bylsma-boudreau

Let’s play a game. I’ll quote from an article, and you tell me if the author is talking about the 2011 Caps or the 2013 Penguins.

For the second straight postseason, [Coach] let the reins slip on his team. In both series, he fumbled and bumbled and finally grabbed them again, only it was too late to guide the wagon train away from the cliff’s edge.

That in consecutive playoff eliminations, the [team] haven’t just lost, they’ve come unhinged.

Guesses?

That’s Greg Wyshynski, the Puck Daddy himself, writing last week about Dan Byslma’s recent struggles, but he might as well have been talking about Bruce Boudreau after the Caps’ 2011 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a second round sweep.

Bylsma’s contract would have been up after the 2014 season, so action by GM Ray Shero seemed necessary before the season began. Shero extended Byslma, a move that the Pensblog said makes “unlimited sense.” As they put it before the signing, “If the Pens don’t extend Bylsma, firing him will be all anyone talks about next season.”

Now that Ray Shero has re-upped Bylsma and voiced unwavering support for his embattled coach, we might expect smooth sailing for the Penguins from here on out. But to do that, we’d have to ignore all the eerie similarities between Bylsma and Boudreau– and the not-too-distant memory of what happened to Bruce just a few months after his own GM endorsed him.

Let’s start here: Bylsma and Boudreau have very similar records. Both took over floundering teams mid-season. Both had star-making moments on HBO. Both have had limited playoff success in recent years. Sure, there’s the tiny issue of the Stanley Cup (Byslma’s got one, Boudreau does not), but aside from that… well, check this out.

With the Caps, in 329 games, Boudreau won 201. That’s 61.1%.

With the Pens, in 318 games, Bylsma won 201. That’s 63.2%.

Wait wait, let’s do a table!

Boudreau Bylsma
Games 329 318
Wins 201 201
Win Percentage 61.1% 63.2%
Playoff Wins (last 3 yrs) 5 5

Note: Boudreau’s stats are from his time in Washington.

Twenty-two games after Bruce Boudreau’s Caps got swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning, George McPhee fired him and hired Dale Hunter. The Capitals’ record at the time was 12-9-1, a 54% win percentage (the Calgary Flames wish they had a problem like having to fire a plus-.500 coach), though the Caps had been getting blown out dramatically in games before the firing. That suggests to me that the manner of losing bears some operative meaning to the coaches’ livelihoods– that it’s more than just winning and losing.

Take another look at the language in Wyshynski’s article:  “the Penguins haven’t just lost, they’ve come unhinged.” On the same site, Ryan Lambert wrote that the Penguins have been “bounced from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion in each of the last three seasons.”

I’m tempted to make some crack about how it doesn’t matter how a team loses, but I’d just be inviting someone to quote The West Wing misquoting James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. I’ll do it for you:

Geoffrey: Why, you chivalric fool! As if the way one fell down mattered.

Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

Right. Now, let’s take a look at some of my own language describing Caps losses leading up to Boudreau’s dismissal.

  • “There is no part of the Caps game that is clicking right now. Not defense, breakouts, zone entry, cycling, man advantage, or two-man advantage. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are systemic issues in the organization’s skate-sharpening or water bottle protocols.”  Jets 4, Caps 1; Nov 17, 2011
  • “Teamlessness. It’s not a word, but it’s the best way to describe this team.” Leafs 7, Caps 1; Nov 19, 2011

And mostly, this one:

  • “In “the lean years,” fans could shake off a month of losses like this; no big deal. But now that the team has demonstrated that it can be awesome– and awesome consistently– the November glut is a spit in the face.” Sabres 5, Caps 1; Nov 26, 2011

Bruce Boudreau was fired two days later.

The ways in which the Caps lost– in a sweep loss to the Bolts, in a series lead surrendered to Montreal, and in a portentous number of shutouts and one-goal peformances in November 2011– were in sharp contrast to the lofty expectations set for that team based on its star power and Presidents’ Trophy. That’s what damned the coach– despite still being pretty darn awesome by most objective standards. It’s as if expectation of a Stanley Cup triumphed over aspiration, which would be a more appropriate approach to the 1-in-16 proposition that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The same is true for the Penguins, who won the Cup in 2009, battled for the Eastern Conference regular season title every year, made the playoffs despite profound injuries to its two main stars and the continued presence of Matthew Aloysius Cooke on their roster. The team has had some of the league’s rottenest luck these last three years and have excelled anyway. The Penguins are a fantastic team right now, and they should remain so for at least another season.

I should point out that the 2011 Boudreau Caps were kind of awesome too. All it took was one unsustainably rough patch (goalies under Boudreau gave up one goal for every ten even-strength shots they faced– four worse than what they did under Hunter) to get their coach fired. All those full-throated endorsements for Boudreau by players and management after the sweep were rendered meaningless after one bad stretch.

“There’s no difference between a playoff coach and regular-season coach,” George McPhee told the press in May of 2011. “Either you’re a good coach or you’re not. [Boudreau]‘s a good coach.”

Captain Alex Ovechkin dittoed that statement with this ovechkinism: “Everybody supports everybody.”

Jump forward to June of 2013 and we get a very similar tone from Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle were quoted by Ray Shero as being  “100 percent supportive” of the decision to extend Bylsma. Shero himself succinctly said, “I believe in Dan Bylsma.” And Yahoo’s Harrison Mooney characterized it perfectly: “The stampede to fire Bylsma, which would have been wild enough to kill Simba’s father, has been cancelled.”

But maybe “postponed” would be a better word than “cancelled.” After all, the firing rate for coaches is damn near 100%; few stick around to resign with dignity (what up, Lindy Ruff). Coaches are hockey ballast: they’re the first thing you dump when you need a quick lift. But we should not misconstrue coach-firing frenzies for rational behavior. Managers don’t fire coaches to win games, they do it to deflect blame. After all, Dan Bylsma isn’t the one who made his team older and slower at the trade deadline, and Boudreau wasn’t given the leeway to stick to his guns when those guns eventually misfired.

All general managers want to win, but seldom do we see one have a moment of clarity, realize his team’s defeat is his own doing, and then throw himself off a cliff so that starving lion cubs can feast on his corpse.

So here we are. Dan Byslma has job security– according to Ray Shero. So too did Bruce Boudreau– according to George McPhee. It took nine losses to change the latter’s mind. How long will Ray hold out?

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  • Jay

    Let’s play a game. I’ll quote from an article, and you tell me if the author is talking about the 2009 Penguins or any Caps team EVER:

    “…head coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion…”

    That’s all that matters.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Nice dig.

    Hey, do you think this article is in any way abusive of the Penguins?

    Not checking to see your opinion of my writing, just curious about reading comprehension level.

  • Jay

    No, and I could care less if it is abusive to the Penguins. I’m just tired of the constant blogging of stats and comparisons of this and that when the measure of success is winning the Stanley Cup. And as far as I can tell the Caps have zippy, and I wish someone would start writing about how that’s never going to change for the Caps until someone owns up to that fact.

    You can bring up all the stats about Bylsma and the Pens, but I’d be tickled pink if my team was talking about firing their coach because a Eastern Conference finals appearance wasn’t good enough (considering the Caps have been to TWO in their entire history). There’s no comparison between these two organizations, no matter how hard someone wants to look for it.

    Edit: for the record, I guess I should point out I am a Caps fan.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Only 1 out of 30 teams wins the championship each year. If that’s your minimum threshold for enjoying the Caps, your pants will be of the grumpy variety.

    Even good teams– even the league’s best team– can lose in the playoffs. It’s a game of skill, but it’s also a game of chance. In my math, the Caps have had 2-4 real chances to win the Cup since 2005. My heart is not broken.

  • yv

    GMs Shero and Holmgren of Flyers are keep going according to known only for them vision, which, since their teams in Caps division, is not bad thing at all

    Please, no more citation from Ryan Lambert. His ‘writings’ about hockey, including about Caps and Ovi, like today (“…Interestingly, the Alex Ovechkin pick was the wrong one [why??] even if you’re going to disqualify Sidney Crosby on the basis that he was injured for the final quarter of the season, but you can at least see why the decision was made…[or] … Adam Oates wants to be the Bill Belichick of the NHL. Insofar as he doesn’t want to scream or make a big scene to be noticed as a coach. So, essentially, Oates wants the world to see him as a quiet jerk. “) are beyond amusement. Yahoo keep him in hockey section just for provocation and clicks.

  • Jay

    But your article isn’t about enjoying the Caps, it’s about how Bylsma is likely to be fired because the situation surrounding the 2011 Caps and their 3 years immediately before is virtually the same as the 2013 Penguins and their 3 years immediately before. And as much as you point out numbers and scenarios, you’re crafting them from a narrow view to make a point. And winning the Cup isn’t the minimum threshold for enjoying hockey, it’s the threshold for measuring the success of a hockey team (certainly when viewing 40 years of history).

    Back to the point I was making orginally though, you’ve left out the most important points between the two coaches, Bylsma has a ring, Boudreau doesn’t. Bylsma has made the Eastern Conference Finals twice in 4-1/2 years (including the year of the Cup victory). Boudreau, in roughly 4 years with the Caps, never made it out of the 2nd round. Bylsma’s history with the Pens, in it’s entirety, is not comparable to Boudreau’s with the Caps. That’s my contention. And I hope you’re not going to compare Shero to McPhee next.

    As far as the Caps having 2-4 real chances to win the Cup since 2005, I’d love to hear what years those were and what your argument is. Beyond the 2010, which I think you could make a case for, there’s no other season I see where you’d look back and say the Caps had a realistic chance of winning the Cup.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    A) 29 teams each year are not failures. Some are failures, one is a champion, the rest are qualified in the middle.

    B) I did mention the Bylsma’s Cup in the article.

    C) My three-year window for stats might’ve been narrow, but I chose it deliberately to illustrate the “what have you done for me lately?” evaluation tactics used for coaches. In BB’s last 3 years, he won the same number of series that Bylsma has in his last 3 years. Even Cup-winning coaches get fired in time, see Tortorella in Tampa.

    D) Its not it’s.

    E) The argument can be made that Bylsma is not similar to Boudreau, but you’d actually have to make that argument, rather than just assert it emphatically a few times. Start by telling me where my argument is weak, and then start buttressing your own with evidence. I really do welcome it– this is a conversation-piece article and I’m dispassionate about it.

    F) Cup window: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011– based on Alex Ovechkin’s shot totals, the team’s dominant possession advantage, the synchronicity of the team’s scorers being in peak-scoring ages, and the blind hope that their shooting % could stay up while Varly (or Theo or Neuvy) played above his talent level. The best team in the bunch was the 2010 team, which lost due to shooting percentages that fell off (or a hot goalie– it’s interchangeable to me) at an inopportune time (plus a waved-off goal or two.)

  • Livia

    Watching the Pens fall apart this post-season brought back a lot of bad memories of the Caps’ recent post-seasons. Even Sid is taking exaggerated heat of the sort Ovi faced the last few years. I can see that there are differences between the Caps and Pens, both currently and historically, as other commenters have pointed out, but the numbers you present here and the dramatic arc of the two teams’ recent fortunes are too similar to ignore.

    Also, I couldn’t agree with Yv more regarding Ryan Lambert. His eulogy to the Caps this post-season was pure hatred without a bit of wit. I can’t see how he deserves the space Puck Daddy gives him.

  • Jay

    Last comment for me and I’ll leave it be.

    First, I did not say 29 teams each year are failures. I said the true measure of success, the threshold of success is a Stanley Cup. Just because you don’t succeed in winning the Cup doesn’t make you a failure, it just doesn’t make you a success. I guess that’s just my opinion, but why anyone would be in the game of hockey and not carry that belief is beyond me.

    Second, if we’re splitting hairs (it’s/its), you didn’t reference the Stanley Cup win as Bylsma’s but the Penguins Cup. Why would that be important to me? Because he took a team that was talented but completely disheveled following a finals appearance and got them back and won. Bylsma was a big part of that but you’re not giving him credit for that.

    As for what have you done for me lately, fair enough. I know Cup winning coaches don’t last forever (though I’d use another example, like Larry Robinson or Peter Laviolette, instead of Torts as he has issues all his own that cause him to wear out his welcome). Still, when a GM fights to keep a coach his argument is a lot stronger when you can point to history as proof his coach can get it done.

    As far as your weakness in the comparison between Bylsma and Boudreau, it is simple. Bylsma has won a Stanley Cup. He has taken a team past the second round twice in 4-1/2 years. Boudreau, in four years with the Caps and two years with the Ducks, has never taken a team past the second round. I judge by results, so for me that’s the end of the comparison.

    The situations between the Penguins in 2013 and the Caps in 2011? The Penguins lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the team that, obviously, is in the Stanley Cup finals and as of now is leading in the series. The Caps lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to a team that did not make the Stanley Cup finals. Those are big differences to me (then again, according to McPhee if I knew anything about hockey I’d be in the game).

    Cup window: I can’t buy that the 2008 Caps had a realistic chance to win the Cup. The team hadn’t made the playoffs since 2003, the young were young, the old were old, their starting playoff goalie had 13 games in front of them, their unquestioned leader had been benched for said new goalie and the team barely even made the playoffs. I don’t believe the 2009 Caps had a realistic shot as they had inexperienced goaltending and a systematic style that often left the goalie to fend for himself. Blind hope that shooting percentages would stay high aren’t enough in my opinion to call chances of winning a Cup realistic. 2010 I will give you, and for the record I’ll buy the hot goalie reason, for once it was completely justified. 2011? I don’t think the team had any cohesiveness at all, they had already stopped listening to the coach because the coach changed his system due to the criticism from the Montreal loss. The damage done by the December losing streak was covered up by the Winter Classic victory and a lights out March against weak competition. If a Ranger scores in triple OT instead of Chimera, chances are the Caps lose that series.

  • Ralph

    “Why would that be important to me? Because he took a team that was talented but completely disheveled following a finals appearance and got them back and won. Bylsma was a big part of that but you’re not giving
    him credit for that.”

    If we’re going purely by results, then Bylsma took a team that was two wins away from a Cup, and got it that extra two.

    Boudreau took a team that was 16 wins away and got it to 8-13 wins away.

    Anyway, regarding whether the Cup makes a difference–it seems like for the media, it does not make a big difference anymore, given what is written here, right? Does it make a big difference to Shero or to Lemieux? Elliotte Friedman (I think) wrote this week that Lemieux wanted Bylsma gone, but ultimately decided to let Shero do as he wants. (Even aside from the Cup, Shero has done a nice job as GM, aside from drafting. But the core was already drafted by the time he took over, essentially–he just drafted Jordan Staal in 2006, and that was all he needed.) I’d also argue Shero realizes Bylsma is a good fit for the Penguins, and retained him for that reason, not because Fleury played well in two games in 2009. (The Pens in 09 were an elite ES team, unlike in 08. Their only real threat in the East was Washington.)

    “The situations between the Penguins in 2013 and the Caps in 2011? The Penguins lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the team that, obviously, is in the Stanley Cup finals and as of now is leading in the series. The Caps lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to a team that did not make the Stanley Cup finals.”

    Tampa lost the ECF G7 1-0 that year. Close enough, I think. (The round in which you lose is a function of the team you play, which here is pretty similar–a team that made the SCF or came very, very close.)

    “Cup window: I can’t buy that the 2008 Caps had a realistic chance to win the Cup.”

    They were a dominant ES team, Ovechkin arguably had one of the five finest goal-scoring seasons in NHL history, and they had the element of surprise, in a way–the other coaches hadn’t had an offseason or two to adjust to the new Caps. (See what happened when coaches got a year to game plan for Boucher in Tampa.) They also played at a 108-pt pace under Boudreau. I don’t think inexperience is as intangible as it’s made out to be–it will make you better overall, make you keep on going even when you’re down 2 or 3 goals, etc, stuff which will show up in the numbers. Those Caps excelled at all times except on the PK.

    Moreover, look at how the Pens made the SCF–how long do you think Fleury could sustain those elite numbers? With the right opponent, they would have come down.

    “I don’t believe the 2009 Caps had a realistic shot as they had inexperienced goaltending and a systematic style that often left the goalie to fend for himself.”

    They finished 2nd in the conference even though almost half the lineup was from Hershey on some nights. Montreal, which finished first, had to bank more on the percentages to win since they weren’t a great ES team. Ditto Pittsburgh in 2008.

    “Blind hope that shooting percentages would stay high aren’t enough in my opinion to call chances of winning a Cup realistic.”

    It takes four rounds to win a Cup. I’d say the chance of facing a hot goalie gets pretty high. You have to hope either you don’t face one, or if you do, your own goalie gets hot as well. Look at Chicago-Detroit just a few weeks ago.

    “2011? I don’t think the team had any cohesiveness at all, they had already stopped listening to the coach because the coach changed his system due to the criticism from the Montreal loss. The damage done by the December losing streak was covered up by the Winter Classic victory and a lights out March against weak competition. If a Ranger scores in triple OT instead of Chimera,
    chances are the Caps lose that series.”

    First, the way you put it, I’d think you’re describing a team that was in lottery position for most of the year but made a late run to finish out of the playoffs (Tampa from last year, maybe). Not a team that finished *first in the conference.*

    FYI, the Caps hammered both the NE and the ATL. http://www.nhl.com/ice/standings.htm?season=20102011&type=xve#&navid=nav-stn-east

    As for the 2OT Chimera goal, so the Rangers take that one. They lose Game 5. Now you’re banking on them winning at home (likely, but not certain) and winning on the road (unlikely, but not impossible).

    Let’s say the two teams are dead even on neutral ice, 50-50. Maybe NYR is 60-40 favorites at home, and 40-60 underdogs on the road. They have to win both games. 60% x 40% is 24%–there’s still a 3/4 chance the Caps take the series. The Rangers need to be 70-30 favorites or better in both games to be favorites to take two in a row.

  • Jeremiah

    torts had a ring he still got fired, no stats needed there and a year after getting to the eastern con finals. they aren’t talking about how he will get fired just a comparison to when a similar situation happened. ni guess your not a pens fan but the conprehension still wasn’t there

  • jeremiah

    bylsma took a team that made the finals before and got lucky and won the cup . yes the year before he came a talented team took the wings to 7 games and lost the next year bylsma took the same team and won. this is not that team. the last three years are a good measure as during that time you could argue it was his team not the one he took over for in Feb. the year they won the cup. Logical assumption if you use the cup ring to defend Dan than you are saying it is the measure of success and those without it are failures; basic comprehension skills there.

  • Yo8

    Who cares?! I don’t care about the fat fuck and the four eyes and what they did on their time with the caps and pens or if their situation was similar or not!

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Then don’t read it.