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…
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.
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.