With all the recent coaching changes going on in the NHL, its no wonder the frigid cold has come to North America early this year. But as businesses are getting ready to turn over a new calendar year, decisions must be made and ultimately a team's got to get hot somehow.
The Edmonton Oilers are the latest team to fire their bench boss, Todd Maclellan, who took the brunt of a badly constructed roster of general manager Peter Chiarelli's creation.
For the Oilers, who finally made the playoffs with Maclellan at the helm in 2016-2017 after a lengthy playoff draught, firing the coach is nothing new. The team has been through a carousel of front office shuffling and firing and rebuilding, but the Oilers have yet to show any success from the past decade of drafting near, if not, first overall. This is a team with the greatest active player, Connor McDavid, as another young captain who carries as much weight in Edmonton, and the hockey world, as he does in gold.
McDavid is the highest paid player in the NHL and he, along with linemate Leon Draisaitl's $8.5-million cap hit, eat up a little more than twenty per cent of the salary cap. McDavid and Draisaitl combine for $21-million, as do Chicago Blackhawks forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who at $10.5-million apiece were at once the highest NHL players in their careers.
But outside of McDavid and Draisaitl in Edmonton, save Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers don't have a product that can be serious Stanley Cup contenders. Sure, having Evan Bouchard (who was sent back to junior) and Darnell Nurse as future cornerstones of the blueline is nice, but the Oilers aren't balanced enough to help their young stars mature into playoff veterans.
In Chicago, the tale couldn't be more different. Toews and Kane have each lifted the Cup three times, along with defensive stalwart Brent Seabrook and future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith. But the Blackhawks Stanley Cup success have cost a long list of all-stars from their roster (Dustin Byfuglien, Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, shall I go on?) and while general manager Stan Bowman was able to work the cap back to the Cup, the Blackhawks seem destined for a rebuild in the near future. Toews and Kane's contracts aren't the only ones pushing their pretty pennies towards a cap crunch, as long term deals taking Seabrook and Keith into their early 40s and two-time Cup champ Corey Crawford's $6-million cap hit not too far behind, Chicago's core is an expensive, and aging, one.
Meanwhile, the Oilers have Milan Lucic, a Chiarelli favoirte, as well as young Nugent-Hopkins at Crawford-type money. Two forwards making half of McDavid-Draisaitl (or Toews-Kane) combinations, plus a defense, which is nowhere near as decent as Chicago's, assumes close to half the Oiler's salary cap. Ahem, that's excluding McDavid and Draisaitl's quarter.
Yup. These guys make a lot of money.And yet, NHL teams continue to overspend on their players only to become financially handcuffed years later.
Each team's GM is responsible for negociating contracts, managing the salary cap as well as hire and fire both on-ice personnel, as well as those who run the bench. That sounds easy enough, right?
Well, hiring a the right coach for your club certainly helps the GM breathe easier. After all, its all about winning.
Maclellan's situation is similar to, say, Joel Quinnville, though nowhere near as successful.
A three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks, 'Coach Q' was dismissed for missing pieces in his line-up. Coaches can only meet the team's expectations if they've got the right group of talent to get the job done on a night in, night out basis. Only issue is that they always seem to become scapegoats of the general manager's own shortcomings.
Sure, contracts seemingly as massive and daunting as a boulder have been able to move around in the past. If Roberto Luongo and Shea Weber's albatross contracts aren't reminder enough, you never know what you might be able to rid yourself of in a trade.
Although, finding teams who are interested in a pricey player's services, and can absorb their financial burden this early in the season, is a hard sell. Deals like those are usually made at the trade deadline or if and when a team needs to get to the salary floor (usually the beginning of the season) but just ask Bowman how many times he got fleeced doing so.
So let's come back to Edmonton and Chicago, whose current general managers are on the hot seat now that a coaching change has been made. But let's not forget about these coaches, either.
The Oilers and the 'Hawks are near the salary cap, both have albatross contracts for aging veterans, and both have suffered painful transactions (Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, Artemi Panarin for Brandon Sadd, shall I go on?) on their GM's part and continue to suffer from the cap crunch. Unwisely spending has piled up the losses, and thus it becomes the coaches who must face the music.
Oh yeah, speaking of which: the St. Louis Blues. I suppose their spending was wise, and their roster is deep, but how bad does the TJ Oshie trade look now? And who is to say that the contracts GM Doug Armstrong dolled out this summer don't backfire on him a year from now?
Basically, its always GM's fault. Got it?
Now, whether clubs will start realizing that its their GMs that need to be at the forefront of the firing squad, and quit sending their coaches to a corner, that's a whole other story.
But at the end of the day, its these hardworking coaches that have to make some sense out of the reckless spending of the GM's dollars.
Written like a true Mike Yeo rant, if I don't say so myself. But feel free to tell me if I'm right, out in left field or dead-center wrong in the comments below!