5 NHL coaches under the gun

Long-haul hope springs eternal for NHL clubs in October, but there's also a need for some coaches to post immediate results, or else.
Peter Laviolette is the only Eastern Conference conference coach who has won a Stanley Cup, but he faces challenges in Carolina. ((Gerry Broome/Associated Press))

Long-haul hope springs eternal for NHL clubs in October, but there's also a need for most coaches to post immediate results, or else.

Two seasons ago, St. Louis, Columbus, Philadelphia and Chicago all made coaching changes before December.

Some of those teams made modest gains after the switch, but none compared with how the Washington Capitals fared last season when Bruce Boudreau took the helm after 21 games.

Boudreau took an uninspired crew and infused an offensive style, with the team winning two-thirds of its remaining games for the franchise's first playoff berth in five years.

You can debate whether a 61-game NHL coaching neophtye should win the Jack Adams award when Mike Babcock has inexplicably never won it, but it was clear that Boudreau knew how to lead.

To consider which coaches could be in jeopardy of not lasting the entire 2008-09 season, conduct the following exercise: Go through each NHL club and consider whether the coach would remain if the team won just five of its first 20 games, or 10 of its first 30 or so.

The nine new coaches aren't going to be let go so capriciously, and there are at least that number who either earned another full season after 2007-08 success or are entrenched veterans — Boudreau and Claude Julien being in the first category, and Lindy Ruff and Dave Tippett among those in the latter group.

That only leaves, at most, about a dozen candidates who could be sent packing before the season is out. Here are five of those candidates:

Peter Laviolette, Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have yet to reappear in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Part of that had to do with injuries, but the Carolina brass also ended up paying the price for showing too much loyalty to some aging veterans who by last season were no better than serviceable.

The defence has been retooled and while not without question marks, it is now younger. Goalie Michael Leighton will get a crack at being Cam Ward's backup and can't do any worse than the lamentable John Grahame.

The injury bug has already hit the team again, which may buy Laviolette some leeway.

Dependable veterans Scott Walker and Justin Williams are out with long-term injuries, so how much the coach gets out of the likes of young players Tuomo Ruutu, Chad Larose and Brandon Sutter will be important to the incumbent's future employment.

Andy Murray, St. Louis Blues

Murray's Blues are following the same script as his first NHL club, the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings improved under Murray's charge but then levelled off.

St. Louis won 27 of its last 54 games after Murray took over in 2006-07, getting an extra point for an overtime loss on nine other occasions. But last season, the Blues won just five of their last 23 games.

Low expectations for the club, amplified by losing former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson to a season-long injury, will probably mean that Murray stays for a while. He has the reputation of being a tough coach, but several of his players willingly came along when he coached Canada at the 2007 world championships.

St. Louis is going to ice a lot of young players this season, so it'll be up to the veterans to help determine his fate. Paul Kariya, Jay McKee and Eric Brewer all underperformed last year.

Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks

New general manager Mike Gillis didn't hire Vigneault but was satisfied with keeping the coach after a series of meetings. Vigneault's propensity to juggle his forward lines has worn on his players in the past and despite boasting goaltender Roberto Luongo, Vancouver's penalty killing was average last season.

Preseason records don't mean a ton, but the Canucks did as well as anybody could have expected, which might actually work against Vigneault.

Add to that the fact there is no clear favourite in the Northwest Division. The division lead figures to be within reach for most of the five clubs throughout the season, so it could be tempting for a Northwest GM to make a second-half coaching change in a bid to push a struggling team ahead by a nose.

Vigneault won the Jack Adams trophy just 18 months ago, but it's an unforgiving business. If a Canadian-based coach is to be let go before the end of the season, he is probably the top candidate.

Tom Renney, New York Rangers

What works in Renney's favour is the fact that there's no single player on the Rangers who predates the lockout, with several new faces this season. So if he has lost a particular player, there are probably many more who haven't been around long enough to tire of his message.

What could work against Renney is his relative longevity — he's into his fourth season and New York appears to have hit a plateau.

The beginning of the season is a challenge for the club. After a short break following two games in Europe, the Rangers have an early stretch of seven games in 11 nights.

If the team struggles, there's not a lot of room to manoeuvre as it's up against the salary cap. That's not Renney's fault, but he could pay the price.

While most NHL teams would be susceptible if their top goalie went down, Henrik Lundqvist's health is particularly paramount to Renney and the Rangers. Steve Valiquette has played 25 career NHL games, and the Rangers don't have anyone with much experience in the American Hockey League.

Denis Savard, Chicago Blackhawks

Savard isn't on the hot seat by any stretch, but he's the final choice, edging out his former bench boss Mike Keenan in Calgary.

Nearly every hockey pundit is picking the Blackhawks to make the Western Conference playoffs for the first time in seven years, and the fans are finally stoked in Chicago. Management opened up the coffers to sign veteran defenceman Brian Campbell and goalie Cristobal Huet to complement a talented young core.

Savard is heading towards the two-year mark and, admittedly, it would take a really big tank job by the Blackhawks out of the gate to threaten his job security. If Chicago merely struggles a bit below expectations in the first half, he's probably not going anywhere.