Fire Me Up: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of the NHL Coach Firings
Welcome to another episode of The Apprentice: NHL Edition. Let’s quickly recap what’s happened: We watched a rare double elimination as Mike Yeo will be singing the blues on his way out of St.Louis, and Todd Mclellan found out his time had dried up with the Edmonton Oilers. Both coaches will now pack their bags and will be joining Joel Quenneville and John Stevens on the list of recent coaching castaways. Wait… what do you mean there’s no NHL edition of The Apprentice? I would’ve thought that with all the firings in the month of November, that Trump rallied up his old producing team and had aimed his sights at the defenseless coaches of the NHL. But I guess he may be a little too busy…
Almost every single organizations first reaction to the result of a poor start to their season is to fire the bench boss. In this calendar year alone we have watched big name coaches either have their name on the hot seat, or legitimately feel the scolding hot burn of being fired from their organizations. Now, none of these dismissals are as terrible as Toronto Raptors firing the Coach of the Year, or even as horrible of a storyline as the Florida Panthers making recently dismissed Gerard Gallant catch his own cab out of the stadium while playing an away game! I'm going to use this article to review the good, bad & ugly of the recent events. Let’s ease our way into the topic by discussing “the Good” of the firings. Mike Yeo.
Oh Mike Yeo, how easy it was to chose you as the good of these firings. Im not really entirely sure where it has all gone so wrong for Mike Yeo, but it’s obvious that something has. From the start of his NHL coaching days in Minnesota, Yeo has been handed a very healthy mix of legitimate talent. Savvy veterans mixed with exciting youngsters. While with the Wild organization, he saw the likes of Zach Parise AND Ryan Suter sign to the team in the same year, followed shortly by the team drafting Matt Dumba a year later. The furthest playoff round the Wild saw in his tenure was the second, losing out to the elite dynasty that was the Chicago Blackhawks.
Scanning through what was his roster in St.Louis, he had arguably an even more talented group top to bottom. In his first year with the Blues, he led them again to the second round, but this time he was ousted by the surprising wild card Nashville Predators. I don’t want to focus on his past as much, because when you really look at the numbers and his playoff experience, it seems almost every time Yeo was knocked out of the cup run, it was by the team who would represent the Western Conference. Also, when he was relieved of his duties for the first time in Minnesota, they were still a .500 team. But this firing is definitely not the same old song and dance kind of season for Yeo.
Sure there are major similarities in rosters, and as I mentioned earlier this Blues roster has more talent. On paper the Blues had arguably the deepest roster in the central division this season. Adding a star like Ryan O’Rielly (who is flourishing from this trade by the way), not to mention signing veterans like Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon to round out the bottom 6 forwards. Don’t forget this roster still has elite Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko and electric up & comers in Brayden Schenn and Robbie Fabbri. The issue with this roster is keeping the puck out of their own net; and quite frankly, their own end. Most of their players are into the negative side of the plus/minus category or are just barely breaking even.
What was the stout D-core of Pietrangelo & Bouwmeester is now aging (29 & 35), and appears to be a stride slower than the league this year. Don't even get me started about the question mark that is Jake Allen. It'd be the easy way out of this article to put all the blame on him. I truly believe it’s on Mike Yeo. I’m not sure if it’s just a lack of awareness, but he provides no defensive answers to stop high scoring offences. It could be that maybe he just has this inability to meet season expectations. But this was a definite step in the right direction for St.Louis to hopefully save all their offseason additions and the season itself. Perfect move, perfect time.
“The Bad” of this article was the absolute hardest for me to write. Not only because it’ll be covering two firings; but more importantly, because I am a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan. Watching them ship out one of the absolute best coaches to ever grace the game, hurt as much as an overtime series ending goal. It pierced as hard as Joel Quenneville’s razor stare itself. I’d love to dive into what I felt was an absolutely terrible decision by Chicago’s organization, and just rant on for pages on pages about how this is another step in a downward direction. However, there’s another coach that I feel was really deserving of sharing the “bad” category. John Stevens, the former head coach of the LA Kings, I'm sure was hearing the same swan song Quenneville did as Stevens learned he would no longer be the bench boss.
I truly believe the explanation for both of these firings are relatively the same. These coaches were just unfortunate casualties in what follows after seasons of being a “dynasty”. It is near impossible to forget the success these two franchises had in the time span of 2010-2015; Chicago winning three Lord Stanleys, with LA close behind winning two of their own. These teams were powerhouses, feared across the entire league. Some of the brightest, most talented stars in the game at that moment, dawning either jersey. But of course, like all great things, it must come to an end.
The honeymoon stage comes to a close and reality sets in. That reality looked very similar for both in the years that followed. All those talented stars I mentioned of course had to get paid when it was time (Toews and Kane for example). Both of these teams had done a relatively great job of keeping the core pieces around that led them to prior triumph. The huge names are still with the franchise, most of them signing long term, big money deals. Unfortunately that led to a lack of cap space for the “up & comers” or the supporting cast. Important role players to the system would start to find new homes with opportunity for bigger roles and in turn bigger pay cheques. And most obvious of all, the potential (or very obvious) drop off of skill and ability as the cruel combination of age mixes with the way the game is played. Are Quenneville and Stevens truly to blame for that?
If you're someone who's very squeamish when looking at something ugly, I suggest you read this next part in pieces, with the lights on, and in the company of your closest friend or relative. Only one firing can truly be número uno, what I personally felt to be the worst of the bunch. Edmonton, I'm not sure if the fumes are still getting in your air from all the oil north of you; or maybe they're just going back to the good ol' days, getting rid of a superstar player on the franchise (y'all remember when they traded Wayne Gretzky, don't act like that's new information). Whatever it is, it's getting in the way of them making constructive, positive trades and signings. It's crippling any chances they have of finding success.
Todd McLellan should hold almost none of the responsibility for his firing. He was brought in to provide a winning culture. He was a coach who was respected by players in the dressing room and seemed to find formulas for success in the past. They even somehow managed a 103 point season under his regime. Well not somehow managed, they have the best player on the planet who decided to flex how big his shoulders really are when healthy. However, even just taking a quick glance at the recent trade history, it would almost appear as if Edmonton is going back to the draft board to rebuild. Instead of trading for a couple of assets either in picks/players or a combination of the two, the Oilers have made heavily one sided favourable, straight up player for player trades (the one sided favour, doesn’t even favour them). I even remember the days of watching owner Daryl Katz son grow up each year as Edmonton drafted in early positions on the board. With their current roster, almost none of those picks are either on their main roster consistently, or they’re now finding success with other franchises.
Jordan Eberle almost found double the success with the Islanders than his trade partner Ryan Strome in their first seasons with their new clubs. Oh, where’s Ryan Strome now? Right he was recently shipped off to the other team from New York for Ryan Spooner (Don't worry I had to look up his name as well). Once again, I don’t have enough space in this article to get into the monstrosity of a trade that was Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson…. Congrats on the MVP by the way Hall. The Oilers are consistently dropping their tokens into the merry-go-round that are their draft selections. With all the constant call ups/send downs, how is any coach supposed to incorporate and successfully execute structure and game planning when lines 1 through 4 can’t hold 3 firm players on it. McDavid is the only for sure bright spot anywhere on the roster. But is it possible to see the Edmonton franchise trade yet another generational superstar? Only this time, it’d be highly unlikely to see them lifting Lord Stanley a mere two years later. McLellan should be more than delighted to be free of a tanking franchise, one that refused to give him a proven, talented roster to coach. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back coaching in the west coast state of California, this time quacking his way in the frozen pond with the Ducks.