The Toronto Maple Leafs were expected to be a Stanley Cup contender entering the season, but a rocky start that included a six-game losing streak ended up costing Mike Babcock his head coaching job.
The firing set off a coaching-related dialogue around the league as the Maple Leafs aren’t the only playoff contender that’s scuffled out of the gate. With every team having played at least 19 games and most hovering around the 22-game mark, the term “early” doesn’t fit anymore.
If there’s a team out there contemplating a coaching move, those decisions need to be made in short order.
As a result, we might start seeing more of what transpired in Toronto this week across the league as the first head coach firing of the season likely warms the seats of other coaches at the helm of struggling clubs.
Thanks to Bovada, we can profit from these decisions.
Bovada has a pair of NHL head coaching props out there at the moment and I have a predictions lined up for both of them. Let’s take a look at the props, the predictions and the reasoning so we can claim some dough sooner rather than later.
Who Will Be the Next NHL Head Coach to Leave his Post?
It’s important here to look at the wording for this prop. It doesn’t mention the word firing. Rather, this prop reads as who will be the next head coach to either lose or leave his job. I can’t remember the last time an NHL head coach resigned, and while that’s extremely unlikely, it is indeed part of this prop.
Let’s take a look at the Candidates
- Bruce Boudreau – Wild (+125)
- John Hynes – Devils (+250)
- Peter DeBoer – Sharks (+300)
- John Cooper – Lightning (+600)
- Bill Peters – Flames (+1000)
- Travis Green – Canucks (+1000)
Now, let’s see why each of those head coaches may be on the hot seat.
Bruce Boudreau (Wild)
Boudreau’s Wild missed the playoffs last season after then-GM Paul Fenton traded away assets at the deadline in an attempt to look toward the future. Then Fenton did very little in the offseason – only signing 32-year-old Mats Zuccarello in a curious move that runs contrary to his philosophy at the trade deadline just five months earlier.
Fenton was fired prior to this season and former NHL player Bill Guerin was hired as his replacement. That in itself doesn’t bode well for Boudreau as GM’s often times like to hire their own head coach rather than work with a coach that was hired by the previous regime. We just witnessed that in Toronto as Maple Leafs Kyle Dubas was not the man who hired Mike Babcock and had a coach in Sheldon Keefe waiting in the wings as his replacement when Babcock was inevitably let go. There’s a strong chance that Guerin will do the same at some point and Minnesota’s 9-11-2 record and 28th-place in the league standings isn’t helping matters for their veteran bench boss.
John Hynes (Devils)
Hynes’ situation is different from Boudreau’s in that he was the pick of current GM Ray Shero who hired him a month aftert taking over as GM of the Devils.
This one is strictly performance related. The Devils have missed the playoffs in three of his four seasons behind the bench and lost 4-1 in the first round of the 2017-18 playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning. A season later, the Devils finished 29th in the league, although Taylor Hall missed most of the season last year.
Hopes were high in New Jersey entering this season (too high, I believe) after the Devils drafted Jack Hughes with the No.1 overall pick in June before trading for P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev and signing Wayne Simmonds in free agency.
Things have not panned out for Hynes’ team to this point, however, as their 7-9-4 record sits ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings league wide. Their -23 goal differential is the second-worst mark in the NHL as well.
They just haven’t played well and while the overhype in the summer has worked against Hynes at this juncture, he hasn’t accomplished much of anything in his time behind the Devils’ bench.
Peter DeBoer (Sharks)
From the current Devils’ head coach to their former head coach, DeBoer’s time in San Jose could be over with perhaps the most disappointing start in the NHL this season.
The Sharks went all the way to the Western Conference Final last season, however they won just four of their first 15 games this season, although a six-game winning streak has salvaged the start to their season.
That’s why his name appears on this list, but I don’t sense that DeBoer is on the hot seat. After all, the Sharks have made the playoffs in all four of his seasons behind the bench and won at least one round three times. Of course, last year’s fun to the final four helps his cause.
As bad as the Sharks’ season started, they’re actually just three points out of a playoff spot at the moment and three points out of a top-three spot in the Pacific Division. They’ve won seven of their last eight games to boot. As a result, I’d be utterly shocked if DeBoer was the next head coach to leave his post.
Jon Cooper (Lightning)
Wait, scratch that. The Lightning have been the most disappointing team in the NHL this season.
They set records en route to their Presidents’ Trophy-winning 62 regular season wins last season. That’s the good news. The bad news is they were subsequently swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shocking first-round upset. Now, the Lightning are off to a 10-7-2 start to the season and sit four points back of the second Wild Card spot in the east.
That said, they’ve played the fewest games in the NHL with 19 and could be in a playoff spot if they win their games in hand on the rest of the conference. Furthermore, it would be quite surprising to see the Lightning can Cooper less than a year after coaching one of the best regular-season teams of all-time. I just don’t see that happening.
Bill Peters (Flames)
Peters’ story is quite similar to Coopers.
While the Lightning were the top Eastern Conference playoff seed last season, the Flames earned that honor in the west. Like Tampa, they were also disposed of in the first round as the Colorado Avalanche largely embarrassed them in a 4-1 series victory. Also like Tampa, the Flames have come out of the gate slow, putting Peters’ job security into question.
At just 10-12-3, the Flames are better than only four teams in the west at this point. The problem is those four teams are within four points of them and three of them have three games in hand on Calgary and the other has four. If those teams pick up wins in their games in hand, the Flames will be toiling at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings just seven months after finishing at the top.
Finally, while the team has struggled, Flames GM Brad Treliving – who hired Peters – recently declared that Peters and the team’s star players are not going anywhere. I’m inclined to believe him.
Travis Green (Canucks)
To me, this one is a little strange.
The reason Green makes this list is likely due to the Canucks’ recent stretch where they won just one of eight games. However, that stretch was snapped with a 6-3 win over the Predators on Thursday.
I would be very surprised to see Green let go with the Canucks in a playoff spot, the team still rebuilding – a rebuild he was hired to oversee, there’s no surprises here – and the fact that he was fired by current GM Jim Benning. Green isn’t going anywhere.
Prediction – John Hynes (+250)
To me, this comes down to either Boudreau or Hynes – the two favorites.
Boudreau is dealing with a double-whammy at the moment as there’s a likelihood at the new GM will eventually want to hire his own head coach and his team is struggling. That might take him, however, and Guerin understands that his current team – as constructed – is not a contender. Rather than fire the coach and hire a new one to coach a stale roster, it’s possible that Guerin holds off, uses the trade deadline to trade assets for future assets, and wait until the offseason to make a head coaching change. Their current spot in the standings is no Boudreau’s doing but rather the mess that former GM Paul Fenton left behind.
For Hynes, it just doesn’t appear he’s the right man to lead the way in New Jersey. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t expect the Devils to all the sudden go from 30th in the league to a playoff spot this season, and while the coach has little to do with the makeup of the roster, the Devils did get better in the offseason, and their current record doesn’t reflect that. There’s no doubt Shero expected more.
GM’s give a long leash to the coaches they hired because it is a blemish on their own record for hiring them. However, the Devils have accomplished nothing in Hynes’ four-plus seasons as the head honcho. The Devils are eight points out of a playoff spot with plenty of teams to leapfrog, but there’s still lots of hockey to be played.
The Blues fired their coach and sat last in the standings on January 1st, and then won the Stanley Cup. This season is still salvageable, and if Shero sees it that way, Hynes could be in big trouble.
Guerin knows his team isn’t going to make the playoffs. He’s going to spin win-later moves at the deadline. The Devils were supposed to be better and this team will be adding assets if anything at the trade deadline. Their coach, however, might not be around to see it.
Where Will Mike Babcock Be Head Coach By the End of the 2020-21 NHL Regular Season?
Mike Babcock is now a free man with a shiny resume. He’s won Stanley Cups and Olympic Gold Medals after a wildly successful run as a Major Junior head coach in the Western Hockey League.
He remains the highest-paid coach in NHL history when the Maple Leafs signed him to an eight-year, $50M contract prior to the 2015-16 season. When he retires, he’ll go down as one of the top NHL head coaches of all-time.
However, while he may take a break, I’d be surprised if this was it for him in the NHL. He’ll coach again in this league.
Here are the teams Bovada believes could be in the market for his services moving forward.
- Calgary Flames (+300)
- Seattle NHL Team (+350)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (+400)
- Minnesota Wild (+600)
- San Jose Sharks (+600)
- New Jersey Devils (+650)
- Montreal Canadiens (+800)
I’m not going to go team by team here like I did above as it’s essentially the same list of teams who could have head coaching vacancies.
However, I already know my prediction and I have plenty of confidence in it.
Prediction – Seattle NHL Team (+350)
While the teams on this list could have head-coaching vacancies before the end of next season, we know for sure that the Seattle NHL team currently has a head-coaching vacancy as they prepare to enter the league in the 2021-22 season.
Seattle GM Ron Francis was on record recently stating that experience is the biggest factor in his head-coaching search. The team will draft players from each team around the league and he wants an experienced coach to align his team and build chemistry. There aren’t any free agent coaches with more experience than Babcock.
While his tenure in Toronto was on the downslope for the last while, keep in mind what Babcock did when he first arrived. The Maple Leafs tore it down prior to his arrival, and he finished dead last in the league in his first season with a roster that hardly belonged in the NHL.
Just one season later, the Maple Leafs made the playoffs and gave the Washington Capitals all they could handle in a 4-2 series loss – even leading the series 2-1 at one point. The Maple Leafs notched 105 and 100 points in the two seasons after, however were unable to get over the first-round hump in consecutive Game 7 losses to the Boston Bruins.
He turned an inexperienced team into a playoff team in short order and the Maple Leafs became a serious contender under his watch. People tend to forget in a “what have you done for me lately” business.
The situation for the expansion Seattle franchise isn’t identical, but it’s similar. A group of players that mostly haven’t played together before. Quick chemistry and work ethic required. Experienced head coach required.
Babcock seems like the right man for the job after what the GM has recently stated, and I like the odds that we’re getting here as well.