Commentary

With Hartley out, are more firings around the corner?

Updated: October 22, 2007, 12:00 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

So, Bob Hartley became the first NHL coach of the 2007-08 season to take the high dive after an 0-6-0 start.

Call it the domino effect, but the next order of business is … who's next?

As New York Rangers coach Tom Renney noted the day after Hartley was fired, every coach knows the day is coming. The only unknown is whether the day comes sooner or later.

[+] EnlargeTom Renney
Joel Auerbach-US PRESSWIRETom Renney and the Rangers are off to a 2-4-1 start.

Five coaches -- Trent Yawney in Chicago, Mike Kitchen in St. Louis, Gerard Gallant in Columbus, Claude Julien in New Jersey and Ken Hitchcock in Philadelphia -- were dispatched during last season. Two more -- Dave Lewis in Boston and Jim Playfair in Calgary -- were relieved of their duties in the offseason.

History suggests Hartley will not be alone. But there are a lot of extenuating circumstances around the NHL, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Hartley stands alone. Let us examine.

Eastern Conference
Montreal's Guy Carbonneau is already on the hot seat (again) for his handling of players. Predictably, veteran Alexei Kovalev is in the middle again. He suggested that maybe the coach should have called a timeout during a difficult shootout loss to Florida this week. Thanks for that. The Habs are off to an acceptable 3-2-2 start; but even if they struggle, GM Bob Gainey will be loath to fire his good pal and former Habs captain without giving him loads of time. Get back to us in April on this one.

Even though the Rangers are off to a slow 2-4-1 start, it would take a monumental slump for GM Glen Sather to remove Renney given the work he did the past two seasons in getting the Rangers back into contention.

Given the higher expectations in Washington this season, it will be interesting to see how GM George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis react if the Caps can't stay in the playoff hunt. Coach Glen Hanlon has done a good job with little to work with in the past, but after starting the season 3-0, the Caps have lost four straight and have been outscored 17-7. Still, the Caps are thinking long haul, so Hanlon should be able to stick around.

Toronto is always a hotbed of rumor and speculation, although most of that rumor and speculation revolves around the future of GM John Ferguson. Coach Paul Maurice will have his hands full, especially if he keeps getting goaltending like he did in a gruesome 6-4 loss to Chicago on Saturday night. Still, given the focus on the personnel side and the constant dysfunction that marks decision making at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, we're guessing it'll be the offseason before anyone axes Maurice, and that's only if the Leafs miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

Western Conference
Ron Wilson and the San Jose Sharks will continue to get a lot of attention from coach-watchers given the Sharks' playoff disappointments the past two seasons. A 3-0 win over Nashville on Saturday puts the Sharks at 4-3-1 and Wilson's job out of harm's way -- for the moment. Only a prolonged slump would change that, given GM Doug Wilson's non-reactionary personality.

At the bottom of the Pacific Division standings, the Los Angeles Kings are in the midst of a significant rebuild and it's not coach Marc Crawford's fault the team has given up a conference-worst 36 goals. (Hint: It's something called minor league goaltending.) But Crawford admits he botched the goaltending situation a season ago, when he named Dan Cloutier starter in camp (Cloutier is now in the minors). Plus, the team's 3-6 start can't be endearing Crawford to management. Still, before he makes any changes, GM Dean Lombardi will be measuring Crawford's ability to build team identity and nurture the progress of young stars such as Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson.

The Predators have lost five straight games after a 2-0 start. But GM David Poile understands coach Barry Trotz (the only coach the Preds have known) is in a tough spot with ownership in crisis and the payroll slashed to bare bones. So Trotz gets a pass until the team's future gets straightened out.

The Coyotes are dreadful (2-5), but that's to be expected. And who is going to fire Wayne Gretzky in the middle of the season? No one.

Slap Shots


Kane
Good Week
It's pretty early to proclaim "the Blackhawks are back," but for a franchise so used to being bad, Chicago's dynamite start is refreshing. This week, the Hawks almost blew a big lead against Colorado, but held on for a 5-3 win. Then, after dropping a 3-1 decision to St. Louis, they came back from a 3-1 deficit to score five third-period goals en route to a 6-4 victory over Toronto on Saturday. The Hawks, winners of four of five, are getting timely scoring from veterans like Robert Lang, surprising contributions from highly touted rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and solid goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin and backup Patrick Lalime.

Bad Week
We'd say it was a bad week for Hartley, but the good thing for the former Cup-winning coach is he doesn't have to watch the Thrashers anymore if he doesn't want to. Although Atlanta won its first post-Hartley game with GM Don Waddell behind the bench, a 5-3 decision over the Rangers at home on Thursday, the Thrashers reverted to form Saturday in Tampa. The Lightning outshot Atlanta 17-2 in the first period and rolled to a 6-2 victory. What's worse, the Thrashers' goalie of the future, Kari Lehtonen, is looking more like a player destined to fall short of expectations and is out indefinitely with a groin injury he sustained against New York. No truth to the rumor Waddell guaranteed a playoff berth after the win over the Rangers.

Stuck in Neutral
These are not your father's or Ken Daneyko's father's or Scott Stevens' father's New Jersey Devils. With rookie coach Brent Sutter preaching a more up-tempo, aggressive style of play, the Devils are going through some growing pains. They remain in the thick of things after a 3-4-1 start, but the days of close-to-the-vest-and-watching-paint-dry hockey appear to be over (they have allowed 28 goals while scoring 21). The Devils began the week outlasting Atlanta and Pittsburgh by 6-5 and 5-4 counts, respectively; then, they dropped games to Philadelphia (4-0) and the New York Islanders (4-3 in OT after erasing a 3-1 deficit). It may not do much for Martin Brodeur's goals-against average or mental health, but these Devils are fun to watch.

Our top story lines of the week


Fleury
1. Can the Minnesota Wild continue to tear up the NHL without bothering to ice any kind of power-play unit? The Wild continue to defy logic by refusing to score on the man advantage. Heading into Sunday's game versus Colorado, the Wild managed to score just twice on the power play in their first 29 opportunities. Only Edmonton (one goal on 33 chances) was more futile. Does it matter? Apparently not. The Wild entered this week as the only NHL team without a regulation loss (7-0-1).

2. How long before the goaltending situation in Pittsburgh moves from concerning to critical? The Penguins are off to a 4-3 start and captain Sidney Crosby is finally hitting his stride, but the play of Marc-Andre Fleury has exposed a great offseason flaw: lack of goaltending depth. Fleury has played in six games, and has a 3-3-0 record with a 3.53 GAA and .889 save percentage. If the Penguins had any confidence in backup Dany Sabourin, wouldn't we have seen him more than the 100 minutes he's played thus far (turning in a 3.00 GAA and .889 save percentage)? If Fleury can't produce consistent, quality outings, watch for the Penguins to make a move to ensure they stay in the playoff hunt. There are plenty of goalies out there (Curtis Joseph, Martin Gerber, Ilya Bryzgalov, Marc Denis) and the Pens have tons of cap room. Still, GM Ray Shero will be cautious about giving up any of the team's hard-earned youth.

3. At what point do elite netminders such as Brodeur, Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff start to turn it around? The three pillars of the post community are all off to less-than-sublime starts with inflated goals-against averages and save percentages well below the magical .900 level. Kiprusoff and Brodeur are playing for new coaches who have implemented new systems and, in the case of the Flames, a vastly revamped blue line. Still, it's strange to see Kiprusoff with a 26th-ranked GAA (3.05), one rung ahead of Luongo. Brodeur languishes in 34th with a 3.51 GAA. Both the Flames and Devils can match opponents offensively while their netminders work out their kinks. But the problem is more, well, problematic for the Canucks, who need Luongo to stand on his head pretty much every night to have a chance to win.

4. We have nothing against fighting. Really, we don't. But is there anything more wasteful than having good players drop the gloves and then go immediately to the injured reserve list? We saw the St. Louis Blues do without Eric Brewer after he tangled with Phoenix's Nick Boynton on opening night, and Brewer just returned to the lineup. Now, Edmonton's most important offseason acquisition, Sheldon Souray, is out after duking it out with Vancouver's Byron Ritchie. In both cases, the defenders were either coming to a teammate's rescue or trying to spark their team. Somehow, the ends didn't quite justify the means.

5. Ryan Smyth, the heart and soul of the Edmonton Oilers for more than a decade and one of the most popular players since the Oilers' dynasty days, will return to Edmonton on Tuesday night for the first time since his trade-deadline move to Long Island in February. So much media attention surrounds the visit that Smyth will meet with reporters Monday morning and then not speak until after the game. Smyth, of course, signed with Colorado in the offseason and the Avs are off to a 4-4 start, while the Oilers (losers of five of six) are trying not to get buried in the West standings before Halloween.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.