Bruce Boudreau: How Long is Washington Capitals Coach's Leash?

Jack SouleCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2011

After three seasons of more than disappointing playoff failures, many Washington Capitals fans want head coach Bruce Boudreau gone. To many fans' dismay, general manager George McPhee has reaffirmed his and the organization's confidence in Bruce Boudreau as they will go with Gabby as head coach for yet another season.

So, if Boudreau is staying in the District to coach Capitals hockey for another year, the question becomes, how long is Boudreau's leash? If things go wrong or aren't looking so hot, at what point does Boudreau get the boot?

Would McPhee replace him midseason if needed? Does only another playoff failure warrant retiring Bruce from behind the bench? Does even that warrant such action? Let's talk about it.

Boudreau's job has been called into question more than once over the last couple of years. After Washington's record-setting postseason collapse at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, many fans thought the blame was on the coach and wanted to see him go.

During the Capitals' eight-game losing-streak in the middle of last season, the cries became even louder. Now, after being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference semifinals, it seems like there's not a fan left who isn't calling for Boudreau's head.

If Boudreau hasn't been fired yet, even after record-setting failure, exactly what is the state of is tenure now? With the stars—and the roster—seemingly aligned for a single year of serious Cup contention, what will it take for Boudreau to either stay or go?

Let's take a look at the state of the Capitals and their future.

This team is sure to be a force to be reckoned with for years upon years with many of Washington's young players locked up on long-term contracts. But, as most GMs know, the window of opportunity for a team to win the Stanley Cup is very small.

Take the 2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks, for example. Their year to win was 2010—they had to win it before disassembling the team to get back under the salary cap.

Key pieces are just too hard to keep in place in the salary cap era.

With Tomas Vokoun on a one-year contract and key players like Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble and John Carlson on the last year of their contracts, it looks like George McPhee has aligned the stars for one year of being the Cup favorite, much like the Blackhawks were two seasons ago.

Of course, the Blackhawks hadn't earned themselves a reputation as chokers like the Capitals have in many fans' eyes. On the other hand, the Caps aren't in anything like the salary cap chaos that Chicago was.

Let's recall the failures of the Caps' last three playoffs in order to determine Bruce Boudreau's future.

When the Caps were ousted by the Penguins in 2009, they gave up a 2-0 series lead and came out sloppy in Game 7. The blame seemed to fall equally on the Caps' stars for being sloppy, the Caps' goalie for being soft and on Boudreau for poor coaching.

After their record setting loss to the Habs in 2010, the blame fell mostly on Boudreau, but there was also the age-old excuse of star players being injured. Let's put that one on Boudreau though—he was severely outcoached that series and it was his inability to adapt game plans, line combinations and the power play setup that lost the series for them more than any one or group of players.

What really makes the situation interesting is how things played out during the 2010-2011 regular season campaign and how the 2011 postseason went.

Boudreau had previously been slated as a solely offensive coach who can't coach a team to be defensive and hard-working on the backcheck. 

He changed everyone's minds this year. While the improved penalty kill was assistant coach Dean Evason's brain child, Boudreau wrote up a new hybrid trap forecheck and taught it to his offensive dynamo players and actually got them—with an eight-game losing streak and some extra discomfort necessary—to play the new style.

The game plans that the Capitals came out with and executed during the first-round series against New York were incredible. It looked like Boudreau might be a capable postseason coach after all. Then came the loss to Tampa. Boudreau seemed like he went back to his usual ineptitude in adapting to the other team and coach's game plan and style of play.

However, a lot of players severely underperformed and failed to follow game plans. Considering that Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin (note: not known for his defensive skill set) was bought into Boudreau's new system and followed it beautifully I think it's safe to assume that Boudreau would have had a shot at pushing his team deeper into the playoffs had he had the roster he needed.

I believe this is George McPhee's thinking as, when almost every single Washington Capitals fan was calling for a change in coaching, he went out and tinkered with his roster to change its character to look more like a playoff bruiser like Boston, all the while affirming his confidence in and plan to go ahead with Gabby.

The Caps will have another terrific regular season, most likely coming out on top of the Eastern Conference if not the league. An eight-game losing streak in the regular season is not enough to have Boudreau fired. All of the Caps' failures have come in the postseason and so Boudreau's only real form of tenure evaluation isn't scheduled until April 2012.

Boudreau is still here now and he will be here through at least next summer. 

Based on the GM's moves this summer, it is apparent that the Caps brass believe that the problem is not Boudreau but his soft roster, which in the past has lacked depth and quality role players. This team will either fail or succeed in the playoffs of 2012 and Bruce Boudreau will certainly be the one leading the way.

I'm sure McPhee already has and will continue to have a close eye on every part of his team, including the bench boss. But barring a monumental regular season collapse, which is next to impossible, Boudreau will be coaching Caps postseason hockey next spring for better or for worse.

Boudreau now has a serious playoff team under his fingertips, so let's see what he can do with it and welcome in another year of "In Bruce we trust" signs all over the Verizon Center and terribly scripted TV commercials starring the one and only Gabby.


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