Monday, November 28, 2011

This Is Only A Tribute

Assuming you have your ass outta your head, you have heard by now that Bruce Boudreau is out as the guy behind the bench in Washington, and former player Dale Hunter is in as coach. Hunter has been coaching the OHL's London Knights for the past 11 years, a team that he and his brother bought shortly before he took over those duties. In that time, he reached 300 wins faster than any other OHL coach, and is the winningest coach in the league's history. This is in addition to the fact that he is one of only four Caps players to ever have their numbers retired, had a 19-year career in the NHL, and that he desperately wants a Stanley Cup. As McPhee has said in his presser, "this is the only team he has ever wanted to coach, he has had other opportunities." I would say that I was not one to say "I told you so" if that was true... so let me just remind you that I told you so (albeit in a half-joking way). But there will be more time for Hunter talk later, especially after a tough first week against a hot St. Louis Blues (who also made a coaching change), the Penguins (now with rejuvenated superstar Sidney Crosby), and a game against the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers on Monday following the "easy game" against the Ottawa Senators. For now, Boudreau is the man of the day, and here are my thoughts and memories of the man, the coach, the foul-mouthed legend.

When Glen Hanlon was let go four years ago, it was an AHL coach with some recent success that took his spot. "Gabby," as they called him, went on to take the team from last place to first in the division, bowing out in the first round of the playoffs in a year when most thought even making it would be impossible, and winning the Jack Adams award for best coach of the year. Budding superstar Alex Ovechkin went on to score 65 goals that season. The lineup was far from perfect, but it looked like better days were to come.

The following season played out like one would expect. Another division title, this one a little less hard fought as the Caps. They finished second in the conference, won the first round of the playoffs, and lost to the eventual Cup-winning Penguins in a 7-game series widely considered to be one of the best in league history. Things were only looking better after that, when Boudreau led the team to their first ever President's Trophy for having the best record in the league. Unfortunately, it only took a couple weeks for the first signs that something was wrong to show up, when the team lost in the first round to eighth-seeded Montreal. Questions persisted and dogged Boudreau from that point forward, as it seemed that series defined his career and coaching style for the remainder of his tenure in Washington. Lineup changes were made repeatedly in game, goalies were rotated constantly, and playing styles were tweaked and overhauled on more than one occasion. Last season Boudreau likely came to the brink during an eight game losing streak, and may have actually been saved by the HBO cameras watching every move, including the end of that streak. After being swept in the second round by the Lightning, it appeared that Bruce's time might be up, but McPhee gave him the vote of confidence before making several roster changes. However, after going 7-0-0 to start the 2011-2012 season, all the wheels seemed to fall off, capped by a horrible 5-1 loss to a Buffalo Sabres team half-comprised of minor leaguers. The time for a change was upon McPhee, and he made the right call. Boudreau out, Hunter in.

Boudreau, mind you, experienced success that few, if any, coaches ever have, so long as you include the qualifier that all that success was in the regular season. He was the fastest coach to reach 200 wins, although that included 50 OT and SO wins, and he has the best winning percentage of any coach since his first day on the job. Boudreau is, or at least can be, an excellent coach with the right players. That much was evident in his first two or three seasons in the NHL, not to mention his regular season record. Unfortunately for Bruce, the moves that McPhee made in the off-season likely doomed his DC coaching gig. Players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Green... those are Boudreau's kind of players. Brouwer, Ward, Hamrlik, Vokoun... not as much. Boudreau will find success with another team, and I do expect it to be soon. Teams like Anaheim and Columbus are underperforming right now despite a lot of offensive talent, and BB could easily find a home with either, or another team that isn't even on the radar right now. There are always teams with untapped talent that just need a new voice, the right voice, and guys like Boudreau will always be in demand for just that reason.

We have to thank Bruce Boudreau for the good times, the records, the wins, the four years of excitement and getting the team to a place where anything less than ultimate success is considered a failure. When a team is at a spot where a coach with Bruce's win-loss record gets fired, they are in a good place. At the same time, we have to thank McPhee for letting him go in the hopes that things will advance. This is a business, and coaches in this league are not expected to last forever. The good ones find work again, and soon. Don't feel too bad for Boudreau yet, he will be fine. I, and I am sure all the fans, wish him the best of luck moving forward. Haagen-Dazs is headquartered in Oakland, CA, so Anaheim would work out beautifully.

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