Bring back or move on? Pondering the futures of 12 NHL coaches
There are 10 days left in the 2021-22 NHL regular season, which means we’re approaching the time of year where teams make decisions on their current head coaches. Around the league, some are in charge on an interim basis; others are on expiring contracts; while a few may have term left but the on-ice results could lead to a change.
Let’s take a look at 12 NHL coaches and what the next few weeks and months might hold for their futures in their current jobs.
Andrew Brunette, Panthers Martin St. Louis, Canadiens Jay Woodcroft, Oilers
These three are easy, and it’s hard to imagine them not returning.
Brunette took over a 7-0-0 team from Joel Quenneville and has guided them to the top of the Eastern Conference and put them into the mix for the Presidents’ Trophy. The Panthers are Stanley Cup contenders and it’s only a matter of time before general manager Bill Zito lifts the interim tag and gives the 48-year-old a contract and the full-time gig.
St. Louis has breathed new life into the Canadiens during what was a dismal season. He’s 12-15-4 since taking over from Dominque Ducharme on an interim basis and his relationships with Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton and GM Kent Hughes will likely lead to a return.
“I was brought in here to finish the season, so I’m going to focus on that,” St. Louis said last week. “Is my goal to be back next year? Yeah, absolutely. I don’t see many things why I wouldn’t be back, but you never know. But if I’m visualizing myself six, seven months from now, I see myself behind the bench. Until everything is concrete and stuff I’m going to stay the course of what I’m doing.”
Since Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett on Feb. 10, the Oilers have the fourth-highest points percentage (.703) and have improved greatly offensively. Edmonton is heading towards the playoffs and getting production from more than just Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Balance up front and better goaltending has put the Oilers in a good position as the First Round approaches.
Derek King, Blackhawks
King took over from Jeremy Colliton on Nov. 6. The Blackhawks have gone 24-31-9, including losing 13 of their last 16, under his watch as the franchise goes through a transition phase. There will be no playoff hockey for the second straight spring. GM Kyle Davidson has a lot of work to do in the summer as he begins a rebuild and big questions will need to be asked of the futures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Given the expected changes, it doesn’t look like King will be the coach here going forward and Davidson’s next pick will give an indication of what type of roster he wants to construct for the future.
Dave Lowry, Jets
Speaking of franchises that need a refresh, Winnipeg has not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet but they’re on the verge of making it official.
Lowry was thrown into the fire following Paul Maurice’s surprising resignation in December. In 48 games the Jets have gone 22-20-6 and shown the roster needs a bit of a touch up. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to nail his next coaching hire as Winnipeg isn’t a team in need of a rebuild, but rather, some freshening up. Will experience be important for a team that’s typically been middle of the pack when it comes to average age or is there a long-time assistant out there (Lane Lambert, Kirk Muller) ready for a shot?
Mike Yeo, Flyers
A 15-32-7 record after replacing Alain Vigneault says it all in Philadelphia. The team is in need of a major injection of life in the post-Claude Giroux era. With management promising not a rebuild but an “aggressive retool,” does that mean another veteran coach should be in line to replace Yeo? Claude Julien is taking up as many Team Canada coaching jobs he can to keep his name out there, while former Flyers Jim Montgomery and Rick Tocchet are interesting options as coaches looking to do better their next gigs.
Bruce Boudreau, Canucks
Since Boudreau took over from Travis Green on Dec. 5 the Canucks have 68 points in 51 games and have given themselves a chance at a playoff spot. They also have the sixth-best points percentage over that span (.667) -- better than Pittsburgh, Calgary, Minnesota, and the Rangers.
But as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this month, his contract features an interesting wrinkle:
Boudreau has said he loves the city and wants to stay. He’s certainly done enough to show that his voice was needed and it has worked. It’d be wise of GM Patrik Allvin and president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford to want to continue this positive momentum into next season.
Rick Bowness, Stars
It’s been a weird ride for Bowness in Dallas. He replaced Montgomery on an interim basis in Dec. 2019, took the team to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and then was given a two-year extension. This season, Dallas was looking out of it in January but has gone on a 24-12-3 run since Jan. 20. They are in the thick of the Western Conference Wild Card race and have a four-point lead on Vegas with six games to go (and a game in-hand).
It could have been easy for GM Jim Nill to let Bowness go at any point earlier this season, but he stuck with Bowness and now the two will have to have a conversation this summer about the future. It could simply boil down to what the 67-year-old Bowness wants in the end.
John Hynes, Predators
The Predators are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot during a season that’s seen a number of offensive turnarounds on the roster. Matt Duchene (77 points) and Ryan Johansen (58 points)are having bounce-back seasons; Filip Forsberg has career highs in goals (38) and points (75); and Roman Josi is having an other-worldly year (88 points). There is language in Hynes’ contract that allows the Predators to pick up an option for next season and when you look at the consistency in some of the management positions within the organization since they entered the NHL, it seems like a no-brainer he’s back for at least one more year.
Jeff Blashill, Red Wings
Blashill was given a two-year extension last spring, but this season will mark six straight years without playoff hockey. The Red Wings are 201-258-72 with him in charge and the only consistency he’s delivered is in losses. This season Detroit has only won three straight games once and have five losing streaks of four games or more. Let’s not forget fans have started the “Fire Blashill” chants at Little Caesar’s Arena.
There have been bright spots — Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond — but the time given to have the roster take steps forward under Blashill has passed. It has to be in GM Steve Yzerman’s plans to install a new coach who can further the development of the core of his team and not have them stagnate as the franchise continues its rebuild. Playoffs doesn’t have to be the No. 1 goal for 2022-23, but you want to see improvements up and down the roster that can be attributed to better coaching and a better system.
Bob Boughner, Sharks
How does Doug Wilson stepping down as GM and the potential of an outside hire coming in to take over the full-time job from Joe Will affect Boughner’s standing? He signed a three-year contract in 2020 and has a 64-82-22 in charge since replacing Peter DeBoer. Does the new GM keep everything in place for one season to evaluate or is there enough seen already to choose going in a different directon behind the bench?
Lindy Ruff, Devils
Sometimes a coach can only take a roster so far before a replacement needs to come in and take them further. That’s the feeling with New Jersey. While they were hamstrung by goaltending issues this year, the likes of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich, and Dawson Mercer give hope for the future. But a minus-46 goal differential is more than just who’s between the pipes.
Ruff has 782 career NHL wins as a head coach. He also has 765 total losses in 19 years behind the bench. The Devils have made the playoffs once in 10 seasons. If nothing changes, nothing changes.