It was an uncommon year in the NHL with no coaches being fired in-season. Some of the worst teams in the NHL – the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks – had coaches in their first seasons and were willing to reserve judgement at least into a second season. Others, like the Ottawa Senators (confirmed today), Montreal Canadiens, and New York Islanders are willing to wait and see with relatively new staffs.
Entering the first full month without regular season activity, the season is over for all but eight teams. Yet, only two coaches have been fired: the New York Rangers’ Alain Vigneault and the Calgary Flames’ Glen Gulutzan. The Dallas Stars’ Ken Hitchcock retired and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Bill Peters opted out. Peters then quickly took the Flames job and what is left are just three coaching openings in the NHL.
The Carolina Hurricanes, under new ownership, are still looking for a GM and likely will wait to make a decision on a head coach until after that initial decision has been made. However, for those free agent coaches, the ’Canes do offer an attractive mix of long-term depth and talent on defense, youth and skill on offense, a solid prospect pipeline, and mass amounts of cap space to get better. However, Carolina lacks two of the hardest things to find in hockey: a legitimate starting goaltender and a bona fide #1 star center. Any coach who is excited about the team’s potential has to look at Peters’ inability to turn it into wins and wonder if the few pieces missing in Carolina are the most important ones.
It took a late season collapse for the Dallas Stars to miss the postseason this year. The team has three superstars in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg and a handful of very good players behind them like goalie Ben Bishop, defensemen Marc Methot and Esa Lindell, and forwards Alexander Radulov and Radek Faksa. They also have the potential for a quick turnaround if Jason Spezza and Martin Hanzal can bounce back. Beyond that group though, the team is lacking in depth on the roster and there doesn’t appear to be real game-changing talent in the pipeline either outside of Miro Heiskanen. They’re also right at the top of the salary cap limit. The Stars have the appearance of a team that is close to being a contender, but may not be able to get much better than they already are.
The New York Rangers are this year’s rebuild option for a coaching candidate. After trading away both impending free agents and core players at the deadline, the Rangers are left with a young-top nine that bring energy and skill but lacks experience and top-end talent and defense corps with veteran leadership surrounded by youth and potential but also lacking any high-end ability. However, they still have an all-world goalie in Henrik Lundqvist and are now loaded with prospects at every position and a wealth of draft picks. The Rangers may not look like much now but have a lot to offer down the road.