Who Gets Fired Next: Ralph Krueger or John Tortorella?

The Sabres and Blue Jackets have been floundering of late and much of the attention has turned to behind their respective benches. With one firing already in the books, will GMs there be getting itchy trigger fingers?
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It’s comforting to know that neither Ralph Krueger nor John Tortorella seems terribly concerned with his precarious job security at the moment. Apparently, Krueger isn’t, “wired that way,” and Tortorella is busy, “(going) about my business.” But if the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets continue losing and creating drama they way they have recently, neither of these men will have to worry about dealing with the pressures of coaching in the NHL, either.

(Speaking of drama, if there were a matrix that measured drama created in relation to size of the market, there’s no doubt the Sabres and Blue Jackets would be the top two franchises in the NHL, and it wouldn’t be close. Seems like it’s always something with these guys.)

So who walks the plank first? Well, the smart money is on Krueger, who is overseeing a situation in Buffalo that seems almost untenable. The team is underachieving at epic levels and hasn’t scored a goal in 124 minutes and 30 seconds. Including overtimes, the Sabres have lost nine of their past 10 games and look an awful lot like a team that has quit on its coach. If you could somehow combine Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner into one player, that player would currently sit tied for 202nd in the NHL in goals. That’s 33.1 percent of the Sabres’ cap space, or $27 million, and the organization has three goals in a combined 52 games from them.

Krueger appears to be losing the room, and he’s losing credibility, as evidenced by the latest soap opera surrounding Eichel. The Sabres’ captain seemed to hurt his foot or ankle last Tuesday night when he collided with Devils captain Nico Hischier. He took the warm-up on Thursday night, but he didn’t play. Krueger maintained that Eichel had been injured in the warm-up Thursday night, but Eichel contradicted his coach by saying he was indeed hurt the game prior to that. A coach misleading media members about injuries is nothing new. Coaches have been out-and-out lying about maladies since Jack Adams was in short pants, even though that will thankfully almost certainly become a thing of the past if the NHL and their teams continue to associate themselves with gambling websites. That is really not a big deal, but to be publicly called out on it by the captain, a player who until now seemed to be on Krueger’s side, doesn’t augur well for the man behind the bench.

On the one hand, Krueger has not had a complete 82-game season as coach of this team. On the other hand, the 36-41-11 mark the Sabres have recorded in his 88 games behind the bench since taking over last season is a big enough sample size to realize that Krueger’s message, whatever it may be, is most definitely not getting through.

In Columbus, the Blue Jackets never, ever seem to get beyond being the gritty underdog who works hard and blocks shots. And some of that has to be attributed to Tortorella, a guy who probably would have created that identity with the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. Including extra-time games, the Blue Jackets have lost five in a row and won just three of 10 games in the month of February. When they play to their identity, they can’t seem to score. And when they try to run with teams, the goals-against come in bushels.

In fact, Tortorella was so frustrated after Sunday’s game that he basically pulled the chute on explaining his team’s performance, saying that he wasn’t about to break down his team’s game, saying it’s nothing that hasn’t been hashed and rehashed numerous times. Again, nothing terribly egregious about that, but when your team is terrible, it just adds another layer of problems when you don’t communicate to the fan base.

Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was quick this past weekend to quash any notion that Tortorella’s tenure in Columbus is in peril, saying, “All I’ll say is (Tortorella) has been a great coach for us for many years now. We’ve had setbacks before and come back from them, and I believe we’ll do the same with the (coaching) staff this year.”

Kekalainen may be right, although it sure doesn’t feel that way this season, does it? And even with the vote of confidence, if the tide doesn’t turn, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tortorella join Claude Julien in the ranks of unemployed coaches in the NHL. He may be able to take consolation in the fact that, if that happens, Ralph Krueger will likely be there by that time, too. 

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