On Bruce Boudreau’s Future

Photo credit: Marianne Helm

Bruce Boudreau became head coach of the Washington Capitals around Thanksgiving 2007. He turned around a losing season, made the playoffs, and sported a winning record ever since. From then on, the Capitals have consistently won the Southeast Division– if not the Eastern Conference or Presidents’ Trophy.

But the Capitals have not lasted long in the playoffs, and their last two seasons have been plagued by dramatic losing streaks. After last night’s rout at the petioles of the Maple Leafs, General Manager George McPhee declined to comment when asked for a vote of confidence for his head coach. And now, on Sunday afternoon– when we’re all surely glued to the Redskins game– the Internet is atwitter with talk of Bruce Boudreau’s future.

Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy asks, “Would firing Bruce Boudreau make the Capitals a better team?” He catalogs Bruce’s attempts to turn the Caps around:

We’ve seen Boudreau bag stake his team, given them mental health days, bench Ovechkin, bench Semin, juggle his lines like a circus clown would bowling pins, play one goalie, play the other goalie … this is all in the span of a month. Nothing appears to be working. The Capitals mainstays have heard, and seen, it all before; the veteran additions don’t seem affected by it.

Russian Machine’s blog and Facebook posts are filled with comments offering a solution to the problem. Most of them go a bit like this:

Bruce needs to go! The guys are not playing for him anymore. PATHETIC road trip..

Okay, can Ketchup Face be fired now?

Bruce boudreau needs to quit shot gunning popcorn chicken and face check his palm to his forehead and realize his job and team are headed for a world of [fecal expletive]. Gmgm needs to grow a pair and deal with bruce.

This one is my favorite:

FIRE BOUDREAU!!! TRADE OVI FOR A WHITE TIGER!!! PUT HENDY IN NET!!! DEMOTE GMGM TO A RED ROCKER!! REPLACE THE PUCKS WITH CHIPOTLE BURRITOS!! ZOMG THE SKY IS FALLING…

But CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, who has thirty completely separate thoughts every single week,  offers some context on the proposition:

Firing Boudreau is craziness. He’s won 70 per cent of his games since arriving in Washington. He revived a flatlining franchise. His peers will tell you he’s got a good in-game feel. He’s open to different concepts and ideas — going to the trap last season, the first time in his career he coached it.

He’s fulfilling McPhee’s wish of being harder on his players when necessary. The whole point of adding as much depth as they did was to say, “Look, if someone’s not going hard, they’re not going on the ice.” When he kept Ovechkin on the bench in that now-infamous game against Anaheim, the players he chose scored the tying goal. And Ovechkin set up the winner. As McPhee said in our pre-game Inside Hockey Feature, “That’s coaching.”

Plus, who are you going to find that’s better?

That final line cannot be stressed enough. Firing someone is a binomial equation: someone leaves, someone comes in. Until you can name a possible replacement, you aren’t really serious about the idea.

This is a topic we’ve broached before. On May 4th of this year, the eve of the Capitals last playoff exit, we wrote a post called, “Fire Bruce Boudreau”, which came to a conclusion ironically antithetical to that title. We listed the accomplishments of the head coach and offered a comparison: firing Bruce Boudreau, who is the best coach in Washington history, would ultimately be as unwise as signing Jaromir Jagr was one decade ago.

"Saucyface" by Stephen S. (Courtesy: The Pensblog)

This is not to say that the team’s problems don’t require a change, but it’s intellectually lazy to say that “change” must mean “coaching change.” There’s a menu of options available to improve this team: crystallizing practice habits, reformulating systems, enforcing player discipline, working on morale (i.e. trustfalls), and– finally– trades. But firing comes first into the minds of fans because it is as dramatic as the psychic damage inflicted on us when we see our team flounder.

And because Bruce Boudreau has a PR problem.

Perhaps it all started on HBO with the eczema or barbeque sauce or whatever around his mouth, delivered with amped up saturation and immortalized by The Pensblog. Then the ice cream. Then those bumbling, foul-mouthed rants that seemed more sad than angry. Then the gamut of commercials featuring a dopey, lovable Boudreau character. Cup-holders, birdcalling, carpet-wrecking parties– these make for cute advertisements, but they become devastating once that coach is besieged.

Luckily, the smart people in Capitals hockey operations won’t make their decisions based on emotion or TV commercials. They know that Boudreau is a singular talent with a sterling record and an unmatched hockeybrain. They know this. Hopefully.

But yeah, he could afford to lose some weight.

  • Chris

    I can’t agree with “sterling record” and “unmatched hockeybrain.”  He’s underachieved in the playoffs, so that certainly doesn’t equal “sterling” to me, and if his hockeybrain was so huge, then we wouldn’t be constantly talking about the same stuff time and time again.

    The menu of options listed here for change – isn’t that the job of the coach?  And haven’t we read that they’ve tried many of these at one time or another?  Trading – who are the Caps going to trade and for what return?

    I can’t buy that BB is the best coach for the Caps and that there’s no one else out there.  Crawford, Hitchcock, Hartley – these guys don’t have a proven track record?  Surely there are more. 

    Look, I think BB gets hammered more than he should, but … there comes a time when the coach IS the problem and that problem needs to be addressed.   The Caps look lost and that’s the near-term job of the coach (and the Captain) to right the ship.

  • J in Anchorage

    I don’t think firing BB is the way forward. What I do think needs to happen is trading Sasha for someone (anyone) who can keep their wits in a game without creating a PP chance for the opposing team. This would send a message to the veterans that shitty play won’t be tolerated, and (hopefully) bring some balance back to the team.

  • http://twitter.com/FedFedRMNB Fe(yo)dor Fedin

    Guy who has such a major drop-off in record in the playoffs should have psychological problems. And probably Boudreau has. He’s pretty thin-skinned.

    Some coaches without the NHL job: Kirk Muller, Mike Keenan, Craig MacTavish, Bob Hartley, Guy Carbonneau, Marc Crawford… Dale Hunter?

  • Peter

    I’m gonna eliminate MacTavish from contention. A guy who think it’s wise to be the only dude without a helmet is not wise enough to run a full hockey team.

  • DarkStranger

    Wasn’t Carbonneau the guy who coached the underachieving Canadiens three years ago?  Somehow, that doesn’t imply “improvement” to me.

  • B_pavlik

    Boudreau’s regular season record just doesn’t cut it anymore.  IMO the coach and players aren’t on the same page, which is a recipe for disaster.  Some have suggested GM McPhee, Coach Boudreau, and team Captain have a meeting to clear the air.  Maybe this will be enough to right the ship, maybe not.  But if the Caps have tuned out Boudreau for good, then no meeting or glut of F-bombs is going to change the course the Caps are on.

  • Jay8084

    Yeah that’s really going to help,trade one player and that will fix everything.Bruce is not a great coach,hes a glorified AHL hockey player.Ovie needs someone to help him change his game and Boudrea doesn’t have the talent or skill.Remember that 8 game winning streak we had and then we lost two games and Boudrea started changing the lines,and as the article says,juggle his lines like a circus. That to me is panic mode.

  • Jay8084

    Yes Dale Hunter,hear,grit, and love for the game!

  • http://twitter.com/ianoland Ian Oland

    I didn’t see the game last night so forgive me if this is misguided, but it seems like the team kinda sorta quit on the coach last night. Losing 7-1 to the Leafs – who were shorthanded – on National TV (getting up for these games like this never used to be a problem) after an embarrassing loss to a SE division dweller in Winnipeg is not acceptable. This team should have the depth and leadership to be able to avoid getting pounded like that. Last night might be the game we look back upon in a week  and say “that’s when Bruce lost the team.”  Hopefully, I’m wrong. Bruce has a favorable stretch of games here: 5 games in 7 nights — almost all of them at home — to make things right.  

    After the 7-0 stretch to the start the season, it’s hard for me to believe this is actually happening.  I think Dennis Wideman said it best last night:

    “We’ve struggled probably the last [11] games now. Even when we were winning those seven games there were a lot of games there we got outplayed and our goalies stood on their heads and got us those wins. It’s been going on for a while. If we don’t correct it soon we’re going to find ourselves looking up.”

    Not good.

    If things don’t turn around this week, we may be looking at a new coach of the team. My guess: Dale Hunter. 

  • OvechkinFan92801

    As what amounts to a life-long Angels’ fan (we’ve been fans since the old PCL Angels days), I’ve learned a bit of patience (42 years of MLB Angels before a World Series appears [and win]), but even I, technically a bandwagon Caps fan (at least in terms of how long I’ve been a fan of the team), have lost patience with BB. He’s lost the room; it’s time for him to go.

  • OvechkinFan92801/Grammar Cop

     *appearance

  • Bobby Gee

    Boudreau’s regular season record just doesn’t cut it anymore.  The way the Caps have been playing lately suggests to me a lack of communication and/or respect between the head coach and players.  If this is true, it’s a recipe for disaster and must be fixed ASAP.  Whether that means GM McPhee, Coach Boudreau and team Captain having a meeting to clear to air, or if something more drastic like replacing Boudreau is answer, I’m not sure.  I’m not panicking…yet…but the Caps seem like a rudderless ship now, and unless that changes, the Caps can, and most likely will, run aground in the playoffs if not sooner. 

  • Jim

    Teams go through slumps where they play real poorly.  Pretty much every team does this every year.

  • Pattyo

    MARK FRENCH. Make Brooks the captain too. French + Brooks = WIN!

  • 28ISGREAT

    Excellent post!  You hit the nail on the head regarding the PR surrounding BB – he’s cultivated this goofy circus clown image, and HBO series certainly didnt do him many intellectual favors.   Blysma came across exactly how I imagined a pro-coach would.  BB came across like a vulgar glutton.  Combined with his repetitive litany of post-game excuses, its hard to muster some support for him.

    But – and I write this admitting I’ve called for his head many a time – supporting him right now is really all we fans can do at this point precisely because there are a lack of better options.  Which is not the same as supporting him because you think he’s some kind of singular coaching talent.   

    So in other words, I support him because its the pragmatic thing to do right now.  We’re not at an inflection point this season (yet), and there are no better options out there.  But, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have faith in BB as a coach, simply because I just don’t agree with the idea that he’s a “singular talent” with an “unmatched hockeybrain.”  

    Win us (or hell, anyone else) some Cups (use of the plural intentional), and then I’ll reconsider.

  • DarkStranger

    While Hunter had those qualities, I am sure, I would still be iffy about elevating a Junior Hockey coach directly to the NHL without some minor league professional experience.  Maybe hiring him as an NHL assistant but not direct from junior coach to NHL head coach.

  • DarkStranger

    I have a soft space in my heart for the Angels.  While the Cards and Nationals and Orioles are my primary baseball teams, I paid very close attention to the Angels during the mid to latter part of the 70′s, through their bad years and ascension to heart breaking losses.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryantpthomas Bryant Thomas

    I vote Marc Crawford head coach. There are plenty of viable options though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryantpthomas Bryant Thomas

    Yes, but last year we went through 2. And the year before. And the year before that. And the second slumps, for each of those years, just HAPPENED to be in the playoffs. THAT is unacceptable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryantpthomas Bryant Thomas

    Agreed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryantpthomas Bryant Thomas

    Ah, upon further review of my co-commenters, I agree to nominees Mark French, and even Dale Hunter.

  • Peter

    Last year the Caps won the East. The year before they won the Presidents Trophy. Every team has skids, doesn’t mean anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryantpthomas Bryant Thomas

    Skidding in the playoffs 4 years running is not coincidence. That said, I would love to be proven wrong.

  • Daniel

    Mark French is BB lite.  No thanks.  The number of fans that I’ve heard say “French would be good!”  aren’t paying attention to his coaching, just the fact that A) The bears have been a great team the past few seasons(due in large part to the incredible talent the team has had, not the coach), and B) He is already linked to the organization.  

    As far as Brooks goes, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to him being named captain, I thought he should have gotten the C over Ovechkin anyway. 

  • Daniel

    Like I said above, people just jump on French because he is with the bears, and Dale since he was so great for the Caps.  Dale has no coaching experience on a non-junior level.    

  • Jim

    I wouldn’t say they “skid”.  They had  a bad game against the Pens in game 7, otherwise were awesome.  The next year they got beat by a hot Habs team (which beat the Pens in the next round, I’ll remind you).

    Coincidentally this past year they hit a hot TB team (who again, coincidentally beat the Pens before us, only after waking up).  I mean, I won’t say they were playing great in the TB series, but it would have been more of a series had they not been on a hot streak.

    I mean, nobody thinks the Bruins really were the best team in the NHL last year, they were just hot at the right time, and good enough for the rest of it.

    That’s pretty much the playoffs for you, in a league with such parity.

  • Jim

    I wouldn’t say they “skid”.  They had  a bad game against the Pens in game 7, otherwise were awesome.  The next year they got beat by a hot Habs team (which beat the Pens in the next round, I’ll remind you).

    Coincidentally this past year they hit a hot TB team (who again, coincidentally beat the Pens before us, only after waking up).  I mean, I won’t say they were playing great in the TB series, but it would have been more of a series had they not been on a hot streak.

    I mean, nobody thinks the Bruins really were the best team in the NHL last year, they were just hot at the right time, and good enough for the rest of it.

    That’s pretty much the playoffs for you, in a league with such parity.

  • J in Anchorage

    Actually, one player may be all this team needs. Sasha’s antics on the ice are akin to an in-game clubhouse cancer. The team lacks discipline; he’s the prime offender.

    I do remember the eight game winning streak. BB was in charge for that…remember?

    Boudreau has been successful as a coach, even winning a championship in the AHL. He’s also got a hellacious winning percentage in the NHL. This team is close, it just needs tweaking. 

  • brian!

    THANK YOU for writing this.  I feel the same way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryantpthomas Bryant Thomas

    True. That’s why I would vote Crawford. I wouldn’t be displeased with French or Hunter, if they did take that route.

  • brian!

    Rose-colored glasses here, but don’t forget Tampa had bounces when they played us.  Green kicked a puck into our own net to win a game for TB, and a game later we had that bad line-change in OT that led to an odd-man rush and goal.  The inches we need are everywhere around us…

  • brian!

    For discussion purposes only, I’d throw Bowman’s name in for consideration, but he’s currently 78…

  • Daniel

    I still think Kirk Muller would be a good fit here.  I would have loved Hitchcock, but that ship has obviously sailed. 

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  • Patton

    I keep reading posts that echo a very familiar feel within D.C. … Rash judgement. We seem to be quick to want someone’s head upon them not doing what we expected them to do, and if it takes longer than the two/three marker. When I read posts like that, I suddenly feel super ashamed to be a D.C. fan. I have never played hockey, nor coached hockey. Who am I to even begin to say what BB is doing right or wrong. I can only see what is working and what isn’t. Firing Bruce might make fans happier, but it won’t solve anything else. To assume the it all falls to him at this point is almost ridiculous as it is to say that our Defense the past few games have been outstanding. 

    And to add more side note, I believe that half of the teams in the NHL have yet to win a cup. It’s a whole lot harder than maybe fans think. having every team in the NFL win a SUper Bowl would be more likely to happen before 75% of the NHL wins a cup.

  • Summitwalker

    BB is a good coach but he is not the coach for this team any longer. He has run his course as the head coach and it’s time for a change. I like MacTavish, he’s been to the final as a coach and a player, and he knows how to deal with superstars! He was afterall part of one the greatest teams in NHL history!

    And trading Semin now is a desparation move which will not bring back the best possible return. A talent tike Semin should be moved while he is hot, not when he is on the verge of being in the pressbox!

    Just sayn’!

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  • Brittany

    Fans have such high expectations of the Caps that when they go 0-7, everyone thinks its the end of the world.

  • Joe

    It is time for Bruce to go he has lost this team with his constant line juggling and scratching productive players after good games. What did Perrault do to be scratched wasn’t that fourth line clicking with him on it? 

    I have had it with Bruce. Crawford or Muller would be a good fit here. Trade Semin he looks like he will be scratched for Monday’s game anyway. Please trade Schultz he has dropped off so much in two years it is painful to watch. He’s 6’7 and he never throws a check his game is so diminished. 

    Hopefully Orlov makes an impression and shows he is ready.  I wouldn’t Brooks taking over as Captain think he deserves it. Just need this team to get it together quickly this division is a lot stronger this year and a change in coach may be what this team needs to  get back in the groove.

  • http://misisobel.wordpress.com Izzy

    I don’t think the question is Bruce’s abilities.  Noone paying attention is going to dispute that.  Maybe about his abilities in the playoffs but that’s not the explanation for this skid.  I’m thinking the question is really if the players are listening to him anymore.  Obviously GMGM is in a better position to get the true answer to that question, but we’re starting to see hints the answer is no.
    It’s really painful, because if the situation’s that, it might just be he’s been there too long and then he might very well have done absolutely nothing wrong, but they just can’t keep him.
    Which should really make fans sweat, because yeah, choose the wrong replacement, and it all goes to hell.  I hope GMGM, if it’s come to this, is looking very carefully.

  • vamedic

    What your arguement indicates is that you felt/feel that BB is the problem independant of the current losing. It’s an opinion, and others share it, but based on that logic, we could be undefeated and you’d feel the same way.

  • VaMedic

    – it’s intellectually lazy to say that “change” must mean “coaching change.”

    Truth. Understand, I like BB, and I think he does us more good than harm. But, I will personally help run him out of town tarred and feathered if it would mean a Cup.  I’m a fan of the Washington Capitals, the team, and not any one person on it.

    Those things said, this is a deeply talented group of people who are underperforming. In just about any area of life, that is almost never a result of a single individual, and ‘fixes’ that have that flavor are going to miss the mark. That means trading Semin, or Firing Bruce, or whatever.  Now, there is a logic akin to pulling a goalie when it’s not the goalie’s fault a team is behind just to fire up a team that could be called into play WRT BB. The fault there is that the goalie change is only expected to provide a bump for the remainder of the game (<60 min).  The coach change would need to provide a bump for months. In the end, the root cause still has to be addressed. The better plan, would be to make the struggling performers (Bruce, Ovi, Semin, goalies, D men) succeed, perhaps outside help, perhaps from above, doesn't matter.

    And I hate to be a long term planner on a hockey blog, but if you fire him, and it doesn't work, then what is next? You better be sure, not "trying something". As I heard in a pretty good movie, "You can't take back a hit".

  • http://www.calacirian.org sonja n a

    I’m late to this conversation … but I just read my current issue of The Hockey News.  In that issue Ken Campbell gives BB a heaping bowl of praise for benching Ovie in the waning minutes of the game against Anaheim on Nov. 1.  KC writes that this act should do much to get the superstar moving again and pull the team together.  They won that night, in OT.  Since then they’ve only won one additional game and the performances have been getting increasingly bad.  Ovechkin can’t even buy a point.  Or won’t.  If BB is suffering from bad PR, so is Semin.  His play may not be living up to expectations, but it’s not so bad that he should be traded.  Ovechkin needs to be reminded who the coach is.  Regardless of a player’s status. 

    Perhaps we fans need to let BB do his job.  And remind Ovechkin that BB is his boss.  And stop pushing #8′s bad behavior onto #28. 

  • Stardragon66

    Spot on, Sonja n a. Folks nattering on like the Red Queen”Off with his head!”. Maybe the team needs to jiggle the communication wires a bit,get the C off Ovi’s chest and get on with it.We got a Cup to win.

  • spacecadet

    Well said, sonja.  Ovi is acting like a spoiled, petulant little child.  He doesn’t like to play defense is part of his problem.  He likes to hit and shoot (I would say score but that doesn’t happen much now does it) and not play within any kind of system.  My only hope is that with Crosby returning to play tonight against the Isles that Ovi finally says, “now my foil has reappeared and I must reignite the engine.”  It would not surprise me in the least if he has a big game tonight because Syd is back garnering all the headlines.

  • Hockey Nut

    Spot on Sonja.  I’ve often thought that the problem with this team is tension between BB and Ovie, and Ovie’s refusal to make changes.  I am a Semin fan and watch him closely.  He really looks like he is trying and is doing what is asked of him.  Many of his penalties are not his fault and that makes him less confident.  He is in a rutt for sure but he has been at least trying.  Not so Ovie.  Sasha looks a lot better than Ovie on most nights.  Trading Semin would be just scapegoating him when he is not the real problem.  But with that said, I bet that if he is traded he will automatically start scoring again to his potential (see Flashman).  There’s something about this team that is stiffling good players!

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  • DarkStranger

    While I can’t really talk to the possible tension between Boudreau and Ovi, it certainly looks like the case that many of Semin’s recent penalties have been “reputation” calls, to the point to where he can’t even function any more no matter how much he tried.  I’m sure it’s gotten in his head, which is why he’s now a healthy scratch.  Trading Semin would be scapegoating him, I agree.  But I’m expecting him to be traded soon or even at the deadline.