Las Vegas odds-maker Bovada, who already gave us Stanley Cup and final standings predictions, has now chimed in on the perennial question that starts each season: which coach is the first to be fired? That question often doesn’t take long to be answered, which explains why the site was so quick to get the board up and running. From former Stanley Cup winners to those still with their first NHL team, Bovada has given the following five coaches on the hot seat a decent chance to be “unseated” before their peers in 2016-17:
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets – 13/4
If this scenario for Columbus sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Blue Jackets entered last year with questions about then-head coach Todd Richards, and after an 0-7 start to the 2015-16 season, it was Richards out and Tortorella in. An experienced bench boss who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and found success with the New York Rangers as well, Tortorella was brought in to provide a firm hand and some structure to a floundering, young team. Columbus had long been expected to take that next step after a surprising run to the playoffs in 2013-14, so even though their team had major holes on paper, Tortorella’s 34-33-8 record after taking over was seen as a disappointment. After the Blue Jackets finished last in the Metropolitan Division on his watch, Tortorella entered the off-season as one of the prime candidates to be fired first. He didn’t help himself this summer either, after he led Team U.S.A to a disastrous result at the World Cup of Hockey. So far the team is 0-2, including blowing a 3-1 lead with five unanswered goals against in a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins in their home opener. Though it’s early, the Blue Jackets have the worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference. Another slow start for Columbus could cost “Torts” his job not long after first getting it. This wouldn’t be the first time either; he was fired as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks before the end of his first season with the team in 2014-15. Tortorella is often criticized for his blunt, abrasive demeanor and he simply does not mesh well in some locker rooms. A young Columbus team that is far from a playoff contender seems likely to part ways with the veteran coach sooner rather than later.
Willie Desjardins, Vancouver Canucks – 7/2
Tortorella’s replacement in Vancouver for the 2014-15 season was Desjardins. Fresh off of a Calder Cup championship with the AHL’s Texas Stars, he was hired to help lead the Canucks to postseason success as well as to help develop their young players. Neither objective has been fulfilled thus far though. Desjardins went 48-29-5 in his first year with the team, but Vancouver was bounced in the first round of the playoffs in an upset loss to the Calgary Flames. Last season, the Canucks went 31-38-13 and failed to even qualify for the postseason. With an overall record under .500, Desjardins is on the hot seat as is. Add in that management believes that Vancouver should be a contender, while in reality many see them as potentially the worst team in the league in 2016-17, and Desjardins is in an even tougher situation handling lofty expectations. Through two games, the Canucks are undefeated and atop the Pacific Division, so the head coach is doing all he can to hold off skepticism. Should Vancouver (as expected) begin to struggle, the focus will be back on Desjardins and his job will be in jeopardy.
Jack Capuano, New York Islanders – 15/4
Although most would say that the Islanders have been a strong team and perennial contender over the last few years, Capuano’s tenure with the team has not actually been that smooth. After taking over for Scott Gordon in 2010-11, Capuano has never finished above third in the division. In six years as the head coach, the Isles have missed the playoffs three times and in the three times they did make it, they were eliminated in the first round twice and in the second round the other time, this past season. While even making the playoffs is an upgrade for a team that struggled mightily in the 2000’s, more is expected of Capuano and a team led by superstar John Tavares. With Tavares’ free agency looming large in the near future, the Islanders head coach is under pressure to prove that New York has a bright future and is a team worth playing for. Management did not help him accomplish that goal this summer, as strong, young producers Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen departed in free agency, only to be replaced with older, lesser replacements in Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. Many expect the Islanders to slip in 2016-17, perhaps even out of the playoff picture, but the team certainly does not believe that. If the season begins to trend in that direction (1-2 so far), don’t be surprised if Capuano’s job is the first victim of a sinking ship.
Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens – 11/2
Therrien has been fired as the head coach of the Canadiens once, and there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t happen again. While Montreal has made the playoffs three times in the four years since Therrien returned before the 2012-13 season, the epic collapse of the squad last season due to the loss of goalie Carey Price turned a lot of focus toward Therrien’s shortcomings as a coach. Although his second stint with the Canadiens has been much improved compared to his .500 record over parts of three seasons with the team from 2000 to 2003, Therrien has still received much criticism over his coaching style and decision-making. Recently, the Habs have decided that trading offense (P.K. Subban, Lars Eller) for defense and “grit” (Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw) is the best way to maximize the production of Therrien’s system. If those moves fail to pan out, and the Canadiens struggle again in 2016-17 in the relatively weak Atlantic Division, expect Therrien to be out the door in Montreal yet again.
Claude Julien, Boston Bruins -13/2
Julien is the longest tenured coach in the NHL and the Bruins’ all-time leader in coaching wins. He’s taken them to two Stanley Cups, won one, and added a President’s Trophy to boot. He is as close to a sure-fire Hall of Famer as any coach in the league. Yet, in arguably North America’s biggest sports city, missing the playoffs two years in a row is unacceptable. The past two years, Boston has seen late-season collapses bump them just outside the postseason picture, and a lot of the blame has fallen upon Julien. There have been rumors for two straight summers that he was all but gone. However, it has not happened. A third year with no playoff hockey in Boston? This time it won’t go unpunished. Julien is working with one of the stronger forward groups in the league, with many of his best players in their primes, but has wasted precious years by not giving them a chance at the Cup. His once-unstoppable defensive scheme has not been well-implemented by the personnel he has had over the past two years, as the Bruins have shed their title as one of the toughest teams to play against in the NHL. Julien also has had well-documented difficulties with working with young players, a problem that has hindered Boston’s ability to bring young talent up to the team. In 2016-17, Julien has a lineup filled with budding, young players, including defensemen Brandon Carlo, Colin Miller, and Rob O’Gara. If he can get the defense back on track by working well with the young players and allowing his offense to focus more on scoring, then the Bruins will be back in the playoffs and their long-time coach will stick around. If not? There will be a new longest-tenured NHL coach in the near future.
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets – 7/1
Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers – 7/1