Firing Bruce Boudreau wasn’t the right play.

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By Dave Cunning 

I don’t make a point of standing up for too many coaches, so hear me out.

Do the Capitals really think a major-junior coach (albeit former NHLer) ready to lead them to the Stanley Cup right off the hop? Because if Dale Hunter can’t do that, how long could he possibly last himself as Capitals head coach?

BetOnHockey_Boudreau_Jack_Adams_400x293.jpgUnder the four seasons of Boudreau’s watch, Washington won four division championships, a Presidents’ Trophy, an Eastern Conference title, the best regular season records in club  history, and a final record of 201-88-40. For you math wizards out there, that’s more than twice as many wins as losses. Boudreau himself won the Jack Adams Trophy in 07-08 as coach of the year, and holds the record for winning 200 games faster than any coach in NHL history. Apparently none of this was good enough to keep him gainfully employed in Washington.

This will be Dale Hunter’s first NHL season as a head coach. Or any level of NHL coach, for that matter. The only stat Hunter really has working in his favour is Capitals coaching history: when Boudreau took over the Capitals from Glen Hanlon in 2007, they had already played 21 games, and were doing poorly. The team is currently 22 games deep into the NHL season, and after Boudreau’s decrescendo, the Caps are once again doing poorly. This is the exact spot where Bruce took over and the team took off from four years ago, and it’s about the only thing I can see that Dale Hunter really has to cling to.  

I can’t help but think that the players beat the coach here (or maybe the kids beat the parents, whichever way you want to look at it). It seems as though when Boudreau let the young squad off their leashes to run wild, score as many goals as possible and not play defence, the players were happy, but Boudreau was on the burner for not winning. Then he tried to round out the capabilities of the players by adding the defensive element to their game, but they wouldn’t have it. And they kept losing. More so than before, in fact. And Boudreau was in more trouble.

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee said he believed Boudreau had lost the team, and cited Washington’s Nov 26th 5-1 loss to Buffalo and recent string of losses as evidence. New Coach Dale Hunter is a self-proclaimed players’ coach, but qualifies that saying "but the players will know when I'm mad at them. I'm stern on them because that's the way you have to be to win games. Everybody makes mistakes out there, but if they keep making the same mistakes there will be repercussions."

BetOnHockey_Boudreau_Bench_400x293.jpgDid Dale not see the HBO 24/7 special on the Caps/Pens 2010 Winter Classic showdown? In the history of the NHL, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of a coach who hurled more sternly-laced expletives at the Capitals roster than Bruce Boudreau did. He even benched the team’s star players to try to get a message across. We saw what happened when Bruce tried to get tough – they players put their tails between their legs and started laying eggs on the ice. I’m not sure that Hunter is prepared for what kind of reception his “bad cop” routine is going to get from the Washington Capitals locker room. And surely to the ire of Washington’s (supposedly) gifted offensive core, Hunter was also quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in run-and-gun hockey,” So much for going back to open season on cherry-picking slap-bombs, it seems.

And at what point do the Capitals’ franchise players finally look in the mirror and pose the question to themselves, “what if it was us all along?” How many times can Alex Ovechkin change gear companies, agents, and other variables before he decides to simply pull his socks up, dig the old Ovie out of the dress-up closet, and play some elite level hockey again? If the players truly decided that they weren’t going to put all their effort into games anymore in protest of their coach, then this team is dysfunctional on a level that people can’t even comprehend. If that sort of internally destructive behaviour is actually occurring, then this team will never win anything together, no matter who’s wearing shoes instead of skates behind the bench.

From the owners’ stand-point, I know it’s a good business decision to keep exciting players on your roster – especially ones locked into long-term contracts. But this is one instance where it should be the child getting spanked for being bad, not the dad. At the end of the game, it had to have been the players on the ice that performed, that onus is not ultimately on the coach. It’s going to take some growing up from the Capitals’ players before this team turns the corner on this forgettable season. 




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