NHL coaching hot-seat tiers

Adam Pantozzi/NHLI via Getty Images

During the 2017-18 season, the NHL coaches' seats were chilly. There were no in-season firings, with all of the action coming in the offseason, when six changes were made.

During the 2018-19 season, the seats were smoldering: Seven (!) coaching changes took place, as the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers all turfed their coaches before the end of 2018, followed by the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators in February and March 2019, respectively.

How many of these new faces behind the bench will remain there next season? And how many coaches will end up looking for work when the season's done?

Welcome to the final temperature check on coaching hot seats for 2018-19, as we examine which bench bosses are sitting comfortably, which ones are jumping around with their pants aflame and which ones should be worried because Joel Quenneville needs a job.


Willie Desjardins, Los Angeles Kings
Scott Gordon, Philadelphia Flyers
Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks

All of these guys are toast.

Murray is the easy call: He's also the general manager of the Ducks, and put himself behind the bench when he fired Randy Carlyle after 56 games, in order to better evaluate his roster. He won't return there next season. The speculation has been that Dallas Eakins would be elevated from the AHL San Diego Gulls to take over the Ducks, having cut his NHL coaching teeth during a brief 113-game stint with the Edmonton Oilers. But a source told us that Eakins may not actually be the direction Murray wants to go.

The second easiest call is Desjardins, who took over on an interim basis after John Stevens was fired and coached the Kings to a .448 points percentage -- the third straight campaign in which teams he coached had a .457 points percentage or less. There's been heavy speculation that GM Rob Blake would seek to entice former Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who coached Blake in San Jose, back to California. But there a number of other options out there.

(Total guess, but wouldn't Dave Tippett, the former Arizona Coyotes head coach who has been consulting with the Seattle expansion group, seem like a fit with either the Ducks or Kings?)

The path for Gordon to get the Flyers gig was to get the Flyers into the playoffs, which obviously didn't happen. He did get Philly to a .551 points percentage with a 25-20-4 record -- if the bar was set at "improvement over Dave Hakstol," then consider it cleared -- but new GM Chuck Fletcher is going to want a fresh start with his own guy, and Gordon is perfectly suited to return to the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Remember when Fletcher was hired by Philly and his "close ties" to Joel Quenneville -- his father Cliff gave 'Q' his first coaching job in 1991 -- created a cottage industry of rumors that Quenneville would take over the Flyers after taking some time off? We're not saying that won't happen, but Fletcher has ties to other former coaches, too, like Mike Yeo, whom Fletcher had both in Minnesota and in Pittsburgh.

One name to definitely watch for the Flyers, according to one source: McLellan.


Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild
Marc Crawford, Ottawa Senators
Ken Hitchcock, Edmonton Oilers

This is the first time a Boudreau team has missed the playoffs when he's coached it for a full season. The Wild were hit hard by injuries, and were a team teetering on the playoff bubble to begin with this season. He has one year left on his contract at just under $3 million, but has been a realist lately about his future. When asked about how good winger Ryan Donato will end up being, Boudreau said: "Personally I'd like to have it right now. I know what he's going to be in the future. I'd like to see something in the present."

The fact is that he was the rare coach to survive a new general manager (Paul Fenton) being hired in the offseason, and the following season resulted in a playoff miss. There are a slew of coaching candidates out there -- including one already on the Wild's bench in Dean Evason -- so this could be the end of Gabby in Minny.

Ken Hitchcock has but two hopes if he'd like to remain Connor McDavid's head coach: That the next general manager of the Oilers wants to keep him on, and the argument that his return next season would give Edmonton some sense of consistency after a chaotic year. But with other veteran coaches available -- Alain Vigneault, Dan Bylsma, Tippett -- and guys looking for their first shot -- like Flames assistant coach Geoff Ward, former Swedish national team coach and rising star Rikard Gronborg, and AHL coaches Pascal Vincent (Manitoba), Mike Vellucci (Charlotte) and Sheldon Keefe (Toronto) -- there are ample options.

At this point, it would be a surprise if either of those two returned. But it's not implausible.

Crawford is an interesting one. The way the Senators have played down the stretch after he replaced Guy Boucher has reportedly earned him some cache with ownership and management, especially with how they've played offensively. But with Belleville coach Troy Mann ready for a promotion, and a slew of players who Mann coached likely making up the roster next season, will Ottawa opt for younger (and cheaper) than a coach with 1,166 games to his credit?

His seat is still scorching because, frankly, Crawford doesn't have the greatest reputation as a head coach of young teams. But he's in the conversation to be the team's coach moving forward.


Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers
Phil Housley, Buffalo Sabres

Housley is in trouble. Teams don't go 3-18-3 down the stretch and have their coach not be in trouble. The effort of the Sabres in these final games is under the microscope. The effort was there in their 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators this week, at the very least.

A source tells us that he hasn't lost the team, and that he has some vocal defenders on the Sabres; none the least captain Jack Eichel. The exit interviews will be a key, however, in determining if Housley is back for Year 3. There are a lot of reasons why Buffalo was such a disappointment this season, and most of them have to do with construction over coaching. The Ryan O'Reilly trade was a dud. The defense remains paltry. They're below the league average in both save and shooting percentage.

The prediction here is that Housley comes back next season, with a short leash. There's something to be said for giving the Sabres a modicum of stability entering 2019-20. The question, however, is what the Pegulas think about that scenario, and how much GM Jason Botterill would fight for his guy should they want a change.

Boughner's also in trouble. You can point to the team's pathetic .891 save percentage and make it as simple as "blame the goalies," but the Panthers were flop in a season when the playoffs appeared attainable. Perhaps he'll be given the same short leash that we expect for Phil Housley. Or, perhaps, the Panthers end up with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and a new coach this offseason -- namely one that Dale Tallon previously hired in Chicago. If Quenneville believes this team can contend, that is.

Heating up

John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets

As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have yet to clinch a playoff spot with two games remaining in the regular season, but were in the drivers' seat to do so. If they make it in, one assumes Tortorella is safe, having signed a contract extension last September through 2021. If they don't ... well, one assumes he'll still be the coach next season given that extension, and given that GM Jarmo Kekalainen's own extension last September means his all-in move at the deadline won't cost him his gig either if it fails.

But what happens after another first-round exit? What happens if (when?) Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and potentially Matt Duchene all leave the team this summer? The heat gets turned up for everyone, that's what happens.

Bad summer air conditioning

Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues

Craig Berube is that room in your house during the summer where the window unit is pumping out the coldest air it can without the benefit of a freon refill. All the interim coach of the Blues has done is simplify their systems, reignite the forecheck and lead them from the conference basement to a playoff spot with a 36-19-5 record through his 60 games behind the bench. Yet GM Doug Armstrong remains non-committal to his future with the team.

The good news: Armstrong called off the coaching search once the Blues turned the corner on Berube's watch. The less good news: Armstrong is still in "let's talk when the season's over" mode, despite that success. Hey, maybe at the very least Berube comes back and the next head coach is hired as his assistant to learn the ropes for a year. Or are we not doing that ever again, St. Louis?

Basically sitting on an ice block

Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche
Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins
Jeremy Colliton, Chicago Blackhawks
Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
Peter DeBoer, San Jose Sharks
Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks
John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens
Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets
Jim Montgomery, Dallas Stars
Bill Peters, Calgary Flames
David Quinn, New York Rangers
Todd Reirden, Washington Capitals
Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes
Barry Trotz, New York Islanders

These coaches fall into one of the following categories:

  • Coaches with success this season that ensures they'll be back. (Bednar, Brind'Amour, Cassidy, Cooper, Gallant, Julien, Maurice, Montgomery, Peters, Reirden, Sullivan, Tocchet, Trotz)

  • Coaches who recently signed new contracts. (Blashill, DeBoer, Hynes)

  • Coaches who are part of the rebuild (Colliton, Green, Quinn)

  • Coaches whose general manager has only fired one coach in the past 20 seasons. (Laviolette)

  • Coaches who are only halfway through their $50 million contract. (Babcock)

All of them are safe, barring an unexpected phone call from Joel Quenneville to their respective general managers followed by an impulsive personnel decision.