While there are obvious perks to being a head coach in the NHL, job stability is not one of them. It is often said that coaches in professional sports are hired to be fired, a statement which is very hard to argue. Coaching changes happen plenty and often in the NHL, as it is much easier for a general manager to find a new one rather than try and replace an entire roster if his team is struggling.
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We are still very early into the 2021-22 season, but we have already seen a couple of coaching casualties. First was Joel Quenneville’s dismissal with the Florida Panthers, though that was to do with the repercussions of Kyle Beach coming forward rather than team performance. The other was Jeremy Colliton, who was relieved of his duties by the Chicago Blackhawks less than two weeks ago. While he is currently the only head coach to be fired this season due to team performance, there are others whose seats are getting very warm and could soon be looking for new employment opportunities themselves. With that being said, here are five coaches who are on the hot seat.
5. Barry Trotz
Heading into the 2021-22 season, I wrote an article on who I believe the top 10 coaches in the NHL are, and Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders was number one. That being said, suggesting he could be fired may be premature, but his team’s start this season is disappointing and startling.
Since Trotz became the head coach in Long Island before the 2018-19 season, he has done a fantastic job turning them into one of the best teams in the Metropolitan Division despite not having a ton of high-end talent. However, this season early on has been far different, as their record of 5-6-2 has them dead last in the Metro.
Outside of great goaltending from Ilya Sorokin, not much has gone right for the Islanders this season. In both the team and Trotz’s defense, they have yet to play a home game as they were waiting for their new building, the UBS Arena, to finish being built. They will finally play their home opener on Saturday, so perhaps that will be what it takes to get them back on track.
4. Jared Bednar
Coming into the season, the Colorado Avalanche were viewed by all as perennial Stanley Cup contenders. On paper, they have one of the best rosters in the league, but through 12 games this season, they sit at a subpar 7-5-1.
This certainly isn’t all to be blamed on head coach Jared Bednar, as his team has been ravaged by injuries this season and are currently without their best player in Nathan MacKinnon. With that being said, this roster is stacked enough to overcome the injury troubles they have had but are struggling to do so.
Bednar will get some time to right this ship, but if things continue on this way for some time, you can bet rumors will pick up regarding his job security. Hopefully, for general manager (GM) Joe Sakic’s sake, the team can turn things around, or he may be forced to make a very difficult position.
3. Rick Bowness
Rick Bowness was given his first head coaching opportunity in over a decade midway through the 2019-20 season and responded by leading the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have the same success in 2020-21, though a difficult schedule due to a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the team, along with injuries to key players, had a major part in that.
While there were still some question marks surrounding this team heading into the 2021-22 campaign, most viewed them as a playoff contender. Early on, that hasn’t been the case as they find themselves sitting sixth place in the Central Division with a 6-6-2 record. Their biggest problem is scoring goals, as they sit 30th in the entire league with just 32 on the season.
Stars fans are seeming to grow more irritated with Bowness by the day, as it is becoming clearer by the day that his players are not buying into his systems. He and his team will need to figure things out soon, or his days as the head coach of the Stars could be numbered.
2. Travis Green
The Vancouver Canucks are a mess, though the blame deserves to be put on the shoulders of GM Jim Benning’s much more so than Travis Green’s. After a great 2019-20 season, this team has regressed significantly, which is shocking given the amount of young talent on their roster.
While it is early, players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, who are viewed as two of the team’s biggest offensive threats, have struggled to put up points. If they can’t figure things out in a hurry, it could spell the end for Green’s time with the Canucks.
Given the general consensus that the Pacific Division is the weakest in the NHL this year, most viewed the Canucks as a bubble team for the playoffs heading into the season. That hasn’t been the case to this point, as they have an ugly 5-10-2 record through their first 16 contests. Benning may soon pull the trigger on a coaching change in hopes of saving his own job.
1. Dominique Ducharme
Many were wary of the Montreal Canadiens run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and questioned whether or not that success would carry over to 2021-22. It turns out those doubts were justified, as Dominique Ducharme’s squad has been horrible early on, winning just four of their first 18 games.
Though it is early, playoffs seem like a near impossibility already, given the strength of the Atlantic Division that they play in. It is extremely frustrating for this fan base, who were hoping that their team could continue their play for the 2021 postseason.
In Ducharme’s defense, he has been dealt some tough blows this season with the absences of guys like Carey Price and Shea Weber. With that being said, plenty of other talented players on this roster have not played up to their potential, which is often a reflection of a team’s head coach. Despite this team having just made a coaching change last season, they may be forced to make one soon once again.
Only a Matter of Time for Another Coaching Casualty
Regardless of who you believe should or shouldn’t be let go by their respective team, it is hard to deny that at least one and likely multiple more coaches won’t be fired before the season ends. Last season was different given that it was hard to bring in new coaches with the rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with things slowly shifting back to normal, it wouldn’t be surprising to see teams less hesitant to pull the trigger. In 2019-20 alone, there were eight coaches fired, and while it likely won’t be that high in 2021-22, there are certainly a few whose days appear to be numbered.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.