The Washington Capitals have all the talent in the world. Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Brooks Laich and several other talented hockey players all make up one of the few true contenders to win the Stanley Cup.
This has been the case for the last three years now and nothing has changed heading into the 2011-12 season in the U.S. capital.
But while the expectations are high in D.C., so is the tension. In particular, Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau will surely be held under a high-powered microscope throughout the season if things aren’t going as planned.
Some think the notion that the coach should take the blame for the struggles of the players is unfair, while others immediately point the finger at Boudreau every time the Caps string together a few consecutive loses.
Whether or not the scrutiny that Boudreau has been under is fair is irrelevant because, like it or not, it exists. It’s the nature of coaching a professional sports team, especially when the team has as much talent as the Capitals.
So far Boudreau has proven that he can coach a run-and-gun, up-tempo style of hockey that gets the most out of his top offensive guns. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green and Semin padded their stats under this system and it worked in the regular season. However, the playoffs were a different story.
Boudreau has also proven that he can be tough on his players and implement a defense-first system that proved to be very successful at times. Unfortunately, the playoffs didn’t bring much success yet again for the Capitals in 2011.
So what’s next for Boudreau? What other options does he have and how long does he have to make it work?
Recent history would suggest that GM George McPhee has plenty of confidence in Boudreau, or else he would have been fired already. That’s generally what happens when a team finishes the regular season in either first or second in their conference for three straight years and can’t make it past the second round of the playoffs in any of those years.
But this year might be different. The Capitals made significant improvements to their roster over the last month, signing free agents Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward and most importantly, Tomas Vokoun, without losing any of their core players.
Vokoun finally gives the Capitals an elite NHL goaltender. This had been a huge question mark for Washington over the last few seasons and it may have been a contributing factor to Boudreau having a longer leash in terms of keeping his job.
After all, Ovechkin and Semin can score all the goals they want, but if there isn’t a goaltender to make the key saves at the key times, you’re not going to win the Stanley Cup. So now that the Capitals have Vokoun, Boudreau has no more excuses.
It’s not up to the GM to trade overachieving star players. It’s up to the coach to get the most out of those players. If Mike Green is lost in the defensive zone, then it’s up to Boudreau and his assistants to get him sorted out.
If Alexander Semin is floating and appears to be unmotivated, then it’s up to Boudreau to get him focused again.
Three years of playoff disappointment is enough for Bruce Boudreau and the Washington Capitals. The leash will be short for the 56-year-old from Toronto if the 2011-12 version of the Capitals fails in the playoffs. They have an even better team on paper than in previous years, if that’s even possible.
Therefore, it’s now or never for their head coach.