Something's Gotta Give
Fair or unfair, you could see Gerard Gallant's firing coming for weeks.
Once the Columbus Blue Jackets got off to a wobbly start, and once it became clear star forward Rick Nash was no longer performing at a level even close to that which had some proclaiming him as the best player on the planet during the 2005 world championships in Austria, all the denials in the world from GM Doug MacLean couldn't hide the fact Gallant would be the first Jacket hung out to dry.
In Ottawa, however, it's not nearly so clear.
The Senators are having a miserable time these days, including Monday night's lousy performance in a 6-3 loss to Montreal that dropped the Sens to 2-6 on home ice.
The boys from the nation's capital are 13th in the Eastern Conference, closer to dead last (five points) than they are to eighth (six points).
One approach for owner Eugene Melynk would be to hang in there and wait until this talented team turns it around.
Problem is, he's already done that once this season. After a mediocre start, the Sens looked like all would be well after they waxed the Leafs 6-2 and 7-2 in a home-and-home series in late October. Ottawa appeared to have finally gotten its act together, and there was great concern in Toronto that big trouble was in the offing.
Well, since then the Sens have one win and seven losses, one of those by shootout, while the Leafs have gone on a tear, winning seven of eight.
So now what happens?
The Sens are in the middle of a challenging schedule of games, facing the Sabres and Devils on the road this week and then returning home for games against Buffalo and the very tough Minnesota Wild. It's unlikely they'll have the stabilizing presence of defenceman Wade Redden (groin) for any of those games, and it's unclear when the talented rearguard will return as he battles that chronic problem.
After that quartet of matches, the sked eases up a bit, but then again the Senators have lost to Washington and Boston (twice) in the past couple of weeks.
Hey, it could be worse. The departed Martin Havlat could still leading the NHL in scoring as he was for Chicago before he went down to injury Oct. 20.
If a body is to be tossed overboard in Gallant-like fashion, the prime candidates are GM John Muckler, head coach Bryan Murray and captain Daniel Alfredsson, not necessarily in that order.
Muckler is in the trickiest position, having chosen to keep Redden ahead of Zdeno Chara in the off-season and failed to convincingly address the team's goaltending needs. Without Martin Gerber struggling in the nets and without Redden or Chara in the lineup, the Sens are a very vulnerable squad at this moment.
During the off-season, Muckler declined to deal Alfredsson, the goat on the season-ending shorthanded goal by Buffalo's Jason Pominville in last spring's playoffs.
That now appears to be the last major card Muckler has to play, and it's a tough one. Moving a 33-year-old winger with a $4.7 million salary is no easy transaction in the salary cap era.
He's not going to move Jason Spezza, or Dany Heatley or Redden, and trading Chris Phillips, Mike Fisher or Peter Schaefer wouldn't have the same impact as an Alfredsson deal.
If Philly is itching to move Peter Forsberg and his $5.75 million salary, that might be a match, captain for captain.
But the time to do an Alfredsson deal was in the summer, a change to significantly remake the face of this team. Muckler didn't do it, and if the club remains in freefall and a major deal can't be made, he may ultimately pay for it.
Having Murray on hand, a man who has not only managed before but has held the GM/coaching portfolios simultaneously, just makes it easier for Melnyk to pull the trigger.
And what about Columbus?
There remains opportunity here with big-time talent up front, Adam Foote on the backline and a schedule that frequently includes St. Louis and Chicago in the NHL's weakest division, the Central.
There's Ken Hitchcock. There's Andy Murray. And, of course, there's Pat Quinn, still itching to get back in the game.
All three have strong resumes. The toughest hire for MacLean would be Quinn, if only because he might theoretically be hiring his own successor.
That said, the Jackets can't score, and doesn't that remind you of the situation with the Leafs when Quinn arrived in town and took over from Mike Murphy in 1998?
Quinn might be the guy who can get Nash and Nikolai Zherdev rolling, the strong, imposing authority figure who could help this team develop a personality.
In six years, the Jackets have been coached by Dave King, MacLean and Gallant, and now it's Gary Agnew's team on an interim basis.
Looking at the three other clubs that came into the NHL in the same wave of expansion, the Wild have had one coach (Jacques Lemaire), Nashville has had one coach (Barry Trotz) and Atlanta has had two, Curt Fraser and Bob Hartley.
Maybe MacLean hoped King would be that type of coach when he gave him the job as the Jackets' first head coach in 2000.
Agnew's a nice fellow who deserves a shot, but you have to believe the time has come for Columbus to go for a big name.
Despite all his warts and laissez faire coaching notions, and despite the fact he would come with Rick Ley welded to his hip, Quinn makes a lot of sense.