Every season, there’s typically a carousel of firings and hirings of head coaches as a result of a lack of performing to expectations. Sometimes, mid-season firings can result in interim coaches taking the reins and leading the team into a deep playoff run, like Craig Berube of the St Louis Blues or Dominique Ducharme in Montreal.
As we’ve seen in the past, especially with the Washington Capitals, a coach’s voice can get stale in the locker room and players no longer respond to the message. On the other hand, there’s the chance that a team gets out to a slow start when they had high expectations entering the season, and general managers are left with no choice but to move on from their coach.
In this post, I’ll take a look at coaches who enter the 2022-23 season on the “hot seat”. Career records and other statistics used in this post are courtesy of Hockey Reference.
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
The soon-to-be 42-year-old head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been excellent in the three seasons he’s been at the helm. His coaching record of 116-50-19 is nothing to scoff at, but the story has been that the Maple Leafs have not reached the second round of the playoffs since 2003-04 when they reached the Conference Semi-Finals.
The expectations will be high as the pressure around Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas also grows. The Maple Leafs’ core group, and large chunk of their salary cap, are high-skilled forwards, but their roster construction has been criticized due to a lack of a true number one defenseman and a franchise level goaltender.
With the Leafs entering the 2022-23 season with a goaltending tandem of Matt Murray and former Capital Ilya Samsonov, their season rests on the boom-or-bust potential of those two netminders.
Expect to see the Leafs and Dubas move on from Keefe if the Leafs don’t go on a deep playoff run this season.
DJ Smith, Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators’ General Manager Pierre Dorion made waves this offseason by acquiring Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks, trading for Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild, and signing Ottawa native Claude Giroux in free agency. Dorion is signaling to his team (and the rest of the league) that he believes that the Senators are ready to start competing for the playoffs. With those two additions and existing core pieces like Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Thomas Chabot, the Senators are shaping up to be vastly improved.
Smith has been a solid bench boss for the rebuilding Senators and deserves a chance to lead the young team to playoff contention. But with Dorion’s expectations around the team’s competitive level, it would not be surprising to see Smith ousted if the Senators aren’t in a playoff spot after the first couple months of the season.
Dallas Eakins, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are in an interesting spot entering the 2022-23 season. They had to watch their rival in Los Angeles jumpstart their rebuild by qualifying for the playoffs last season when expectations were low. Anaheim’s longtime GM Bob Murray was fired early in 2022 and replaced with Pat Verbeek. Many times, we’ve seen GMs fire the existing head coach to replace them with someone they’ve handpicked for the role.
Eakins has been with Anaheim since the 2019-20 season and has yet to make the playoffs as an NHL head coach in parts of five seasons in the role in his career. With Verbeek supplementing the roster by signing Ryan Strome (previously with the New York Rangers) and John Klingberg (previously with the Dallas Stars), it appears that he’s signaling that the Ducks’ rebuild is close to ending. With their young stars in Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, as well as existing core pieces like Cam Fowler and John Gibson, Anaheim could move on from Eakins this season.
Peter Laviolette, Washington Capitals
Prior to the 2020-21 season, the Capitals signed Laviolette to a three-year contract to help lead the Capitals back to the heights they experienced when hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2018. Since the Cup win, the Capitals have not gotten out of the first round of the playoffs.
With Laviolette entering the final year of his deal, it would be financially feasible for the Capitals to move on from Laviolette if the performance during the early parts of the season is below expectations.
Capitals’ GM Brian MacLellan went out in free agency and addressed the team’s biggest issue since Braden Holtby’s departure: the lack of a franchise goaltender. With the signing of Darcy Kuemper, the expectation will be that the Capitals will qualify for the playoffs and make a deep run in the playoffs.
With the injuries to Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom, there will be some difficulties getting there. But with the additions of Dylan Strome and Connor Brown, holes in the top six should be filled while Wilson and Backstrom are on the mend.
In the final year of his three-year deal, at what point do the #ALLCAPS (re)sign Peter Laviolette to a contract extension?
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) August 29, 2022
If the Capitals aren’t in a playoff spot in the standings by Thanksgiving, it would not be a shock if Laviolette was shown the door. At the very least, if the Capitals don’t get out of the first round of the playoffs, Laviolette is unlikely to be retained.
By Justin Trudel