The Tampa Bay Lightning spent money this offseason to put together arguably their most complete team since the 2003-04 season. Entering his third season as head coach, Guy Boucher will be under pressure to win after play resumes.
Tampa’s offseason acquisitions have been well documented. Bringing in defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo and goaltender Anders Lindback and adding much-needed depth have brought on some renewed optimism.
Boucher has been up and down in his first two seasons behind the bench in Tampa. In 2010-11, his first season, the Bolts greatly overachieved. Tampa reached the NHL Eastern Conference Finals after recording 105 points in the regular season, a 25-point improvement from 2009.
Expectations were high for the Lightning in 2011-12, but injuries and a slow start quickly took the charge out of them. Tampa had just 25 points through 24 games last season and sat tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning missed the playoffs, just a year removed from being one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals―a polarized beginning for Boucher.
With a retooled team in 2012-13, Boucher will be under pressure to get back to the playoffs and make a run. He is in the third year of his four-year deal―making the playoffs half the time won’t work.
This is Boucher’s first stint as an NHL head coach, but he is no stranger to the coaching ranks or winning. He won four consecutive gold medals as an assistant coach with the Canadian men’s national hockey team―three at U-18 and another at U-20.
In 2009, he was named coach of the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. In his first year, Boucher went 52-17-11 and won coach-of-the-year honors.
The Bolts got a taste of that success in 2011 and hope to build on that form in 2012-13―whenever the season gets underway.
At 39, Boucher was hired as the youngest coach in the NHL. It’s only fitting that Boucher takes a unique approach to the game (via ESPN.com):
In hockey, life, it's always about building for me. If I can build something and be part of it, I will build it myself, and that's the way I approach it. I need to be part of something that we can build.
That uniqueness brought a new defensive system to the NHL―the 1-3-1. Say what you want about it, but the 1-3-1 is Boucher’s bread-and-butter.
He used it coaching juniors, and he won. He used it in the AHL, and he won. He used it in Tampa in 2010, and he won.
Former Lightning Simon Gagne said he had never seen anything like it before (Via TBO.com):
I never thought it could be possible to play a different system. You always play the trap...The system might change but it's not something new, you are used to playing the same four or five systems. This one is totally different.
His new system came under fire when the Philadelphia Flyers stalled the game against the Lightning. The system has supporters and critics, as evident by a blog post from Adam Gretz of CBS Sports.
Regardless, Boucher will need to find whatever system works to get the Bolts back to the playoffs. Signing Carle to a $5.5 million-per-year deal, Salo to $3.75 million and Lindback to $1.8 million showed Lightning fans that the team was willing to spend money to put talent on the ice.
How many times will the Lightning make the playoffs over the next two years?
Now, all Boucher and his staff have to do is win.
He has two more years in his contract. Two postseason appearances should earn him a significant extension. A hit-and-miss couple years, or two misses, may cause the Bolts to look elsewhere for the future direction of the team.
He had the confidence of general manager Steve Yzerman in 2010 (via ESPN.com):
I'm a first-time GM, but I've been in the NHL since 1983. I like to think I've seen it all. I've been around a long time and learned a lot. I was comfortable that Guy was the right fit.
Winning will solidify that claim, but with just two seasons left in the deal, it needs to happen quickly. The pressure will be on Boucher to win, whenever the 2012-13 season starts.