Was Bruce Boudreau's Time with the Washington Capitals Cut Short?
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One needs only turn their attention to the fans of the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres to find some of the world's most frustrated hockey fans. In what is now the 13th season with coach Lindy Ruff at the helm (making him the NHL's longest-tenured active coach), the Sabres have yet to win a Stanley Cup under his watch. They have made the playoffs in eight of his seasons, with only one Stanley Cup appearance in 1999. On the other hand, Ruff is one of two coaches to have 500 wins with only one NHL team. Quite a career.
Jack Adams, the coach who the award for each year's Most Valuable Coach is named after, headed the Detroit Red Wings for 15 seasons, winning three Stanley Cups. In other seasons, the results ranged from missing the playoffs entirely, to first-round exits, to devastating conference final losses (I only speculate about the devastation). Not to be repetitive but...quite a career.
Bruce Boudreau knew that, at times, the pucks just don't bounce your way.
He criticized his team when they showed a lack of effort or a lapse in concentration, but he loved them and backed them with his heart and soul. You knew this because Bruce wore both on his sleeve.
In the end, however, he accepted that the ebb and flow of hockey was something he couldn't control. After four-plus seasons as the coach of the Washington Capitals, it was the same ebb and flow which threatened Bruce's employment. This was despite the facts that Boudreau was the fastest coach to 200 wins in the modern era and that Boudreau's Capitals made the playoffs all four years of his tenure (they had made the playoffs just once in the five seasons prior to his anointment as coach). Some would think this was just the beginning to, you guessed it, quite a career.
Theories regarding the state of the team's psyche or the status of the relationship between Boudreau and Caps star left-winger Alexander Ovechkin will always exist. The truth is we will never know if Bruce lost the locker room (as has been speculated) or if the beginning to the 2011 season was just one pothole in the bumpy road towards a Stanley Cup.
For the past four years, the city of Washington, D.C. and its hockey fans believed that Boudreau and the young core of players he coached would bring home Lord Stanley's prize.
Who could blame them? With a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Ovechkin, a Presidents' Trophy and four straight Southeast Division titles, the Capitals were considered a perennial contender.
However, they failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs in any of those four seasons. The doubts about the ability of Boudreau to coach the team to the Stanley Cup Finals were ever-present.
On November 28, 2011, Bruce Boudreau was fired as the head coach of the Washington Capitals during a 6:15 a.m. meeting with George McPhee. The road had ended.
It can at times be difficult in life to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Ask Jack Adams. It took him nine seasons to win his first Stanley Cup (or should I say, only nine seasons) as a coach of an NHL team. Four of those nine years, Adams' teams didn't even make the playoffs.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been grinding for 13 seasons in Buffalo and has yet to etch his name on the famed trophy.
There are stories such as theirs strewn throughout the history of the National Hockey League. Granted, Adams never had to deal with athletes being paid millions of dollars or a 30-team league, but the essence of coaching, in any sport, will never change.
Perhaps the Capitals' recent dip in performance, which followed their best start to a season in franchise history, was just that—a dip, a simple bump in the road to a Stanley Cup. We are left only to wonder what the bigger picture may have looked like, whether this was just the beginning to quite a career.
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