The NHL’s head coaching carousel continued to spin in the off-season with six teams making hires. Four organizations, meanwhile, have new general managers ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.
Clubs across the league are at different stages of development, but there are always expectations.
The Canadian Press looks at some of the coaches, GMs and executives who could be feeling the heat if things don’t go according to plan.
D.J. SMITH/PIERRE DORION
Newly-minted Ottawa Senators owner Michael Andlauer has already put an early stamp on the organization by hiring Steve Staios as the team’s president of hockey operations.
The long-rumoured move immediately places the former NHL defenceman above Dorion — the team’s GM since 2016 — in the decision-making hierarchy.
Andlauer and Staios have a long working relationship from their time in Ontario Hockey League when the former owned the Hamilton Bulldogs and the latter was GM.
The Senators have gone through some painful years since last making the playoffs in 2017, but with a young roster of stars, needs to break through and make a return to the post-season.
Dorion has had some home runs at the draft table with the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle and Jake Sanderson. He’s also missed on others, while his trade and free agency record is spotty.
Smith is 120-139-32 (.467 winning percentage) in four playoff-less campaigns in the nation’s capital entering the final year of his contract.
The head coach of the St. Louis Blues led the team to its first Stanley Cup triumph in 2019, but lost in the opening round the following two seasons.
St. Louis rebounded to reach the second round in 2022 before missing out entirely on last spring’s playoff dance thanks in-part to an injury-ravaged roster, which led to the firing of assistants Craig MacTavish and Mike Van Ryn.
Berube, who has been in the job since 2018, is 193-118-43 (.606 winning percentage) with the Blues.
JARMO KEKALAINEN/JOHN DAVIDSON
The botched hiring of Mike Babcock by the Columbus Blue Jackets puts both Kekalainen, the team’s GM, and Davidson, its president of hockey operations, in the crosshairs moving forward.
Babcock didn’t make it through rookie camp before resigning after it emerged he requested to view photos on players’ cellphones as part of a bonding effort. That led to an investigation by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association.
Kekalainen and Davidson were already under pressure with Columbus having missed the playoffs the last three seasons.
“We do not anticipate further changes to our hockey leadership team at this time,” the Blue Jackets’ owners, led by John P. McConnell, said in a statement after Babcock resigned.
Penguins president and GM Kyle Dubas signalled he believes in the team’s aging core that still features Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang when Pittsburgh acquired three-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson this summer from the San Jose Sharks.
Sullivan helped the franchise hoist the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, but hasn’t won a playoff round since 2018 despite a 337-187-65 record (.627 winning percentage) in the regular season.
Dubas joined the club in the spring after his dramatic departure from Toronto, and has made it clear with his off-season moves he still views the Penguins as a contender despite the fact Pittsburgh missed the playoffs in 2022-23.
It may seem strange to list Woodcroft — a coach with three playoff series wins over the last two seasons — but life moves fast in a hockey-mad market.
Woodcroft helped Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers make the Western Conference final in 2022 after taking over midseason before falling in the second round last spring.
Both series losses came at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights, but a slow start or midseason swoon could lead to some uncomfortable questions for an organization squarely in win-now mode.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press