If the last 10 years are any indication, we should expect a few coaching changes over the upcoming season. There were 11 coaching changes so far since the calendar turned to 2009. That means over 1/3 of the teams have a new guy behind the bench. So, is there anyone left to fire? Also consider, there are only 2 coaches left in the league who have been in place for more than 4 years (and we're predicting both of those streaks will come to an end). Here are the top 7 coaches most likely to be out of work by the end of the season:
#7 - Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators
It's been an amazing run for the second longest tenured coach in the league. Conventional wisdom would have had him gone several times already, but the Nashville brass was wise and patient enough to stick with their guy. The problem is in going forward, things are changing, and they're not for the good in Music Town. First off, the Central Division is quickly transforming from the worst in the league, to perhaps the best. Everyone is getting better, while Nashville is standing still. Possibly even retreating. Off the ice, things still aren't stable with the organization. The Phoenix situation has made most fans forget that Nashville is still dealing with ownership problems, too. When that happens, and a team slides out of the playoff picture, the coach sometimes suffers. Even a fixture like Trotz is not immune.
#6 - Jacques Martin, Montreal Canadiens
Martin may go down in history as the shortest live coach in franchise history. He has yet to step behind the bench, but you have to believe he's already at risk. Consider the recent history in Montreal. The team is in a freefall, and Gainey has shown in the past 6 months, he'll do anything to hang on to his own skin, including hanging an effective coach out to dry. Couple that with the fact that there's a new owner in town. Gainey himself may be on his way out soon, and when a new GM comes in, his first order of business is usually to name his own coach. Particularly if the team's not performing well. Doesn't seem far-fetched to see Martin back on the market come spring.
#5 - Lindy Ruff, Buffalo Sabres
The other long-tenured veteran out there may be nearing the end of the line in 2009. The Sabres have underperformed over the past few years, resulting in some time off from the postseason. Sabres fans have had next to nothing to be excited about lately, and sooner or later, that's going to result in fans staying home from hockey and watching T.O. catch balls on Sunday. This is a make-or-break season for Ruff. If the Sabres aren't in the playoff picture in January, look for the ax to fall.
#4 - Peter Deboer, Florida Panthers
It's not that Deboer is necessarily doing anything wrong. He got the Panthers within a sniff of the playoffs last season. It's another case of a new GM in a town that needs change and needs to reach the playoffs to stay viable. If the Panthers struggle out of the gate, Deboer may be the fall guy.
#3 - Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks
Same story once again. Vigneault is a carry over from the previous administration. These situations very seldomly work out in favor of the coach. That is, unless the team is meeting expectations, which the Canucks have not. Vancouver has had some decent teams over the past 5 years, but it hasn't translated into any kind of post-season success. Despite the big investments in players like Luongo and Sundin, Vancouver has been an easy first round matchup in the playoffs. The team didn't keep pace with the division this summer in terms of improving the roster, but Canucks fans will hold this team accountable if they don't start to succeed. Once again, fans and management will start the blame game with the man who has been behind the bench for the past 3 years. If the Canucks aren't leading the division by the Olympic break, there will be a new coach in town.
#2 - Rick Tocchett, Tampa Bay Lightning
Sure, it's not necessarily Tocchett's fault that this franchise is in shambles, and it doesn't necessarily make sense to fire a guy who hasn't been around for a full year. But when's the last time anything made sense in Tampa Bay? The Lightning will most likely continue their freefall this season and miss the playoffs yet again. At some point, the squabbling owner/mgmt squad will take it out on the coach. And it will probably happen in the midst of a winning streak. Look for the Lightning to hire Paul Newman after Oren Koules catches a rerun of Slapshot on TBS.
#1 - Wayne Gretzky, Phoenix Coyotes
It seem sacreligious to some to think that Wayne Gretzky could be fired, but when you look objectively at the situation, #99 is first in line to get canned this fall. First off, consider his record. Four seasons in the desert, and the team has yet to drink from the post-season fountain. Any other coach in any other town would have been fired already. As passionate and knowledgable as the man is, it is conceivable that he's just not coaching material. Playing and coaching are two different skills altogether, and there's nothing in the books that shows the Gretzky has what it takes to get this team where they need to be. Consider also that the Coyotes were in 5th place late last season, only to collapse down the stretch. Add to the mix the chaos outside of the rinks. When a new owner arrives, down't be surprised to see him cleaning house altogether. Gretzky may remain in some capacity, but there will be a new man behind the bench before Christmas.