Since the Capitals got blown by a group of AHL players in Buffalo I have had a hollow feeling deep inside. That was by far the worst work ethic I have ever seen by this team since Glen Hanlon...right before his firing. In the locker room the players reiterated what the coach had been saying, they didn't work hard enough, they lacked confidence, they...it doesn't matter what else...they QUIT on their coach.
Last night as I went to bed I read that former Cap, now hockey analyst, Nick Kypreos had said that Boudreau would be gone within 24-48 hours and that Dale Hunter could be the next coach of the Washington Capitals. As I read through info that other reporters were writing, including that of Puck Daddy, I felt a little assured that Boudreau may once again survive the team's tailspin. What I did know what that if it was going to happen it would be done before the team's next game or after the team's homestand, because they would not give the Penguins the satisfaction of putting the nail in the proverbial coffin of Gabby's tenure in Washington.
Having met Boudreau a few times at Caps events I have always found him to be a jovial guy. He was more like you're crazy uncle, a goofball, who didn't really care how he came across. He has done so many commericals that just left you laughing...I wonder how long before they get pulled.
Four years ago Bruce Boudreau was hired at Thanksgiving. The Capitals were a terrible team at the time, wasting Ovechkin's talents while being bottom dwellers of the league. At the time of Bruce's hiring he had been the coach of the Caps minor league affiliate, Hersehy Bears. While die hard Caps fans, the whole handful at the time, and Bears fans, may have known who he was, no one else did. A ton of who is this Boudreau fellow articles would pop up in the days after his hiring. He wasn't a big name hire, not that the Caps were a team to do that anyways, but this was a city where the coaches are sometimes more well known than its players (Joe Gibbs, Wes Unseld, Doug Collins).
After Boudreau came in the team took off, so much so they made the playoffs, thought to be a long shot when he took the job. Boudreau and his wacky quotes, jokes and facial expressions endeared him to the DC media and the Caps fanbase; one that had been lost from the lockout, Jagr acquisition, and fire sale. He was a breath of fresh air to a city who has had a bunch of big name, big ego, no result coaches. Just last week Boudreau became the quickest coach to win 200 games in his NHL coaching career but that should have been reached weeks earlier.
Last season the Caps struggled leading up to the Winter Classic. Fans called for Boudreau to be fired at that time but the Caps stayed the course, got hot once the HBO cameras finished rolling, and took the top spot in the East again. Hell this is a team that just two years ago was the BEST team in all of the NHL during the regular season. Unfortunately when it got to the playoffs the team couldn't peform like it did during the season and quickly was taken out either in the first or second round, those most series went 7 games. Some losses came from bad calls and some came from the team failing to adjust.
Adjust - that is the term that will describe Boudreau's tenure in Washington. When he came in the team adjusted, scored and the team quickly became BIG TIME. The Ovechkin vs Crosby rivalry had quickly turned into a pure hatred between both the Caps and Penguins and the NHL decided to Capitalize on it. Two years ago when the Caps were ousted by the 8th seed Canadiens the team failed to adjust its playing style and was elminated in 7 games. At that time teams learned how to shut down Ovechkin and in turn the Capitals. Back to the drawing board next season and the Caps were to learn from their mistakes. After some early season struggles, and offensive struggles of Ovechkin and Backstrom the team adopted a defensive play style and learned to score and then clamp down and not try to not win at a fast paced game. It worked! The team got hot and back to the playoffs they went. This time to the second round where they were shut down by the 1-3-1 defense of Tampa Bay because the team failed to adjust throughout the series. The team came back this season and started a team best 7-0-0 but after they smoked the Red Wings something changed. Boudreau had shown he wasn't going to play favorites and that everyone, even the team's captain would be held accountable. That didn't sit well with Ovie, as he demonstrated on the bench, and while he said after the game that he should be and had said in pre-season he'd be fine with it it was obvious that actions do speak louder than words. Since the Caps played Detroit and have been in their free fall the Caps once again did something the they failed to do consistently under Boudreau. They didn't adjust. For consecutive games the team failed to get the puck out of the defensive zone which in turn lead to goals by the opposition. Add to it the team failing on the Power Play and allowing 4 shorthanded goals in the past week it was clear things weren't working.
Many games it seemed like certain players on the team had checked out, mainly the leaders, Ovechkin the Captain being the main one. Whether it be not shooting, not getting back on D, freelancing or giving up on the puck after he lost it in the offensive zone he just wasn't there. I thought after the Caps came back against Phoenix they had turned a corner, I was wrong.
At 8:15am this morning I got a text from Pam telling me Japer's Rink was reporting Boudreau had been fired and Hunter had been hired. Sure enough that was the case and I just felt bad for Bruce. He didn't deserve this. It would appear that he lost the team a while ago, or at least some of them, but if they aren't going to listen its easier to find one fall guy than 25. Maybe this will put coach out of his misery. He can now concentrate on the holidays, watching his kids grow up for the next few weeks or months, and getting Hagen Daas at 9am, rather than having to treat his players like they were kids...and honestly I think that remark by him is what lost the team, but he was correct. There is no doubt Boudreau will find another NHL head coaching job if he wants it. I hope he goes into doing some commentary for a bit, either for CSN Washington or ESPN or the NBC Sports Network or the NHL Network. I also hope he dishes some dirt on what went on behind the scenes and gives his honest take on certain players and how things were run. I'm not sure he will though because that could hamper his chances of getting another job in the NHL but man would it be fun.
Part of me hopes the Caps continue their freefall under former Cap and new coach Dale Hunter, but the Caps fan in me hopes the change in voice leads to a resurrgence. If it doesn't then its more proof that it was the players than the coach, though some will say that Hunter doesn't have any solid coaching experience outside of his 10 years in the OHL and the Caps just wanted to bring in a former player to help stabilize the fan base.
I love Dale Hunter, he was a hell of a player and one of the best Capitals in the team's history. Dale knows what its like to play with that "C" on his chest and how to rally his team. He's going to be able to teach Ovechkin that and he'll lay into his team much like he did his teammates back in the day. He's hard nosed and won't take any shit and I like that. Its a shame that it came to this though. When it comes down to the coach or the players though it'll be the coach 11 times out of 10.
Come next Tuesday I will be picking up the HBO 24/7 Caps vs Pens DVD just to relive some of Bruce's funniest moments. Again I want to thank Bruce for all he did for this team, the players, the fans, and the DMV area. You are once FUCKING good coach who didn't FUCKING deserve to go out the way you did. Its a shame you couldn't get a Cup in DC but I have little doubt if you stick to coaching that you should be able to.