NHL coaches constantly feel pressure of being replaced
DETROIT — The Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets broke the seal on firing season in the NHL, showing some teams are short on patience even in a lockout-delayed year.
Buffalo got rid of Lindy Ruff, its coach since 1997, last month, just more than a week after Columbus fired general manager Scott Howson following five-plus years.
Some men behind benches and in front offices may not be resting easy these days.
Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said each time the puck drops, it could be the last game for one of his colleagues.
He would know.
“There were times I knew I was on the hot seat,” Trotz said.
Trotz can recall vividly being told he kept his job Nov. 8, 2003, because Nashville rallied from a three-goal deficit to win, 4-3, at Detroit. And Trotz still has his gig, trailing only San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in longevity among North America's four major pro leagues.
“I've been fortunate,” acknowledged Trotz, who has been Nashville's only coach since it joined the league in 1998.
Others might not be so fortunate this season.
San Jose coach Todd McLellan has helped the Sharks to the Western Conference finals twice and won three straight division titles before finishing second last year. But he's coming off a first-round exit with a franchise that hasn't hoisted the Stanley Cup.
And, his slumping-yet-talented team wouldn't be in the playoffs — for the first time in a decade — if the tournament started today after winning just two of their last 12 games.
“It starts with the coaching staff,” McLellan said. “We've got to go in and give them a plan, give them something they feel they can use in a game that can help them. We try to do that every day. After that, a lot of it is leadership, but it's individuals, too. It's reverting back to what you do well, what got you here, what skill set you have and are you applying it to the game night in and night out.”
Arguably, no one in the league has more talent than Washington Capitals superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin. Even with the two-time MVP, though, Washington, with an Eastern Conference-low 15 points, is in danger of not playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007.
First-year coach Adam Oates probably will keep his job even if the franchise doesn't make the playoffs. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis likely would allow Oates to have a honeymoon into next season, but general manager George McPhee may not have the same fate if the team's season ends April 27 in its regular-season finale.
Even though Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan is in just his second season, he's the third coach that has tried to get the once-proud franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.