Some NHL teams are getting ready to start the playoffs. Others are getting ready to fire their coaches.
And some general managers will see how their teams fare in postseason play before making any decision on their bench leaders.
This has been a tumultuous year for NHL coaches and more change may be in order. Here are some of the coaches we’re wondering about:
Randy Cunneyworth, Canadiens. Montreal GM Pierre “The Ghost” Gauthier named him as interim coach after firing Jacques Martin. Now Gauthier has vanished as the ownership-dictated overhaul is about to begin. Cunneyworth did nothing during his brief regime to suggest he should remain. Fans are clamoring for the favorite son Patrick Roy to step behind the bench.
Todd Richards, Blue Jackets: He courageously stepped in for Scott Arniel on an interim basis this season. With GM Scott Howson likely to get cashiered, Columbus figures to hit the “restart” button with a new coach as well as a new front office. Try as he might, Richards wasn't able to wring a whole lot more out of this disappointing bunch.
Jack Capuano, Islanders: His team packed it in down the stretch. His exasperation peaked when he rolled out five defensemen on a shift while sending a message to his unenthusiastic forwards. Under normal circumstances that would signal “lost command” to ownership, but Charles Wang owns this team. Wang being Wang, he told the MSG Network that Capuano and his GM, Garth Snow, were safe. Long-suffering Isle fans groaned.
Brent Sutter, Flames: The losing finally got to one of the calmer Sutter brothers. Brent blew up after a recent loss and had to be calmed by GM Jay Feaster. Calgary needs to start over from scratch, since cornerstone players Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff are high-mileage veterans and the franchise hasn’t developed its next generation of talent. Sutter has an expiring contract.
“You feel like you could have done more,” Sutter recently told Calgary reporters. “You feel like, ‘OK what more could you do? What else could you do to help them?’ You feel bad for them. You feel bad for the organization. You feel bad for the fans. You feel like you let everybody down.”
Todd McLellan, Sharks: His job security has been a popular Bay Area sports topic for some time now. This big-salaried team has been a baffling underachiever. With San Jose threatening to miss the playoffs entirely, fan unrest is about to boil over. The Sharks paying proven scorers big dollars to not score this season.
Dale Hunter, Capitals: He agreed to try the whole NHL head-coaching thing on an interim basis. His contract runs only until season’s end. He is free to return to his OHL franchise in London, Ont., when the season is done. Hunter has kept the Capitals in playoff contention, but Washington’s goals are much greater. Is Hunter the man to get Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green back on track? Or is he better off returning to coach teenagers?
Lindy Ruff, Sabres: New owner Terry Pegula spent a ton of money hoping to build a Stanley Cup contender. What Buffalo got instead was a team struggling to stay in the playoff hunts. Injuries played a huge factor in this team’s midseason swoon. The team’s belated rally put Ruff in a more favorable light. Buffalo is within two points of the last playoff spot. But if Ruff misses the playoffs, will he finally lose his Coach for Life standing?
Joe Sacco, Avalanche: His three-year deal expires after this season. While Sacco has kept Colorado in the playoff hunt with a lot of youngsters in his mix, he hasn’t done enough to earn a contract extension. His team sits in 10th place entering the final week of the regular season, so he needs to win his last two games of the season to help himself.
Tom Renney, Oilers: He has done solid work as orientation leader for the various high-end Edmonton prospects. But after finishing miles below .500 the past two seasons, he is not big fan favorite in that part of Alberta.
“The circumstances around the Oilers are little bit different than they were in the past. We are rebuilding,” Renney told the Edmonton Journal last month. “The bottom line is this team has to keep improving and we should be evaluated at the end of the year. The team (players) and I’d certainly include myself in there. I have no problem with that. I’ll stand up front and centre and discuss my body of work, honestly.”
Mike Yeo, Wild: Is he a fiery first-year coach or an out-of-control, in-over-his-head coach? When Minnesota went south after a fast start, Yeo couldn’t stop the bleeding. Injuries hurt his cause and logic dictates that Yeo will get a second season at the helm. But his mercurial behavior makes you wonder if he has what it takes to lead Minnesota back into playoff contention.