The firing of Mike Babcock in Toronto proved to be just the tip of the iceberg. After Sheldon Keefe took over as the head coach of the Maple Leafs on Nov. 20th, Geoff Ward replaced Bill Peters in Calgary on Nov. 29th. Then three more coaching changes hit in just over a week with Alain Nasreddine replacing John Hynes in New Jersey, Rick Bowness taking over for Jim Montgomery in Dallas, and Bob Boughner replacing Peter DeBoer in San Jose.
The reasons for the firings were varied and not all of them had to do with hockey specifically. Peters resigned following accusations of racism while Montgomery was dismissed for “unprofessional conduct,” though the details of why he was fired still haven’t come to light. Of those fired, Montgomery had been doing the best from a hockey perspective. He led the Stars to the second round in his first season as a head coach in 2018-19 and despite a very bad start to the 2019-20 campaign, the Stars had turned things around and held an 18-11-3 record at the time of his firing.
Right now it’s impossible to say if he’ll ever get another chance with an NHL club. The fact is we don’t know why he was fired in the first place so we can’t really say just how bad it was, only that it must have been serious given his dismissal from the Stars.
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By contrast, the firing of DeBoer and Hynes were just hockey decisions. The Devils weren’t happy with their 9-13-4 start to the season after making several key additions over the summer, though thus far the coaching change hasn’t helped any. New Jersey is 0-3-1 since Nasreddine took over. The Devils might want to move past the rebuilding phase, but they might simply not be there yet.
This might lead to Taylor Hall, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, getting traded before the deadline. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner would be one of the best players to be a midseason acquisition in recent memory. It’s too early to say who he will go to, if he is traded at all, but one thing to keep in mind is how tricky certain team’s cap situation is. For example, Toronto and Boston would have a very difficult time coming up with a trade that would allow them to both take Hall and stay under the cap, even if the Devils assumed part of his cap hit. It’s not an impossibility, but it makes destinations like those less likely despite those team’s contenders status.
Edmonton would obviously be a really interesting destination for him. They could really use another high-end scorer to take some of the pressure off Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers’ cap situation is a sticking point though. It’s not as difficult to navigate as the Maple Leafs or the Bruins, but Edmonton doesn’t have a ton of space to work with. On top of that, Hall’s reunion would likely be short-lived as it’s hard to see how the Oilers could manage to re-sign him while staying under the cap.
One team that might be able to add Hall as something more than a rental would be the New York Islanders. They’re a serious contender, they certainly have a need for a major offensive weapon, in part to fill the void that was left from John Tavares’ departure back in the summer of 2018, and unlike a lot of the other potential destinations, the Islanders actually have cap space to work with. They do need to re-sign Mathew Barzal over the summer and given the way the RFA market has gone recently, that’s not a simple matter, but even with that in mind, acquiring Hall and then immediately re-signing him isn’t outside of their means.
When it comes to San Jose and the DeBoer firing, we’re looking at a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender this season, but has gotten off to a 15-16-2 start. The Sharks have been pretty wildly inconsistent. They lost their first four games, battled back to 4-5-1, lost their next five games, caught fire and jumped to 15-12-1, then lost their most recent five contests. The last three Sharks games have been particularly brutal, with San Jose being outscored 15-3.
It’s worth noting that the Sharks replaced most of their coaching staff along with DeBoer. One particular addition of note is Evgeni Nabokov, who is taking over as the goaltending coach. Long-time Sharks fans are familiar with Nabokov as he was their starting goaltender from 2000-01 through 2009-10. He also played with the Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, logging a total of 697 games at the NHL level. More recently he’s been a goaltending development coach.
It’s going to be very interesting to see if Nabokov can get more out of starter Martin Jones. Over the past two seasons, Jones has been part of the Sharks’ problem and if Nabokov can get him going, then that will be huge for the team overall. It’s worth keeping a close eye on this situation as Jones could end up being a great buy-low candidate if Nabokov’s guidance does help.
It’s also worth noting that while those five coaches have been replaced, the Detroit Red Wings have been consistently losing. You’d have to go all the way back to Nov. 12th to find the last time Detroit won a game. At this point the Red Wings are 7-22-3, which is by far the worst record in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils are six points ahead of them despite Detroit having played in two more games.
It leads to the obvious question: Should Jeff Blashill be among the head coaches fired? In his defense, the Red Wings are a firmly rebuilding squad and firing him wouldn’t change that. It wouldn’t be surprising if Blashill was replaced, but that might end up coming in the summer when the Red Wings can take their time doing a thorough coaching search rather than during the season.