It has now been almost two weeks since ex-head coach Bruce Boudreau was fired by the Washington Capitals. Much has happened since then. Boudreau has been hired by the Anaheim Ducks, his assistant Bob Woods was also fired by the Caps and subsequently hired by Anaheim, and, most importantly, Dale Hunter has won his first few games as head coach of the Caps.
Well-respected former Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig summed up the situation around Boudreau's dismissal very well: "You know the old saying, you can’t fire 20 players. I think the players have got to take the responsibility for this one. Unfortunately, Bruce is the one that’s paying for it."
The Capitals, expected to once again be one of the league leaders, had slipped to a 12-9-1 record, and something had to be done. Boudreau was fired, even though, as Kolzig said, this was mainly the fault of the players. Bruce Boudreau is a great coach, and the Caps and their General Manager George McPhee could well grow to regret their decision to let him go. Here are five reasons why.
When the Washington Capitals promoted Bruce Boudreau to the position of interim head coach on the 22rd of November of 2007, he was already well regarded in the organization.
Boudreau was at the time early on in his third season with the AHL's Hershey Bears, Washington's main minor-league affiliate since 2005. He led the Hershey Bears to a Calder Cup triumph in the 2005-06 season, with a team that featured Chris Bourque, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, and Jeff Schultz along with ex-Caps Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Tyler Sloan, and Dave Steckel. The next season Boudreau brought them back to the Calder Cup finals, ultimately losing to the Hamilton Bulldogs in a five-game series.
With the Caps, Boudreau reached the playoffs four times with four straight Southeast Division titles, reached the second-round of the playoffs twice, and won a President's Trophy. His coaching history in the organization is unmatched. Dale Hunter may have spent 12 seasons playing for the club, but Boudreau's accomplishments behind the bench simply cannot be overlooked.
One of the main reasons Boudreau was so successful when he first came to Washington was his likeability. It is impossible to hate him. He is one of the nicest men in hockey.
That said, Boudreau was a tough coach to play for. He benched his stars when they weren't performing, and wasn't afraid to call out any individual player in the face of his teammates or the media. Boudreau became famous for running his team through "Herbies" when after bad losses, making them skate up and down the ice to the point of throwing up. A mutual respect was always evident between the players and the coaching staff.
While the balance Boudreau managed to strike between being a friend to the players and being their coach was nearly perfect, it was unfortunately what would ultimately cost him his job. He admitted that they "stopped responding to him." The praises and punishments no longer had any affect. Things were stale, and a change was needed. It wasn't Boudreau's fault; it was the players'.
When the Caps hired Dale Hunter, it marked the fourth time in a row the organization had hired a coach with no previous NHL experience. The difference between the previous three, (Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau) and Dale Hunter, is that all of them were hired out of the AHL. Dale Hunter arrives with no previous pro experience.
While Hunter had a great record over 11 seasons in the OHL, he comes into Washington completely fresh-faced. It's crucial that he quickly realizes that the NHL is not the same as the OHL, and he must adapt fast. As it stands, the Caps lie outside the playoffs. Time is ticking down for them to return to the top of the league, where many will rightfully argue they belong.
When Boudreau first took over in Washington, the organization had an abundance of talented young NHLers.
Nicklas Bäckström was a 20-year-old rookie, Mike Green was an under-performing 22-year-old, Alexander Semin was a 24-year-old also seemingly far from his best, and Alex Ovechkin a 22-year-old ready to step up and become the league's finest. Since then, those players have established themselves as some of the game's best. All that not to mention the likes of Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, and Michal Neuvirth, who have become some of the Caps' best, and Jay Beagle, Brooks Laich, and Jeff Schultz, who all had Boudreau as their first pro coach with the AHL's Hershey Bears.
Clearly, Bruce Boudreau has a track record of bringing out the best in young players. Now, he heads to an Anaheim Ducks organization that has the likes of Cam Fowler and Devante Smith-Pelly on its roster. He will have the opportunity to do the same to those talented youngsters.
Meanwhile, the Caps are left with Dale Hunter, who arrives from the strong London Knights program of the OHL. He'll need to produce some Boudreau-an magic if players like Cody Eakin, Dmitry Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are to reach their full potential.
Because of the team's struggles, people seem to have forgotten what Boudreau accomplished.
As mentioned, he led his team to four consecutive Southeast Division titles. He has won 61 percent of his games at the NHL level. He became the fastest coach in NHL history to record 200 wins. He is a Jack Adams winner.
He may no longer be with the Capitals organization, but one fact about him remains:
Bruce Boudreau is a great coach.
It's rare that a rookie coach comes to the NHL halfway through a season and turns around a seemingly lost year to finish third in the conference, but Boudreau accomplished that in 2007-08. Unfortunately, his time in Washington will likely be remembered for the Caps' playoff failures, when in fact he should be remembered for all the victories he brought the Verizon Center faithful and for all the good times he spent with the club.
You never know what you have until it's gone. The Anaheim Ducks are very lucky to have Bruce Boudreau.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95