John Tortorella among NHL coaches who could be sent packing soon

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

John Tortorella is one of several coaches who are on the hot seat. (USATSI)
John Tortorella is one of several coaches who are on the hot seat. (USATSI)

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As the NHL regular season winds down, so too may be the time some head coaches around the league have behind their current benches. For teams missing the playoffs and even a few that remain in the mix, this is the time of year when plans start being made to hand out pink slips.

There are a number of NHL coaches at risk of losing their jobs at this point. It's always the same story. For some, it is a result of disastrous seasons, the kind that call for a fall guy and it's almost always the guy with dry erase marker stains on his hands. In other scenarios, it's due to falling short of higher expectations. In others, it may just be time for a change at the top.

Coaches are easier to replace than players and general managers it seems. It's not always fair, but that's pro sports. Here's a list of several NHL coaches who should be on alert over the coming weeks.

John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks

For all of the run-ins with everyone from players to media to the league office over his four-plus years with the New York Rangers, it seems like John Tortorella has packed a lot into his time with the Vancouver Canucks.

There was the infamous run-in with the Calgary Flames in which Tortorella attempted to enter their dressing room to engage opposing coach Bob Hartley. That earned the fiery head coach a 15-day suspension from the league. There have been players requesting trades, like star Ryan Kesler. Then there was the decision not to start Roberto Luongo at the Heritage Classic, the final straw that ended with the goaltender leaving town. All of that and the Canucks are floundering in the standings, currently six points out of the last wild-card spot.

Through all that, it sounds like Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has reached a breaking point. In an interview with Team 1040 radio in Vancouver, Gillis issued a thinly veiled threat: "If people don't want to get on side with how I view this team and how it's supposed to play then they won't be here, just like six years ago," he said. Gillis qualified his comments with the fact that he may be gone by the end of the year, too.

It's hard to see a scenario in which Tortorella is brought back to Vancouver if Gillis is still the general manager. If Gillis is not retained, then it may be up to whoever his replacement is, but it doesn't seem like Tortorella will be long for this job with Vancouver and he may have a tougher time finding a new gig than he did last time around based on how bad things got with the Canucks this year.

Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs successfully stopped the bleeding on their massive losing streak, but the team is still one point out of a playoff spot with four games to go. Should the Leafs make it, it may buy Carlyle time, but one would have to think the Leafs can't just make the playoffs for Carlyle to retain his job.

The Maple Leafs have been a streaky team all year and the eight-game losing skid that significantly marred Toronto's playoff hopes was as damaging to Carlyle as it was anyone else. It is highly unlikely Dave Nonis is going to be shown the door in his second season as GM, but if Toronto doesn't make the playoffs or is ousted in the first round, someone is going to have to take the fall. Carlyle is the easy target.

Adam Oates, Washington Capitals

It has been a rather odd season in Washington. The Caps are still just barely hanging on in the playoff hunt with four points between them and a wild-card spot with six games remaining. However, in this roller coaster of a season, with some really low lows, the Capitals organization may need to do some self-reflecting.

This is a team that was a perennial playoff contender but has spent the past few seasons just getting by. With a roster full of talent up front, the results in a weakened Eastern Conference really shouldn't be viewed as anything but unacceptable. That said, the Caps are clearly deficient on defense and the goaltending hasn't been able to bail them out.

In recent weeks, and at various points of the season, Oates has come under fire for player utilization, namely pairing Alex Ovechkin on a line with a grinder like Jay Beagle. Oates also recently called out his captain for quitting on a play, which was warranted, but also showed there may be some trouble in paradise.

General manager George McPhee may also find himself in hot water when this season is done, but someone is going to have to be held accountable. If not McPhee, it's probably going to be the second-year head coach.

Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators

The longest-tenured head coach in the NHL was dealt a pretty bad hand this season. Pekka Rinne's injury and a dearth of high-scoring talent up front have contributed to another forgettable season in Nashville. The thing about Trotz is that he has never really done anything to deserve to be fired. He has guided this team from its expansion season on and has gotten a lot out of his rosters.

Unfortunately, the Predators are a team in limbo. With an inability to attract top free agents, it becomes harder for this team to get better quickly. Nashville will miss the playoffs for the second straight year after two years of encouraging playoff runs just before that.

If Trotz were to get canned, there would probably be a number of NHL teams at the ready to sign him. I don't think Trotz has done anything to deserve to be fired, but it may be a time for a change in Nashville after 15 years.

Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators

Earlier this week, Senators general manager Bryan Murray had an opportunity to give MacLean a vote of confidence, but didn't. That may mean nothing, but it certainly can fuel speculation that the recent Jack Adams Award winner is not necessarily secure at this point.

"I don't have any definite answer but Paul has got a contract going forward," Murray told TSN 1200 (via the Ottawa Sun). "He was Coach of the Year last year. I don't know what happened this year necessarily as far as performance is concerned.

"I think he is a very good coach. I think he has the ear of the players in the room. We've had some really tough outings. It's shared among a lot of people, myself included. We thought our team was better. We thought we had enough skill here to offset a couple of things we were missing last year."

That obviously hasn't been the case. Despite the fact that the Sens had to go through the turmoil of losing Daniel Alfredsson last summer, they still put a roster together that should be better, which makes falling short extra frustrating.

Peter Horachek, Florida Panthers

The first-year head coach of the Panthers is still working under the interim tag and has guided the team to a 24-33-4 record since taking over from Kevin Dineen. What makes Horachek's future a little less stable is the recent dismissal of Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos, who brought Horachek into the organization. General manager Dale Tallon has disputed that Horachek's fate is tied to Santos', but other factors make it seem like the new bench boss shouldn't get too comfortable.

Tallon has a lot of big decisions to make in the coming months. The question he'll have to answer is if Horachek is the right man to lead this team as it restructures with youth. Tallon may want to wipe the slate clean and firing Santos may have been an indication of what the future holds.

Jack Capuano, New York Islanders

Another coach who could be the victim of lofty expectations, Capuano's future has to be uncertain. Oddly enough, however, there hasn't been a lot of chatter about Capuano being on the hot seat even as the Islanders slug along to a 31-35-10 record after making the postseason last year.

Capuano is in his fourth season with the team and though he hasn't exactly been handed a superstar roster, the Islanders' continued inability to compete with the big boys of the Eastern Conference has to be a point of frustration.

Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild

Minnesota has had its ups and downs this season, battling through injuries and having played about a million different goalies, but it remains firmly in the playoff hunt. That said, general manager Chuck Fletcher has made moves to make this team better. Now they need to see results.

The Wild are going to be in the postseason, but that may not be enough for Yeo to save his job. It will be tough for the Wild to make it out of the first round though, which would be important for Yeo's future. This is a team that needs to see improvement in the postseason. If it doesn't come, Yeo could be sent packing in favor of a more experienced NHL head coach.

Kirk Muller, Carolina Hurricanes

In Muller's third season with the club, the Canes will almost certainly miss the playoffs for the third time. Muller was a hot name when he was available and the results at the NHL level have not matched the hype.

On top of that, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford is expected to step down at the end of the season, which could signal sweeping changes within the organization. That's usually not a good sign for the head coach.

There could be a few other coaches on high alert like Edmonton's Dallas Eakins, though it's hard to see the Oilers pulling the plug so quickly on him. Also, the status of Winnipeg's Paul Maurice remains unclear as he has not yet signed a long-term contract with the club after taking over midseason.

It's probably not going to be a fun couple of weeks for some of these head coaches as they await what the future holds for them.

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