There are currently four head coaching vacancies in the NHL. The Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference and the San Jose Sharks are the lone Western Conference team in need of a bench boss.
Four openings is actually not that out of the ordinary. To give you an idea of just how unstable of a position being a NHL head coach is, 24 of the 30 teams in the league have had at least one coaching change since the start of the 2011 season. That is 80% of the league turning over its leadership at some point in the past four seasons.
Of those 24 teams that have changed coaches, six of them have done it more than once in this short time span (the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers both used an interim coach that was not retained for the following season, so I’m not counting those as coaching changes thus they aren’t among the six).
The Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, the Flyers and Leafs all have had three coaches in four years (the Leafs dismissed interim coach Peter Horachek, so technically they are looking at number four). The Buffalo Sabres will be hiring their fourth coach in four seasons at some point this offseason, and the Edmonton Oilers are likely to move on from current interim coach Todd Nelson, which would mean they would be hiring their fifth coach since the lockout.
Stability isn’t a trend in the NHL when it comes to head coaches. While there are currently only four openings at the position league wide, that number is highly likely to change before the draft comes along on June 26th.
The Oilers, as already mentioned, are going to look long and hard at bringing in someone other than Nelson to be their man to develop generational talent Connor McDavid.
The St. Louis Blues might look to dismiss Ken Hitchcock after another first round exit, the third straight for the Blues under Hitchcock’s guidance. They also suffered a season ending sweep in the second round in his first year at the helm.
Hearing the @NHLBLUES will fire Ken Hitchcock this week. Former San Jose coach Todd McLellan will be high on their short list.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) April 26, 2015
The Boston Bruins have already fired their general manager, Peter Chiarelli. Claude Julien surprisingly survived that purge. The Bruins, and more specifically their President Cam Neely, may just leave that decision up to whomever is brought in to be the new GM.
The New Jersey Devils currently have the weirdest possible coaching situation, with Adam Oates and Scott Stevens acting as co-coaches with GM Lou Lamoriello also involved. It’s hard to see Oates and Stevens agreeing to that scenario for the 2015-16 season. One, if not both, of the Devils’ co-coaches will likely not be behind the bench for the next season.
That leaves the most fascinating position that is in flux.
The Detroit Red Wings will play a game 7 in their playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they lose, it could be the last game that Mike Babcock is behind the Detroit bench. His contract expires at the end of the season. Today’s Slapshot’s own Franklin Steele covered the uniqueness of Babcock’s position, but his decision is the key free agent move of this NHL offseason. If he re-signs with the Red Wings, coaching dominoes will fall into place rather quickly. If he goes to the open market, things will get nutty.
Should Mike Babcock enter the free agent fray, multiple teams will open the checkbook for him. Toronto’s interest is well documented. The Flyers will be in the hunt in a major way. The Oilers have already made a major change, naming Peter Chiarelli their new GM and they will likely be in hot pursuit of Babcock as well. The Sharks would be crazy to not go hard for a Stanley Cup winning coach. The Kings may decide pursuing Babcock is better than dealing with friction between the players and current coach Darryl Sutter.
The Babcock decision is going to have huge ripple effects throughout the league. Coaches currently on the market, such as Todd McLellan and former Penguin coach Dan Bylsma, may be spectators until the Red Wing season is over. Top AHL coaching candidates, like Hershey Bears’ coach Troy Mann, Manchester Monarchs leader Mike Strothers and Utica Comet coach and recent NHL’er Travis Green may have to wait another year before getting serious NHL consideration. That doesn’t even take into account what the Red Wings will do to replace Babcock if he leaves.
Four coaching vacancies is a fairly normal number for this time of year. Chances are, that number doesn’t stay at four much longer. And normalcy is about to go out the window.