With the end of the NHL’s 2021-22 regular-season schedule on April 29 drawing near, speculation is already brewing over the fates of several head coaches.
On April 2, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek observed that 11 coaches are either coming to the end of their contracts or are currently employed on an interim basis. Since then, the Anaheim Ducks announced they’re picking up the option year in Dallas Eakins’ contract.
The Dallas Stars’ Rick Bowness and the Nashville Predator’s John Hynes are among those with an expiring contract. The Florida Panthers’ Andrew Brunette and the Montreal Canadiens’ Martin St. Louis belong to the interim coaching group.
Brunette’s Panthers have clinched a playoff berth, while Bowness’ Stars and Hynes’ Predators are jockeying for wild-card berths in the Western Conference. Their fates could be determined by their respective teams’ postseason performances. Those on non-contenders, such as St. Louis in Montreal, might have their futures decided soon after the regular season ends.
Here’s a look at four coaches in each of the four NHL divisions who could be staying or going after this season. They include those on interim or expiring contracts as well as several coaches on non-playoff clubs. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.
Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
Jeff Blashill has coached the Detroit Red Wings since 2015-16. They reached the playoffs that season but the club’s rebuilding efforts have since kept them out of the postseason picture. While the Wings showed improvement during the first half of this season, their sputtering second half had Detroit fans chanting “Fire Blashill” during a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on April 1.
Blashill cannot be faulted for the Wings’ struggles during most of his tenure. Nevertheless, the club’s inability to stay in this season’s playoff race could be a cause for concern. Steve Yzerman stuck with Blashill when he took over as general manager in 2019 but could decide it’s time for a change behind the bench.
Andrew Brunette, Florida Panthers
Andrew Brunette was in his third season as a Panthers assistant coach before taking over as bench boss on Oct. 29 boss after Joel Quenneville stepped down from the role. The former NHL player previously served as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild for two seasons from 2014 to 2016 and as their assistant general manager until 2018-19 before joining the Panthers.
Brunette’s done a fine job thus far with a very talented Panthers roster. They sit first overall in the Eastern Conference with a franchise record of 110 points and counting. He’s also helped them adjust to the absence of top defenseman Aaron Ekblad for the remainder of the regular season with a lower-body injury. That should suffice to bring him back after next season.
Don Granato, Buffalo Sabres
Hired as an interim coach by the Sabres midway through last season, Granato did well enough to earn a three-year contract extension. While the club showed some improvement this season, it failed to reach the playoffs for a record-setting 11th consecutive season.
Trading away top center Jack Eichel in November and a lack of reliable goaltending doomed the Sabres this season. None of that, however, can be blamed on Granato. Thanks to his efforts, younger players like Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens are developing into stars while veterans Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Dahlin and Kyle Okposo regained their offensive form. Expect him to return next season.
Martin St. Louis, Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens replaced Dominique Ducharme as head coach with Martin St. Louis on an interim basis on Feb. 9. St. Louis enjoyed a Hall of Fame playing career but had no professional coaching experience. The Canadiens had a woeful record of eight wins, 31 losses and seven overtime losses before the coaching change but have gone 12-13-4 under St. Louis.
Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes would like to retain St. Louis as head coach after this season. On April 13, St. Louis told the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan he expected to be back. He’s done a solid job thus far with the rebuilding club. Young players such as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov are thriving under his coaching.