude Julien did not have much success in the early days of his NHL coaching career. In his first job, Julien was fired by the Montreal Canadiens after 159 games. The New Jersey Devils then hired him at the start of the 2006-07 season. Despite having the team in the playoff hunt, the Devils fired Julien with three games left in the season. The Boston Bruins picked up Julien up for the 2007-08 season. His team won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11.
Julien’s team missed the playoffs last season. It was the first time the Bruins failed to make the post-season during his tenure. Right now the team is in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. That may not be good enough for upper management. If the team remains in that position much longer, Julien will be in danger of being replaced.
3. Bruce Boudreau
Bruce Boudreau was named coach of the Washington Capitals early in the 2007-08 season. He led the team to first place in the Southeast Division and into the playoffs in each season he was behind the bench. However, he was fired 22 games into the 2011-12 season after the team won just four games in the month of November.
Boudreau did not stay unemployed long. The Anaheim Ducks hired him two days after the Capitals fired him.
In that first season, Boudreau’s team missed the playoffs, but they have made it to the post-season in his three most recent seasons as head coach. Last year the team made it to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games. In most circumstances, this type of coaching performance would be applauded. However, Anaheim is not most places. The Ducks were pre-season favorites to win the Stanley Cup on many polls, and right now they are outside the top 10 in the Western Conference. If Anaheim doesn’t start to make up some ground in the standings soon, expect to see a new coach behind the Ducks bench before mid-season.
2. Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy had a remarkable career as an NHL goaltender. By the time he retired at the end of the 2003 season, he had won the Stanley Cup four times, twice with the Montreal Canadiens and twice with the Colorado Avalanche. In September 2005, Roy was named head coach of the Quebec Ramparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He held that position through 2013 when he joined the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche as head coach. In his first season, Roy’s team finished first in the Central Division but fell in the first round of the playoffs. It was the first time the Avalanche made the playoffs since the 2009-10 season. Roy was awarded the Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year that season.
Last season, Roy’s team finished last in the highly competitive Central Division, missing the playoffs. Things are not going much better for Roy this season. Not only is the team last in the division, but there are sitting in the bottom five of the 30-team NHL. Roy is under pressure in Colorado, but what may give him a longer leash than some other coaches is his close friendship with the team’s general manager, Joe Sakic.
1. Bob Hartley
Bob Hartley’s first NHL coaching stint lasted from 1998-99 to 2007-08. During that time he coached two teams, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Atlanta Thrashers. He won the Stanley Cup in 2000-01 season with Colorado, but was fired 31 games into the 2002-03 season after his team put up a 10-8-9-4 record.
Hartley was picked up by Atlanta shortly after that firing. The Thrashers missed the playoffs the first three season Hartley was head coach. In his fourth season, Hartley led the team to a first place finish in the Southeast Division and a berth in the playoffs. The team was swept by the New York Rangers in four games. After that playoff loss, the Thrashers started the 2007-08 season winless in their first six games. Hartley was fired before they played a seventh game.
Hartley would remain out of the NHL until the 2012-13 season when he was hired by the Calgary Flames. The team would miss the playoffs in that season and the next. The Flames made the playoffs last season and made it to the Conference Semifinal before losing to the Anaheim Ducks. Hartley won the Jack Adams Award as best NHL coach for his performance last year. With the success they had last season, hopes were high for Hartley and the Flames, but they have started this season slow and are near the bottom of the Pacific Division. Hartley needs to get the team back to its winning ways as soon as possible.