Who is on the hot seat for the 2011-2012 NHL season, and what will it take to secure their job?

The cardinal sin of NHL coaching is underachievement. When owners sign those checks with all the commas on them, they expect results in the form of deep playoff runs, if not the Stanley Cup itself. The following four head coaches are under pressure to deliver this season, and a first- or second-round exit, or even a 5-20 stretch during the regular season, could spell curtains for them. 

New Jersey Devils – Peter DeBoer

New Jersey DevilsWhen Peter DeBoer stands behind the bench during the Devils' season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers this year on October 8, he will be the team's third coach in two seasons. Last year the team got off to a horrible 9-25 start under John MacLean, then turned it around completely when Jacques Lemaire took over, and ended up threatening to make the playoffs as an eight seed, before falling just short.

Lemaire retired after the season, and former Florida head coach DeBoer was brought in to take the reins of a high-dollar roster headlined by wing Ilya Kovalchuk. Scoring star Zach Parise should be back to 100 percent effectiveness after missing all but 13 games last year, a big reason why New Jersey finished dead last in the NHL in scoring at 2.08 goals per game. The number four overall draft pick, defenseman Adam Larsson, will be given every chance to make the team and should provide a badly needed injection of enthusiasm.

The Devils are unlikely to play for the Stanley Cup this season, but they are far too good to completely miss the playoffs again. Martin Brodeur's advancing age adds another element of pressure, after all, no hall of fame goalie should have to put up with the ignominy of missing the playoffs in his final seasons. If the team's play is limpid once again, and management feels the coaching is to blame, they have already proven they're not afraid to make a mid-season switch. Even if there is no Lemaire waiting in the wings this time.

New York Rangers – John Tortorella

The ouster of Isiah Thomas and the return of the New York Knicks to respectability may have done more than anything else to put pressure on third-year coach John Tortorella. It seems expensive ineptitude is no longer the order of the day in Madison Square Garden, which means that third place in the Atlantic division and another first-round loss in the playoffs may not be enough to keep Tortorella around.

Following the blueprint of other major-market non-contenders like the New York Mets or Washington Redskins, the New York Rangers once again signed the biggest-name free agent available, former Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Star, Brad Richards. If Richards performs anything like other former big-name acquisitions like Wade Redden, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez or Marian Gaborik, Tortorella may be headed for waivers, and Richards for an expensive contract buyout well before his nine-year, $60 million deal is up. 

L.A. Kings – Terry Murray

Kings bring in Mike RichardsAfter collapsing against the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs, LA Kings management aggressively improved the team's roster with the additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. If Anze Kopitar returns from injury at full strength and the team is able to sign defenseman Drew Doughty to a contract extension, the Kings will be perceived as a team whose time is now

If a team that can put Kopitar, Mike Richards, Gagne, Doughty, Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson on the ice can't make it deep in the playoffs, it will be perceived as Murray's fault. Since finishing 5th in the Pacific division in his first year in L.A., Murray has led the Kings to back-to-back 46-win seasons. Impressive enough, especially in a tough division. 

However, the Kings have lost in the first round of the playoffs the last two years, and slipped from 101 points in year two under Murray to 98 in year three. Another regression, or failure to advance out of the first round, will spell the end of Murray's fourth head-coaching reign.

This may be a tall order: Murray is good at getting his teams into the postseason, but he has gone home after the first round in five out of 12 trips while making it to the Cup finals only once. (Where his Philadelphia team's infamous loss to Detroit cost him his job.)

Washington Capitols – Bruce Boudreau

Boudreau has proven that he can coach, as the Caps have won the Southeast division in each of the four years that he has been at the helm. In fact, under Boudreau, the Caps have won nearly everything besides the Stanley Cup: the Art Ross Trophy, Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, Calder Trophy, and Boudreau's own Jack Adams Award, for starters. 

Ovechkin of the CapitalsAfter turning Washington into a goal-scoring dynamo when he first took the team over, Boudreau revamped the squad into one of the NHL's best defensive groups last year, only to get the same result: playoff frustration. This year's loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was especially ignominious: a sweep in the second round in which the Lightning often seemed capable of scoring at will.

So they have failed to win with offense, and now failed to win with defense. Defense is nice, and no one ever won the Cup with a a sluggish blueline, or less than committed back-checking. But a team that dresses players with scorers' mentalities like Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green should never finish in the bottom half of the league (19th, to be exact) in goals per game. 

Boudreau can take heart from the example provided by Claude Julien. As recently as May 16, Julien was the coach of a team in a 0-2 playoff hole to a lower-seeded team, with a non-functional power play and a road trip to Montreal on the docket. When one thought of the Bruins recent playoff experience, one thought of the team's epic collapse from a 3-0 lead to losing in seven games against Philadelphia the year prior.

Julien's B's responded by reeling off three wins in a row against the Habs en route to winning the series, followed by exorcising their demons by sweeping the Flyers, followed by winning the Stanley Cup. If Boudreau can maintain the Caps' defensive excellence while getting Ovie and co. to score like their old selves, a similar change in the way he is perceived could be in his near future.