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.
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.
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.