Entering the 2021-22 NHL season, many coaches are on the hot seat due to their respective teams’ lack of success in the regular-season or Stanley Cup Playoffs. NoVa Caps looks at five head coaches who could be on the hot seat this season.
Jeremy Colliton — Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four seasons in 2020-21, when they finished nine points behind the Nashville Predators for the fourth spot in the Central Division. In the one year under Colliton that the Blackhawks made it, they were the last team into the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference and beat an Edmonton Oilers team with weak depth and whose goalies posted a tournament-worst .8554 five-on-five save percentage.
Though the Blackhawks did better than they were expected to last season when captain Jonathan Toews missed the entire year with a medical issue and they relied on three inexperienced goalies, expectations are higher this season after adding reigning Vezina Trophy goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Seth Jones, and center Tyler Johnson.
Under Colliton, the Blackhawks have gone 86-83-24 (.508 points percentage – 23rd in NHL over that time) averaging 3.05 goals-per-game (13th), 3.28 goals-against per game (26th), 19.3% power-play efficiency (tied for 19th), and a 77.1% penalty-killing rate (30th).
It is not a given that the Blackhawks qualify for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs given the amount of talent in the Central Division, but they are expected to be in the mix for a wild-card spot. If they are not, changes might be coming in Chicago.
Alain Vigneault — Philadelphia Flyers
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in nine seasons in a year where they were expected to take a step forward, Vigneault could find himself on the hot seat.
The Flyers showed that they are going for a big season with multiple moves but made some questionable transactions with the additions of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and goaltender Martin Jones. While they made a couple of good signings of defenseman Ryan Ellis and right-wing Cam Atkinson, they did not get much better when they acquired Atkinson from the Columbus Blue Jackets for right-wing Jakub Voracek, and adding Ellis may not be enough if Jones and Carter Hart do not have bounce back years in the crease.
Last season, the Flyers went 15-20-5 after an 8-3-2 start and allowed the most goals-against per game (3.52) in the NHL. They also finished 30th with a 73.1% penalty-killing rate. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ average of 2.86 goals-per-game (15th) was arguably disappointing.
The Flyers signaled this summer that they think the upcoming season is a big one for them but made a couple of questionable moves that have the possibility of being busts. If that happens, expect even more changes to be made in Philadelphia.
Dave Tippett — Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers flamed out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of Tippett’s two seasons behind the bench as they have gone 1-7 in the postseason during his tenure.
While the Oilers have the two best point-producers in the game in centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they always combine for a majority of their goals and the Oilers’ depth players do not compliment them adequately.
This summer, GM Ken Holland made some questionable moves with the additions of defensemen Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci, combined with the losses of Adam Larsson and Ethan Bear, that may put the Oilers on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin. Though it is not Tippett’s fault, Holland made the moves in a push to go for a Stanley Cup this season. If Tippett does not deliver, Edmonton could look to make a change behind the bench.
Even though Tippett did not choose his goalie tandem, it is a weakness that has dragged the Oilers down in the past two seasons and they made no changes to their tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Bad goaltending will expose a lot of weaknesses and it got Gerard Gallant fired from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019-20.
The Oilers have gone 72-44-11 (.61 points percentage – 11th) with averages of 3.20 goals-per-game (ninth), 2.91 goals-against per game (tied for 19th), 28.6% power play efficiency (first), and 83.6% penalty killing rate (third) under Tippett.
Mike Sullivan — Pittsburgh Penguins
Since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in Sullivan’s first two seasons, the Penguins have gone 9-16-1 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 3-10-1 over the past three seasons.
The Penguins have had quite a few injuries over the past handful of seasons and Sullivan has done a great job in terms of coaching tactics but it has not shown on the ice. As the NHL’s current longest-tenured head coach, Pittsburgh may find that it may be time for a change if they cannot get closer to a fourth Stanley Cup in the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era.
The Penguins did not make any significant changes over the summer and the core of Crosby (34 years old), Malkin (35), and defenseman Kris Letang (34) are all in their mid-30s, signaling that the group as a whole is declining. Goaltending is a big question mark heading into the season for the Penguins after Tristan Jarry posted an .888 save percentage in the first round last season as it expose some holes in the Penguins’ game.
The Penguins are viewed as a bubble team in the Eastern Conference for this season and if they are on the outside looking in, Sullivan could be in hot water.
The Penguins are 251-131-43 (.641 points percentage – third) with averages of 3.31 goals-per-game (second), 2.82 goals-against per game (14th), a 23.1% power-play efficiency (first), and a 80.5 penalty killing rate (16th) in the regular season under Sullivan.
Jared Bednar — Colorado Avalanche
Bednar has come a long way as the Avalanche were dead last in the NHL by 21 points in his first season behind the bench, squeaked into the Stanley Cup Playoffs the next two seasons, surprised in their first two appearances with him behind the bench, and have become one of the league’s elite teams the past two years. However, they have disappointed in the postseason as they have fallen in the second round both times despite dominant first rounds.
After winning the first two games of their second-round series against the Golden Knights last season, the Avalanche lost four straight by a combined scored of 17-8.
The Avalanche lost a lot of depth over the offseason after right-wing Joonas Donskoi, defenseman Ryan Graves, left-wing Brandon Saad, goaltender Philipp Grubauer, and center Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare left and while they have the talent in their system to replace them, there is always a chance it does not pan out. If Bednar cannot get the most of the replacements come when it matters, Colorado could look for a change behind the bench.
In five seasons under Bednar, the Avalanche have gone 184-149-39 (.547 points percentage – tied for 19th) while averaging 2.99 goals-per-game (tied for 10th), 2.90 goals-against per game (18th), a 19.8 power-play efficiency (15th), and an 80.4% penalty killing rate (16th).
By Harrison Brown