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8 NHL Coaches and General Managers Who Could Be on the Hot Seat This Season

8 NHL Coaches and General Managers Who Could Be on the Hot Seat This Season
Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyTwitter LogoFeatured Columnist IVOctober 17, 2023

8 NHL Coaches and General Managers Who Could Be on the Hot Seat This Season

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    Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan

    Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike SullivanGlenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

    The start of a new NHL season is also a period of anticipation and hope for fans that their teams will exceed expectations compared to the previous year.

    Some of these clubs will meet that high level. Others, however, will fall short, sometimes resulting in a change behind the bench or in the front office.

    Several NHL coaches and general managers will likely face considerable scrutiny this season.

    Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion is trying to turn a rebuilding team into a playoff contender. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will try to meet the expectations of new ownership and management by guiding his aging roster back to Stanley Cup glory.

    Dorion and Sullivan are among our list of five NHL coaches and three general managers who could find themselves on the hot seat this season. We’ll examine their respective situations and highlight the factors that could put them at risk of losing their jobs.

    Do you agree or disagree with our listing? Is there someone who belongs here? Let us know in our app comments.

Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Craig Berube of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of a preseason game at the United Center on September 28, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    As the St. Louis Blues got off to a stumbling start to the 2018-19 season, Craig Berube was promoted to interim head coach in November 2018. He guided the team to a strong second-half performance, culminating in winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. As a result, he was named their full-time bench boss.

    Berube’s current contract runs through 2024-25 but he could be feeling the heat this season. In the four campaigns since their Cup run, the Blues have won just one playoff series and failed to qualify for the 2023 postseason.

    Injuries to key players contributed to their difficulties last season. There’s also been considerable turnover with the departures of key veterans like Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko as the club transitioned toward younger talent such as Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.

    General manager Doug Armstrong deserves his fair share of the blame for those roster changes that contributed to the Blues’ demise since 2019. However, it’ll be Berube on the hot seat if this team fails to improve over the course of the current campaign.

Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets

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    NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 28: Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets attends the 2023 NHL Draft at the Bridgestone Arena on June 28, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    General manager of the Winnipeg Jets since their relocation in 2011, Kevin Cheveldayoff has gone through the highs of his club reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time in 2018 to the disappointment of missing the playoffs on seven occasions. Since 2018, they missed the postseason in 2022 and advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once.

    The Jets got off to a strong start last season but stumbled down the stretch, finishing in the last wild-card berth in the West before getting bounced from the opening round by the Vegas Golden Knights. That sparked calls for change from frustrated Winnipeg fans.

    Cheveldayoff did shake things up in June by trading center Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings and buying out former captain Blake Wheeler. He also surprised observers by signing goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and center Mark Scheifele to identical seven-year contract extensions.

    Part of Cheveldayoff’s sale pitch to Hellebuyck and Scheifele was his win-now attitude about the roster. However, another disappointing performance this season could raise questions about his plans and his future with the franchise.

Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators

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    OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 14:  Pierre Dorion, general manager of the Ottawa Senators, speaks to media after signing Brady Tkachuk to a long term contract prior to the season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on October 14, 2021 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

    André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

    Since becoming general manager of the Ottawa Senators in 2016, Pierre Dorion spent most of his tenure rebuilding the roster. He’s drafted talents like Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson and Jake Sanderson and added skilled veterans like Claude Giroux and Jakob Chychrun along with 2023 offseason signings of Vladimir Tarasenko and Joonas Korpisalo.

    Entering the 2021-22 season, Dorion felt confident enough to claim that his club was past the rebuilding stage. While the Senators did improve during that season and in 2022-23, they still found themselves outside the playoff picture.

    Dorion’s future could become a topic of speculation this season. Michael Andlauer, the Senators’ new owner, recently hired Steve Staios as the club’s president of hockey operations. Staios was the general manager of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs when Andlauer owned that franchise.

    The Senators’ handling of restricted free agent Shane Pinto’s ongoing contract negotiations could raise questions about Dorion’s management skills. It’s not much of a leap to assume that Staios could become his replacement if this team misses the playoff cut this season.

Dean Evason, Minnesota Wild

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 05: Head coach Dean Evason of the Minnesota Wild looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period of a preseason game at the United Center on October 05, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Named interim head coach of the Minnesota Wild in February 2020, Dean Evason was made their full-time head coach five months later. Since he took over behind the bench, the Wild have made the playoffs in each season. Evason entered this season with a regular-season record of 142 wins, 67 losses and 23 overtime losses.

    The problem, however, is the Wild also failed to advance past the opening round. Under Evason, they’ve won just eight of 23 playoff games. He could end up feeling the heat if they fail to produce a better postseason result next spring.

    Part of that is because general manager Bill Guerin bought out the contracts of aging stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in July 2021. That left the Wild with $12.7 million dead-cap money last season and $14.7 million this season and next, hampering efforts to bolster the roster.

    Nevertheless, it will fall to Evason to find a way to get his club beyond at least the first round this season. If he doesn’t, Guerin could seek a more experienced bench boss with a better playoff record.

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    TORONTO-  Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe at the start of season training camp media scrums.He is happy to have his contract signed. (R.J.Johnston/Toronto Star) 
         (R.J. Johnston Toronto Star/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

    R.J. Johnston Toronto Star/Toronto Star via Getty Images

    The Toronto Maple Leafs won their first playoff round in 19 years last season. However, they were swiftly eliminated from the second round by the Florida Panthers, who marched on to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

    In the aftermath, the Leafs parted ways with general manager Kyle Dubas and replaced him with former Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving. That sparked some conjecture over the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, but the Leafs extended his contract on Aug. 30 through 2024-25.

    Since being hired by the Leafs in Nov. 2019, Keefe coached them to a franchise-best 115-point season in 2021-22 followed by a 111-point performance last season. Nevertheless, he still only has one playoff series win.

    This could be the most consequential season of Keefe’s coaching career. His contract extension won’t prevent the deep-pocketed Leafs from making a change behind the bench if they make another quick postseason exit.

Jarmo Kekäläinen, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    COLUMBUS, OHIO - JULY 01: General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen addresses member of the media during a press conference at Nationwide Arena on July 01, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Getty Images)

    Jason Mowry/Getty Images

    The first European to be named an NHL general manager, Jarmo Kekäläinen has been in that role with the Columbus Blue Jackets since February 2013. During his tenure, the Jackets reached the playoffs five times but missed the playoffs in the last three seasons.

    Blue Jackets ownership has been patient with Kekäläinen. They bought into his current roster rebuild, during which the club has drafted and developed promising players like Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson and David Jiříček. He also acquired veteran stars such as Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine.

    However, Kekäläinen’s hiring of Mike Babcock as head coach on July 1 raised eyebrows given reports of his bullying players during his tenures with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Babcock wound up stepping down on Sept. 18 after he allegedly violated his players’ privacy by asking them to share personal photos from their mobile devices.

    Following Babcock’s departure, the Blue Jackets ownership group released a statement indicating they would make no further changes to their hockey leadership “at this time.” That should put Kekäläinen on notice for the coming season. A lack of on-ice progress could spell the end of his time as their general manager.

D.J. Smith, Ottawa Senators

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25:  D.J. Smith head coach of the Ottawa Senators talks with referee Trevor Hanson #14 during the game at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

    A former assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs, D.J. Smith became the Ottawa Senators head coach in May 2019. He was tasked with guiding the rebuilding club into an eventual playoff contender.

    Over that time, the Senators stocked their roster with young stars such as team captain Brady Tkachuk, center Tim Stützle and defenseman Jake Sanderson. They’ve also added veterans such as Claude Giroux and Jakob Chychrun and this summer signed winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

    Despite steady improvement over the past two seasons, the Senators have yet to qualify for postseason play with Smith behind the bench. Now that the club has a new owner in billionaire Michael Andlauer, Smith and his coaching staff could face pressure to end the club’s playoff drought this season.

    The Senators’ rebuild during the early years of Smith’s tenure sheltered him from any harsh criticism of his club’s performance. It won’t protect him now, especially if they fail to get off to a good start to this season. If this club doesn’t turn the corner, it could cost Smith his job.

Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 23: Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins coaches against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on March 23, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

    The most successful and longest-tenured coach on this list, Mike Sullivan won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. His 409 career wins (as of Sunday) are eighth among active coaches, and 339 of those have come with the Penguins, making him their franchise leader.

    Despite Sullivan’s success, the Penguins have struggled since their last Stanley Cup championship. They’ve won just one playoff round, and that was in 2018. The Pens also missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005-06.

    Part of the blame for that decline lies with how former general managers Jim Rutherford and Ron Hextall maintained the roster during that period. Nevertheless, another missed postseason or early playoff exit could cast a harsh spotlight on Sullivan.

    On June 1, Kyle Dubas was hired as the Penguins’ new president of hockey operations and general manager. He inherited Sullivan when he took over those roles, but he could prefer bringing in his own head coach should this season end in disappointment.

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