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Dreger: Identifying coaches who start season under pressure

Darren Dreger
10/6/2011 9:21:07 AM
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It's called the "Hot Seat" and every coach understands its definition, although some jokingly refer to it as the "hit list". Plain and simply, the NHL coaches we are identifying are those under the most pressure entering the season. Some are more vulnerable than others. Toronto's Ron Wilson enters the regular season in the final year of his contract. 

There has been no offer of an extension and no plan to negotiate until management gets a solid read on the direction of the Leafs. A bad start could spell the end of Wilson's four-year run in Toronto. Washington's Bruce Boudreau survived off-season speculation of his demise after another disappointing playoffs performance by the Caps. But, an early or mid-season slump could be enough to finally get Boudreau bounced. Calgary's Brent Sutter, Colorado's Joe Sacco and St Louis Blues coach Davis Payne are facing medium heat in their organizations. Following two seasons of non-playoff hockey, fans are restless in Calgary. The Flames should be better. If they're not, Sutter could be replaced.

Colorado is still very young, but capable of being competitive.  If the Avs fail to meet that standard, Sacco will likely pay the price. And there's a complicating factor in Denver: GM Greg Sherman traded away the team's 2012 No. 1 draft pick to Washington for Semyon Varlamov; the worse the Avs do this year the higher the draft pick for the Caps. Payne's Blues should hold their own in a tough Western Conference, but with ownership uncertainty, St. Louis needs to be strong or Payne could be an easy mark if things go south early.

Meanwhile, three coaches facing back burner heat are Philadelphia's Peter Laviolette, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Montreal's Jacques Martin. The Flyers made drastic changes and spent a ton of money on Ilya Bryzgalov, so if the direction of this team stalls, or takes a turn for the worse, fingers will be pointed. Losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Championship to Boston only increased Vancouver's thirst to be first. And Martin is entering his third season in the pressure-packed Montreal hockey environment.

It's highly unlikely Vigneault or Martin would face the music during the regular season, but an early post-season exit might prompt change. This list of coaches on the hot seat may be too long, or too short, but when the regular season opens, the clock starts ticking.

Darren Dreger

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