The Real Reasons Bruce Boudreau Was Fired By George McPhee

Caps Correspondent Brad Parker returns to address yesterday’s big news.

You heard it all day Monday. You’ll hear it for a long time to come. Bruce Boudreau was fired because he lost the players, especially the Russians.

It’s a convenient excuse for firing the coach that got 200 wins faster than any other in NHL history, but he didn’t lose his job because he lost the room.

I’m not saying he didn’t lose the respect of Ovechkin and Semin (among others). He probably did. And I’m not arguing that the firing wasn’t justified. As much as I like Boudreau as a person, GMGM had every reason to make the change. But let’s be perfectly clear, he wasn’t fired because he lost the players. That was a symptom, not the disease.

Here are the real reasons Bruce got canned.

Unrealistic Expectations

When Boudreau took over as coach almost exactly four years ago, he inherited the worst team in the league. By spring the Caps were the hottest team in hockey and won 11 of their final 12 games to sneak into the playoffs. They never should have been there. It was amazing to watch and made D.C. into a hockey town, but it set our expectations too high. They were suddenly a year or two ahead of schedule.

When they won the division again the next year and played that epic series with the Pens, it should have been viewed as a great season. But doubts begin to creep in. There’s no shame in losing to the eventual Cup champions in a series that has 3 OT games and two others that are decided by a single goal. But it was the Penguins, and the previous season had us believing that anything was possible.

We should have been enjoying the ride and expecting the best. But since this is a franchise that has had a cloud hanging over it since Easter morning 1987, the organization began tinkering instead. Which lead to the next reason Boudreau was fired.

Changing the System

After another division title and a first President’s Trophy led to another early exit, more changes were made. By the beginning of last season the most impressive offensive juggernaut in the sport was asked to be a defensive team. Not just to work harder on defense, but to think defense first.

Redskins fans constantly complain that Mike Shanahan is forcing his players to play his system and not adapting to his talent. What happened here was worse. Boudreau was forcing his players to play a system that did not fit their talent, and it wasn’t even his system. It wasn’t a style of hockey he was passionate about, that he had used to win championships. It was a system that hockey writers, and his GM, thought he needed to play to win the Cup.

Suddenly Bruce, and the rest of the organization, was listening to outsiders and trying to be the team they thought others wanted them to be. They were taking this incredible array of offensive-minded players and shutting them down. And that directly lead to the next reason Boudreau is unemployed.

The Players

How can we expect a team of young stars, all millionaires because of their ability to score goals, to enjoy playing this brand of hockey?

Wayne Gretzky had zero Stanley Cups after seven seasons in the WHA and NHL. They didn’t panic and ask the Edmonton Oilers to play a neutral zone trap.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t care about playing defense, of course they should. But it’s GMGM’s job to let the (Still Sorta) Young Guns do what they do best, and fill out the roster around them with players that will do the rest.

Instead he decided to pressure his coach to run a system that he wasn’t comfortable with and that stifles the talent he put together.

And that’s why Boudreau lost the players. Suddenly he wasn’t himself. He was coaching the way he thought he was supposed to coach, not the way he wanted to. When he stopped trusting his own instincts, and started doing what his boss wanted instead, he was done. He wasn’t coaching to win, he was coaching to not get fired. That never works.

The final straw was when Boudreau tried to be a disciplinarian. The players didn’t buy it, and they didn’t respond.

Yesterday at Kettler McPhee said, “Sometimes it’s like having the same teacher for five years. How would you have liked to do that in high school?”

Personally I wouldn’t have liked having anything for five years in high school because it would have meant that I didn’t graduate! Maybe that explains a lot about what’s been happening to the Caps lately.

Trying to run a system that didn’t fit his style, not letting the players do what they do best, and trying to bench stars after being their pal for four years? There was no way Boudreau could survive.

Be Careful What You Wish For

So the GM forced Bruce to be the kind of coach he was not. Some of the players probably revolted in their own special way. Boudreau was stuck in the middle, not being himself. He had to go. But now the GM and those players remain. And so do the expectations.

I fully believe that Ovechkin and Semin will love playing for Dale Hunter and the team will cruise to another division title. Deep down I believe that we’ll win the Cup someday soon. And won’t it be great to see Hunter and Kolzig holding the most famous trophy in sports.

But for those that helped show Bruce the door, there’s no one else to blame now. McPhee and Semin must know that if the move doesn’t pay off, if this season doesn’t turn around and the Caps don’t get to the Conference Finals or beyond this spring, they’re next.

16 thoughts on “The Real Reasons Bruce Boudreau Was Fired By George McPhee”

  1. Great post Brad. I think your point about changing the system is dead on and the main reason Bruce is gone. It didn’t fit him or the players.

  2. @JDP McPhee drafts well and trades well. He should not be the one leaving. And he even said BB makes all the coaching decisions unless he asks GMGM for advice. Truth is it was obvious BB lost this team halfway through last season on 24/7. Arnott exposed the problems even more. The Caps actually were patient w/ BB more than they should have be. If Hunter can’t motivate these guys, then it’s time to trade them for equal or better value and try again.

  3. @HogsHaven Yeah, that Roman Hamrlik signing is looking really good right now. Also the Schultz extension when nobody else was going to sign him anyways. The Joe Corvo move. The inability to get rid of Semin. I mean, theres so much wrong with McPhee.

  4. I agree that Boudreau’s attempt to become a hard-ass this fall was too little, too late. Combine that mixed message with a bizarre hybrid trap/offensive system and the whole thing became a confusing mess that had to be scrapped.

    What worries me is that the roster might not be as talented as we all thought, and doesn’t have the sack to work hard to overcome that reality.

    My hope is Dale can be that sack for them, so to speak.

  5. Great post. I am anxiously excited about Dale Hunter, but am still a bit shocked by the quick exit of Bruce…he definitely is the scapegoat as of right now, though I’m not sure he deserved to be.

  6. The Caps are the East Coast version of the Sharks. All the talent in the world, but always fail in the post season. It could be the scheme, players, coach, etc… but what it comes down to is that they are just unlucky. They seem to always get the hot team in the playoffs.

  7. I think (and you know where I stand on this) is that, regardless of the system, Bruce held no one accountable for a long time. This year is the first time that Ovi or Semin (among others) have been held accountable for their faults, and Ovi only a little bit. And I think that’s the biggest reason why he’s gone, and will be the biggest difference between him and Hunter (who’s still a dirty goon – I do not forgive 1993).

    By the way, BP, what happened easter morning 1987?

  8. Great piece–hits the nail on the head about the Caps’ troubles as well as anything that’s been written in the past couple days (I can’t understand why everyone ignored the fact that this time didn’t play very well for most of last season, before getting hot in the last month and somehow vaulting to first in the conference.)

    And by the way, this team has had a black cloud over it for longer than Easter Morning in 1987. They set an all-time record for futility with just eight wins their first season, it took nine seasons for this team to first make the playoffs (and almost half that time, 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs), and they lost a 2-0 best of five series lead to the NYIslanders in 1985 and the following year got beat in the second round by a Rangers team they had finished 32 points ahead of in the regular season. Maybe one day that cloud can disappear…

  9. You guys speak of black clouds like the Caps are the only local sports team in the shade.

    BB’s exit should have come last year after the loss to Tampa. Not that it’s his fault, but that’s the nature of the business.

    As for McPhee, who else could get a 1st round draft pick for Varly?

  10. When Green is out or seriously hurt, the Caps turn into a crappy team–like the Colts minus Manning. The Pens played well this season before they got Crosby back, but the Caps have fallen apart without Green. Whose fault is that? GMGM? Boudreau?

  11. Great post. Dead on. Best analysis I’ve seen, heard, or read in WaPo or anywhere else. I like Bruce – he turned a stumbling team into contenders in a heartbeat – but it’s hard to coach a system that he didn’t choose and that his players aren’t geared for. GMGM built this team. Why can’t he understand that he was asking them to go against their instincts and strengths?

  12. As a non-hockey fan and former D.C. Resident, this post summed up why I should care that Boudreau got fired. As someone who only watches hockey live or during the playoffs, seeing a guy famous for beating a guy named Pierre take over a team with a superstar that comes up small when it matters most will be fun to watch.

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