Cupless in the Capital
If history is any indicator of success, then Boudreau’s ship may have just sailed. After almost four years of head coaching, it looks like the race for the Cup is finally over for our Alfred Hitchcock stand-in coach. Why you ask?
We have figured out how to incorporate instant replay into every sport and dissect stats until our plasma screens burn out, but we still haven’t figured out how to predict the future. The best we can do is look to the past. This past indicates that Boudreau would help the Caps in their quest for the Stanley Cup by standing in their concessions line as much as by standing behind their bench.
I have compiled a list of the last 21 champions (the modern era of lower-scoring hockey) and analyzed the coaches who led each team to the title.
I looked at:
-How many years of coaching it took for each coach to win their first Cup (years coaching category)
-How many years the coach had been with the team he led to the Stanley Cup (years with team category)
-How many teams the coach had been with in the capacity of head coach in the NHL before he won his Cup (teams category).
In the case of all coaches who took over midseason, I included that as a full season for the sake of consistency in the list.
* The only coach for which I did not count their partial season as a full season was John Tortorella. He coached only four games for the Rangers in 2000 and won none of them with no post season.
The results are staggering and indicate that the Caps should change management instead of coaches if they can’t get this one right. Focus on the years that each coach was with the team that won the Stanley Cup; then look at how many years that Boudreau has been with the Caps (over four if he coaches next season). I explain the data further underneath the table.
|Year||Team||Coach||Years Coaching||Years With Team||Teams|
Dynasty vs. Diversity
The 90s and 2000s were a grab bag for Stanley Cup champions. If the 70s and 80s were known for their dynasties (Canadiens, Islanders, Oilers) then the 90s and 2000s were know for their diversity. In 21 years, 13 different teams won the Stanley Cup, with no team winning more than two in a row. This is a marked difference from years such as 1976-1988 where only three teams won all 13 Championships.
In analyzing the data, one finds that even more diversity exists regarding the names of the coaches on the list.
Look at the past 20 years of NBA basketball and you will find that names like Popovich, Tomjanovich and Jackson take up more than two-thirds of the coaching champions' list.
Now revert back to the NHL list; other than Scotty Bowman, there is not a single coach who won more than one Stanley Cup in the last 21 years. The lack of homogeneity in the coaching champs may be baffling, but even more so is the number of years that it took many of these coaches to win their first Cup.
Out of the past 21 Stanley Cups, eight head coaches won the championship with their first team. So good news for Boudreau?
Ten Cups were won by coaches in their first four years of head coaching—so much for practice makes perfect. Four coaches won the Cup in their first two years at the helm, and one coach even did it in his first season (albeit not even a full season) behind the bench. Boudreau has been at it for only four years with his first year being a half season. So there is still time for him to win with the Capitals according to recent history right?
Caps fans can rock as much red as they want, buy as many Ovechkin jerseys as finances allow and unleash as much fury as their hoarse third period voices can handle, but they still can’t rewrite the facts: Every single NHL champion coach since 1989 (and possibly earlier, but this is as far back as I looked for the sample) has won the Cup within the first four years of coaching a team (including half seasons). Fact is, NHL franchises dump underperforming coaches faster than an Ovechkin wrister.
There is still time for the Caps to replace Boudreau after his fourth, and possibly, most disappointing early playoff exit. Unless he plans to rewrite history this next season, I believe this is the smartest move—an empty netter. Many teams don’t give nearly as long a leash to those coaches that come up short, and many haven’t come up nearly as short as Boudreau.
Mike Keenan was fired after four years in Philadelphia with two Stanley Cup appearances. He was then ousted after four years in Chicago with another Stanley Cup berth to his credit. He finally lay to rest the 54-year hockey drought in the city that never sleeps in his first and only season as New York’s head coach.
Pat Burns manned Montreal over four complete seasons. He made it to the finals his first year, but then never again out of the second round and was dropped. He then had three-and-a-half years of early playoff exits and misses in Toronto and Boston before making it to New Jersey where he etched his name into Stanley Cup history.
Jacques Demers was done after three playoff years in St. Louis and four years, three playoffs, in Detroit before catching on with Montreal and winning in his inaugural season. Those numbers must sound eerily familiar to Caps fans.
Even for coaches who win the Stanley Cup, a feat that Boudreau has yet to come even close to achieving, the bell tolls early and often. Coach and Hall of Fame player Larry Robinson won the Cup in his first season coaching with the Devils. He then made it to the Cup again next year (but lost) and was fired 51 games into his third season—a season in which he left with a winning record.
The bell rang even earlier for the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup-winning coach Bob Hartley. After winning the Cup in 2001, he then proceeded to the conference finals the next year and was dumped just 31 games into the 2003 season. He too left with a winning record.
The Caps may learn best from the fate of another Stanley Cup-winning coach with the Avalanche—Marc Crawford. After filling his Cup in Colorado, Crawford left for Vancouver. He missed the playoffs in his first two seasons, so it is a miracle that the team kept him on longer than that. But the Canucks decided that if Crawford had worked his magic in Colorado, then he could quench the Cup thirst of thousands of patient Canuck fans. Alas, it was not meant to be.
In seven years with the committed Vancouver franchise, Crawford never took the Canucks past the semifinals of the playoffs, ultimately missing them altogether in 2006 and getting booted out of town. All the while, stars like Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund had the prime of their careers wasted.
Naslund, although not in the same class as Ovechkin, had three straight 40-goal performances during that time and was a Hart trophy finalist; he never won his Cup. I am sure that Ovechkin does not want the story of his career filed in the same Cupless category as Naslund’s.
Goodbye and Good-luck
As one can gather, not many teams extend more than three to four years of opportunity for a coach before he must find a new bench to stand behind and a new tailor to fit his suits for the game. These teams must be familiar with these statistics that I have displayed above. They must know that a coach is not like a pair of jeans that must be broken in over a long period of time, but rather, they are like an ice rink, best right after it has been freshly run over with the zamboni. The longer a coach goes with a team, the less chance he has of holding court with Lord Stanley.
Hopefully, the Capitals brass is aware of this; otherwise they won’t be seeing any Stanley Cup silver any time soon. I would say goodbye and good-luck to Boudreau immediately so that they can move on with the hunt for an appropriate coach for their young Russian superstar.
If Boudreau isn’t on the Blue line out of town during the offseason and gets off to a slow start next year, his career with the Caps could end right where it started; in the middle of the season. We may have a coach takeover halfway through the year and lead us to the Cup just like the Penguins had with Dan Bylsma. I don’t often say this, but for once, it would be fitting to be just like Pittsburgh.
*If Vancouver wins this year, their coach Vigneault, who is in his fifth season with the team, will become the exception to the rule. Vancouver, as I mentioned before, has shown an unusual amount of loyalty to their coaches. Unlike Boudreau though, this was not Vigneault’s first team. Go Boston.