There’s no denying that Bruce Boudreau is
an excellent NHL head coach. It doesn’t matter how good his players have been,
Boudreau’s record speaks for itself. Nevertheless, true greatness is judged by
what you do when it counts. It is judged by how you perform in the Stanley Cup
playoffs. Perhaps 2015 is the year that Boudreau scratches the “black mark” of
playoff failure from his name.
The upcoming Western Conference Finals
series against the Chicago Blackhawks might just be the toughest and most
pivotal challenge of Boudreau’s eight-year head coaching career.
Boudreau entered the NHL in 2007-08 as the
head coach of a young, raw Washington Capitals squad led by the superstar
Alexander Ovechkin. He was an instantaneous success leading the Capitals to the
postseason for the first time since 2002-03.
A loaded, run and gun and exciting to watch
Capitals led by Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green
stormed to a Game 7 in the second round of the postseason one season later
against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were
edged out in one of the most exciting postseason series in recent memory.
When Washington was finally swept aside 6-2
by a team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup that June, it felt like the
Capitals were on the precipice of breaking out as a potential dynasty.
Boudreau and his passionate coaching style
were at the core of the identity of that team - he was most of all considered
to be a great player’s coach.
That wasn’t to be the story though.
Washington would win the President’s Trophy with the best regular season record
in 2009-10 and the Eastern conference in 2010-11, but each time they performed
poorly in the playoffs. They were shocked in the first round in 2010, before
getting swept by division rivals Tampa Bay in 2011.
During that time Boudreau’s strategic
qualities and flexibility was questioned. There were calls for him to adopt a
less “gun-ho” attacking approach and to insist on his superstars committing at
both ends of the ice. Above all, it was often insinuated and sometimes outright
stated that Boudreau’s approach didn’t work in the postseason.
Just 22 games into the 2011-12 season
Boudreau was fired and replaced by Dale Hunter.
It appears that Washington’s problems ran
deeper than Boudreau. The Capitals have won just two playoff series in four
seasons since his departure. They couldn’t get it done this season despite
taking a 3-1 second round series lead against the New York Rangers.
Some of Washington’s players have even
regressed in their postseason performances without Boudreau, the most notable
of which is Alex Ovechkin. “The Great 8” has 25 goals and 50 points in 37
playoff games under Boudreau (and scored at more than one point per game in all
four runs), but has managed just 11 goals and 20 points in 35 postseason
Boudreau didn’t have to wait long for his
next job; the Anaheim Ducks almost immediately hired him as Randy Carlyle’s
replacement. The situation with the Ducks wasn’t so dissimilar to the one
Boudreau inherited in Anaheim. A team with lots of talent led by superstars
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but one that was set to miss the playoffs and was
struggling to hit its potential.
He wasn’t able to prevent the Ducks from
missing the 2012 playoffs, but since then Anaheim have won three straight
Pacific division titles posting impressive offensive numbers and developing
into one of the league’s star-studded line-ups.
After losing in the first round in 2012-13,
the Ducks were engaged in a Penguins-Capitals 2009 like series with California
rivals LA, eventually losing 4-3 in what was arguably the Kings’ toughest
series en route to a second Stanley Cup triumph in three years.
It was always the case that 2014-15 would
be a defining season for these Ducks and Boudreau. They once again stormed to a
Pacific division title taking the top seed in the Western conference.
In the first two rounds of the 2015
playoffs they've taken their opportunities losing just one game while beating
Winnipeg and Calgary, both teams with little postseason experience.
The challenge in front of them in the
Conference Finals is a different matter. The Chicago Blackhawks already have
two Stanley Cups in the last five years and it feels like a core led by
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook might just be
primed for a title number three.
Boudreau has probably done enough for Ducks
fans and management to forgive him a series defeat to Chicago – at least in
terms of staying employed. However, this is a real opportunity for the Ducks
and their head coach to break through. There are some playoff-tested players
leading this group and they are benefitting from some bargains salary cap wise.
Windows of opportunity don’t stay open for too long in the salary cap era.
For Boudreau, his 363-167-69 regular season
record speaks for itself. He’s won seven division titles in eight seasons and
has never failed to make the playoffs outside of the year split between
Washington and Anaheim.
His one blemish is a 5-6 record in
postseason series (3-6 before 2015). Boudreau’s window of opportunity to erase
that blemish from his record comes against the NHL’s modern dynasty.
If Boudreau’s team loses this series, they
risk becoming a footnote to a period dominated by Chicago and LA. Win it and
they could be building their own legacy.
For all of his success and for everything
he has accomplished. Bruce Boudreau is about to take on his toughest challenge
yet as he aims to engrave his name in the history of the sport.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read