Playoff races are heating up as the regular season hits the home stretch. Consequently, a select few coaches are also feeling the heat. A few coaches that could find themselves in the unemployment line come season’s end.
Todd McLellan – San Jose
Seat Temperature: Scalding
This may be a slam dunk firing. The Sharks are likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season. Todd McLellan has been patrolling the Sharks’ bench since the 2008-09 season where he helped guide them to a Pacific Division title… and a first round exit. To his credit, the Sharks made back to back appearances in the Western Conference Finals in 2010 and 2011, but that’s as deep as they’ve played into the postseason. It isn’t necessarily the failed playoff runs; it’s the massive underachievement with the players he’s been given. Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski; early on in his tenure, he had Milan Michalek, Dany Heatly, Devin Setoguchi, and Brent Burns, among others. Multiple publications have picked the Sharks to hoist the Cup during McLellan’s stay in San Jose. This upcoming offseason may be as good a time as any for GM Doug Wilson to blow this roster up and start over. For a team that’s expected to compete each season, missing the post season could (and should) force the Sharks to show McLellan the door.
Ken Hitchcock – St. Louis
Seat Temperature: Uncomfortably Warm
It’s difficult to envision a scenario where Ken Hitchcock is the coach of the St. Louis Blues for the 2015-16 season. That is, of course, assuming they come out with another lackluster showing in the first round. There may not be a franchise more mired in mediocrity and sky high expectations than the St. Louis Blues. They, like the Sharks, have been a popular pick to go the distance in recent seasons. Unfortunately for Hitch’s Blues, they haven’t made it beyond the second round since he’s been in St. Louis. And honestly, I would hardly count their series against LA in 2012 as showing up in the second round as they were unceremoniously swept. The core group of players – Oshie, Backes, Steen, Pietrangelo, Tarasenko – have been lights out in the regular seasons, but like many of their past Blues brethren, they go MIA in the playoffs. I’ve watched this team since I was ten years old and have been there for every disappointing, heart-wrenching playoff exit. Ken Hitchcock has a winning pedigree and a Stanley Cup to his name while in Dallas. But at some point, there needs to be some significant progress towards bringing a championship to St. Louis. There are two more than capable candidates waiting in the wings with Bob Gainey and Kirk Muller should the Blues indeed part ways with Hitch. The only thing that could save his job at this point is a trip to the Conference Finals.
Dave Tippett – Arizona
Seat Temperature – Getting Warmer
Obviously, the Coyotes are in full-blown rebuild mode moving forward. There is no guarantee that Dave Tippett is a part of the Coyotes vision for the future. On the surface, one would have to believe he is still in the fold moving forward, especially if they are able to snag generational talents Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in this summer’s entry draft. There’s no telling how long it could take for the Coyotes to have a formidable presence in the West again. Tippett was brought in to maintain a winning club in Phoenix (or Arizona, call them what you want). He was given a five year extension in June of 2013, so he is still under contract for three more seasons. There have been no “White-Outs” in the desert since the magical run to the Conference Finals in 2011-12. In fairness, the Coyotes have been right on the cusp of the final playoff spot since each season since 2012. Obviously, 2014-15 will be far more disappointing after game 82. I don’t think it’s likely Tippett loses his job this summer, but the pressure is on heading into next season. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on should the Coyotes stumble out of the gate next year.
It’s worth noting that the New Jersey Devils will also have a head coaching position to fill this summer. Lou Lamoriello dismissed Peter DeBoer the day after Christmas and has used a sort of “coaching by committee”, using former Devils greats Adam Oates and Scott Stevens behind the bench. Lamoriello has also spent some time on the bench this season. Both Oates and Stevens are believed to be legitimate candidates going into next season. Oates spent two seasons as the coach of the Capitals in 2013 and 2014. He and GM George McPhee were relieved of their duties. Stevens has been with the Devils coaching staff since 2012.