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NHL 2013 season preview: Coaches on the hot seat

By Brian Stubits | Hockey writer
Sacco's seat is warm after two seasons of no playoffs in Colorado. (Getty Images)

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In the NHL, coaches are chewed up and spit out more than sunflower seeds at a baseball game. In a league that has become a pinnacle of parity, expectations are higher. There's little room for patience in the sport.

When a team gets off to a slow start or a couple of disappointing seasons in a row are produced, the quick fix is to fire the coach since you can't fire the roster. NHL general managers have some of the itchiest firing fingers this side of the OK Corral.

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Take last season, for example. During the season alone, seven head coaches were fired. Go back to the summer and six more coaches were fired then. So in one NHL year, a total of 13 coaches received a pink slip. In other words, nearly half the league.

At this point, you'd think that would mean there are no coaches around who have even had enough time to get fired, but this is the NHL. There's always somebody sitting on the chopping block. Fact is, there's always a quick fix in a GM's head, and usually it's with the next bright coach. Many hang onto the belief that they'll take Xs and Os over Jimmys and Joes; that is to say they believe some coaches can wring water from a rock.

The result is coaches come and go with the Mike Babcocks or Barry Trotzes being more the exceptions than the rules.

We know coaches will get canned in the NHL, but maybe the short season will save the firings for the offseason. Either way, there are some seats that are hot -- even if predicting them in the NHL is a fool's game. What can I say, I'm a fool (no commentary, please!).

Here are the coaches on the hot seat, in no particular order.

Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche: Since earning a somewhat surprising playoff berth in his first year on the job in Colorado, Sacco's Avs have failed to build on that and they missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.

As a result, the questions surrounding Sacco's future have been asked over and over for a while now, particularly after the Avs saw a 27-point drop from 2009-10 to 2010-11. The Avs rebounded some last season behind Gabriel Landeskog, topping out at 88 points, but they still missed out on the postseason. Still, the progression was enough to keep Sacco on for another season.

After two seasons of missing the playoffs, the Avs will have expectations to go get into the dance this year after adding P.A. Parenteau to the mix. If they don't, not only is Sacco's job in jeopardy, but so is GM Greg Sherman's.

In 246 games coaching the Avalanche, Sacco has compiled a 114-109-23 record.

Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs: Carlyle hasn't even been on the job in Toronto for a full season yet, but he's in a pressure cooker in Toronto. There is new ownership in town who wants to put a winner on the ice, and Carlyle wasn't their guy; he was now-ousted GM Brian Burke's.

That's not to say Carlyle won't get a chance with the Leafs -- he most certainly will. After all, the guy does have a Stanley Cup on the resume, back with the Ducks in 2007. Still, a regime change is never a heartwarming feeling for a coach, particularly in a city that's getting ever more restless about annually missing the playoffs.

I wouldn't expect Carlyle to be fired but if the Leafs don't move up in the standings at all, it would certainly not be a shock. Everybody wants their guy in charge, whether that is new GM Dave Nonis or the new owners.

In just 18 games with the Maple Leafs in relief of Ron Wilson, Carlyle had a 6-9-3 record. His record is 279-191-64. (The other 534 games were all with the Ducks).

Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Lightning: It wasn't long ago that Boucher was one of the hottest coaches in the game. That was when the rookie bench boss was taking the Lightning to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final, losing in Game 7 to the eventual champs, the Boston Bruins. Then last season brought the Lightning crashing back down to earth with 84 points.

For the record, I don't think Boucher should be considered to be on the block at all. There's only so much a coach can do when he has a goaltending tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon. But stepbacks are frowned upon in the NHL, and the Lightning are spending some big bucks to put together a roster full of offensive stars, so there is an expectation here.

If the Bolts don't make the postseason for a second straight season then perhaps GM Steve Yzerman would consider going a different direction in a coach, not that I'd agree (at this moment, at least).

To show how crazy coaching turnover is in this sport, Boucher is the longest-tenured coach in the Southeast Division. He's been on the job for two seasons.

In those two seasons, the Lightning have gone 84-61-19.

Jack Capuano, New York Islanders: Cappy is one of those good guys stuck in a bad situation. He just hasn't had a ton to work with on the Island, much like all of his predecessors. Still, the Isles have had some talent on the roster, but they haven't been progressing toward the playoffs at all -- unless you count a modest increase in points from 74 to 79, which was still not close to the playoffs.

Despite not even being behind the bench for two full seasons at this point, there have already been plenty of questions surrounding Capuano's job. He has done all that he can to try to get through to his team, including icing five defensemen in one shift last season. The problem is, he just doesn't have the horses to compete.

I thought it was a good decision to keep Capuano around for another season. You run the risk of creating a revolving door of coaches if you don't have any patience, and that costs a franchise stability. Still, stability and affability only go so far. You have to win games. Unfortunately for Capuano, it doesn't look like this team is built to compete enough to save him.

In a little less than two full seasons as an NHL coach with the Islanders, Cappy's teams are 60-66-21.

Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks: It's been the same story for the Sharks for years now. The expectations are high, and they're never met. That was especially the case last season as the Sharks drew the seven seed in the Western Conference and were pummeled by the St. Louis Blues to a first-round exit. It was hardly how they drew it up.

That instantly made McLellan's somewhat comfortable seat hot going into the offseason. In four seasons, he hasn't been able to get the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final. No other coach has been able to do that in San Jose either, but it's cause for concern that the Sharks just barely squeezed into the playoffs last year and then were beaten badly (in multiple senses of the word.)

So last summer McLellan did what any coach facing the possibility of being fired would do; he sacrificed his assistant coaches instead. In their place, McLellan added some big names to the bench in Jim Johnson and Larry Robinson, outstanding additions.

But when coaches have to make moves like that, you know the leash is getting tighter around their neck. If McLellan can't get the Sharks back to near the top this season, somebody else might be given the chance.

In four full seasons with the Sharks under McLellan, San Jose is an impressive 195-92-41 with three Pacific Division crowns. But it's what they do in the postseason that matters, and winning one game like they did in 2011-12 isn't getting it done.

Lindy Ruff: Ruff is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, with 14 consecutive seasons behind the Sabres bench. But all good things must come to an end.

In the case of the Sabres, last season was a mess. They spent big in the offseason with new owner Terry Pegula and had people in Buffalo buzzing about the hockey team again. Only problem is, they couldn't do anything right. The star players weren't performing, save for captain Jason Pominville, and they were so far out of the playoffs that their late push was nothing more than a mirage. It was the third time in five seasons that the Sabres didn't make the postseason.

This is pretty clear, however; Ruff is a favorite of GM Darcy Regier. They have been working together in Buffalo for a long time. However, at some point he's going to need to see a little more production from a roster that is highly compensated. When you spend, you expect results.

In 14 seasons as an NHL coach, all in Buffalo, Ruff's teams are 556-442-78 with two division titles and one Stanley Cup Final appearance, back in 1998-99.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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