Who Gets Fired First?

The 20-game mark and the oft-used hallmark of American Thanksgiving are approaching like a world-destroying meteorite for many teams. The holiday is often used as a time to give your team a hard, honest look in the mirror. With that looming on the horizon, some coaches might start to find themselves on a very hot seat.

Late last week, the oddsmakers at Bodog updated their odds on which coach will be the first victim of the NHL’s ritualistic bloodletting. Bodog’s odds, as well as the way their odds have shifted from earlier in the season, are an illuminating look at where things stand in mid-November.

Using Bodog’s numbers as a guide, here’s a look at the coaches who top the list of bench bosses sporting some disgustingly sweaty palms.

Willie Desjardins
Photo: Michael Connell/Texas Stars Hockey

Willie Desjardins

The Vancouver coach is the obvious pick to top the list. He’s been given 7/2 odds of getting the can. The Canucks have struggled mightily in the early going and as is often the case, the general manager bears a lot of responsibility. Yet, it’s the coach who serves as the canary in the coal mine on the path to a first-overall pick.

GM Jim Benning made questionable decisions in the summer, betting on the team being competitive instead of seeing the need for a rebuild that has been seen by basically everyone who watches any amount of hockey.

After starting the season with four straight wins (only one in regulation), the Canucks are now 6-10-1 and lost 10 straight at one point (9 in regulation). One of the red flags for the franchise is not just that they’re losing the games, it’s that it hasn’t been particularly close. At one point they’d been shutout in four of five games.

Their two goals per game average is second worst in the league, as is their 9.4 percent power play. Their 3.18 goals against per game isn’t much better at 25th in the league. It all comes together in their league-worst minus-20 goal differential. Bounces haven’t gone their way, with a 95.93 PDO, the lowest in the NHL, but regressing to the mean might not be enough to salvage the season considering all the other problems.

Desjardins isn’t the architect of a flawed roster, but he’s likely to be the first to pay the price even if management has his back. On TSN’s Insider Trading, Bob McKenzie noted as much. “Right now, they don’t want to fire anybody. Jim Benning is solemnly behind Willie Desjardins and Trevor Linden is solemnly behind Jim Benning,” McKenzie said. “If the losses mount, you know there’s intense pressure from ownership to make something happen in a positive fashion. All bets are off if the Vancouver Canucks continue to lose in terms of the future of Willie Desjardins.”

Jack Capuano

Coach Capuano is in a similar situation. The search for scoring and a wing for John Tavares weren’t helped by offseasons moves. But Capuano is likely to bear the brunt of ownership’s disappointment if things don’t change.

Despite a roster that looks on paper like it should compete for a wild card spot, the team is last in the Eastern Conference with a 5-8-3 record. They aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel in offensive marks, but things aren’t coming together.

In an effort to ignite the team, Capuano has made some strange decisions, like putting the struggling Andrew Ladd on the fourth line, moving fourth-line winger Cal Clutterbuck to Tavares’s side and scratching Shane Prince when there are arguably more scratch-worthy forwards. None of it draws much notice if the team starts winning, but the moves look rather eccentric as the losses continue to pile up.

The chants of “Fire Cappy!” have become loud enough in Brooklyn, despite the sparse crowds, that GM Garth Snow had to address Capuano’s job security. “Hey, it’s part of the business,” Snow told TSN’s Frank Seravalli. “We’re in it to win. And when the team isn’t successful, I think any team in the league that happens.”

Snow wouldn’t explicitly say Capuano is safe, but he comes awfully close. “Jack is an excellent coach,” Snow said. “We have good players. I love our coaching staff. In fact, last time I checked, he coached in the World Cup and there were some pretty good coaching staffs.” Though, some of that may be the result of the GM’s seat warming as well.

Injuries and the team’s desire to not lose J.F. Berube on waivers aren’t making Capuano’s life easier. But that might not be a good enough excuse to save Capuano after so many seasons of disappointment. The clock is ticking and ownership can’t be excited that the team continues to waste the best seasons of Tavares’s career just trying to get into the postseason. With a 45.93% CF% mark, it’s hard to see how things abruptly turn around.

Peter Laviolette

This is the biggest surprise on Bodog’s list. With 3/2 odds, Laviolette sits third on the list after not making the list at all on Oct. 18. It’s shocking considering how highly regarded the Predators were entering the season.

With how great the team was last season, it’s hard to see how Laviolette gets axed. But if the team doesn’t turn around, someone may have to pay the price of high expectations. However, their early-season struggles are abating some, with their adjusted CF% rising up to 49.26% now.

Having Laviolette third feels like a stretch.

Dave Tippett
Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Tippett

Tippett is up next on the Bodog list. The Coyotes have taken a big step back since last season. Though, a lot of that can be chalked up to the team turning to their young talent, as well as a mediocre-at-best team overperforming last season.

Nonetheless, for a market struggling with attendance — and wants a new stadium — winning is a highly desired cure.

In the end, it’s unlikely ownership is impatient. They just hired a new GM and in the process gave Tippett more power. They have to know this is a team on the rise and growing pains are to be expected. This alone should be enough to protect Tippett, even if the team’s rookies don’t start to find a level of comfort in the NHL as the season marches on.

While he’s unlikely to be fired, that doesn’t mean the pain is over. Their league-worst 45.69% adjusted CF% portends pain. And it’s not a situation like with Vancouver where the bounces aren’t coming on top of everything. Arizona’s 100.1 PDO is about where you’d expect most teams to wind up at the end of the season. A winter full of pain is coming.

John Tortorella

Tortorella is often maligned because of his old-school and outspoken style. A terrible performance by Team USA at the World Cup amid boisterous claims about heart and grit didn’t help his cause. But, despite his 10/1 odds from Bodog, he’s probably not going anywhere this season.

With the amount they’ve invested in trades and building the organization from the ground up, progress needs to be on the dusty horizon. The young core of this team needs to take a step forward and they’ve produced middling results in recent seasons. That’s the reason Tortorella was on Bodog’s list early in the season (with 13/4 odds) and remains here.

But Columbus looks like an improved team and is knocking on the door of a wild card spot currently. Things aren’t going so poorly they need a coaching change. Tortorella should get the season to show he can produce results in Ohio, even if last season was a massive disappointment.

Paul Maurice

Winnipeg is a bit like Columbus. Lots of young talent, but a team that has been knocking on the door of being a perennial playoff contender for too long. They’re currently second in the Central Division and house the league’s leading goal scorer (Patrik Laine at 12) and points leader (Mark Scheifele at 21).

Considering the team’s history, things could change in a hurry, but it doesn’t look like Maurice is going to be the first to go, despite Bodog giving him 12/1 odds (improved from his 7/1 odds on Oct. 18).

Michel Therrien
Photo: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Michel Therrien

The Habs’ bench boss is the last coach on Bodog’s list. Last season’s collapse puts him in a tenuous position. Many fans in Montreal are still calling for his head, but how can you fire a coach whose team leads the division with a 13-2-2- record?

He’s been given 15/1 odds, well down from the 11/2 odds he was given on Oct. 18. Yes, their 103.95 PDO indicates things aren’t going to go this well all season, but it is an improved team from last year. They may not win the President’s Trophy, but they look like a playoff team.

Coaches That Fell Off the List

The coaches sitting at the end of the list may have a track record that helps warm the seat, but barring an unexpected collapse, they’re likely to be safe. Boston’s Claude Julien and New York’s Alain Vigneault are in that same area. They were on Bodog’s list on Oct. 18 and have now fallen off entirely. There were questions on both entering the season, but there is no cause for concern with either of them now. Their absence from the updated odds is worth noting.

The Dark Horse

Calgary’s Glen Gulutzan is starting to get mentioned in this conversation, even though he’s only 17 games into his tenure. It’s too soon for a firing, but it drives home how poorly things are going there.

As Elliotte Friedman pointed out in this week’s 30 Thoughts, when the Flames made it to the second round of the playoffs two seasons back, in part due to a relatively easy first-round match against the Canucks, it may have placed unreasonable expectations on this roster. They overperformed then under Jack Adams-winner Bob Hartley and have been expected to continue playing at a level that’s probably unattainable with this roster.

Either way, the team is struggling to succeed now with a 6-10-1 record. They’re averaging 3.41 goals against per game and have the league’s second-worst goal differential at minus-19. To boot, their 2.29 goals per game is tied for 25th in the league and their star players aren’t producing.

Absurd as it may be, talk about Gulutzan’s job security has penetrated the team’s locker room. “For people to say that is pretty ridiculous,” Sean Monahan told Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun. “It’s a process and sometimes things aren’t going the way you want them to. I think it’s just a matter of the full 20 guys buying in. We’ve got a lot of skill and you look at our team on paper we’re a good team. Right now we’re not showing it on the ice.”

It got a little harder to see how the bounce back comes when it was announced Wednesday that Johnny Gaudreau is going to have surgery on a broken finger suffered in Tuesday’s slump-busting win over the Wild. There’s no official timeline, but Friedman reports it may be four-to-six weeks of recovery.

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Francis sums up Gulutzan’s problems with words that are the case for many coaches on this list. “Is it the coach’s fault? Well, it’s most certainly his problem.” Deserved or undeserved, it’s the coach who takes the blame when the team isn’t performing to expectations and the fans are getting restless. The first firing is coming.