Capitals Fire Bruce Boudreau, Onus On the Players to Make This Work

11/28/11 in NHL   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Four years ago, the Washington Capitals fired Head Coach Glen Hanlon and hired minor league lifer Bruce Boudreau. The coach affectionately called Gabby led a young team to a surprise division title that year, and in fact to a division title four seasons in a row, winning the Eastern Conference regular season twice and the Presidents Trophy once. Along the way, Boudreau remained a quotable figure, an outsized personality (as seen on 24/7 last year), and a prolific pitchman of local carpet and copier companies.

You'll note the one thing I didn't mention in Boudreau's resume, and that was playoff success. Despite all the expectations in the world, the last three postseason have ended in embarrassment, from getting destroyed in a Game 7 to the hated Penguins in 2009, to 2010's Presidents Trophy season derailed by the 8th seed Canadiens, to last spring's sweep by the Lightning.

Boudreau certainly took his share of the blame for the playoff failures, from his offensive focused system to alleged coddling of the stars to a high amount of "optional practices." Many thought he would be fired after the Tampa debacle, but the team decided to keep Boudreau, who vowed to implement a new defensive system and restore accountability to the players. To his credit, the accountability talk wasn't completely bogus. There was the infamous benching of Alex Ovechkin late in a game against Anaheim. This past week Boudreau scratched Alex Semin for a game for taking too many stupid penalties, and scratched Joel Ward once for missing a practice. However, the players weren't responding. After winning their first 7 games, the Caps have lost 10 of their last 15 and 5 of their last 7, often looking very very bad.

Thus, out is Boudreau and in is franchise legend Dale Hunter. The hope is that Hunter, a successful junior league coach but with no AHL or NHL coaching experience, will be the new voice that helps this team learn some accountability, defense, and work ethic, a mere subset of the criticisms launched at this franchise in recent years. (Hopefully not any Turgeon incidents though, for you smart alecs who will mention that above all else.)

However, I don't think the answer of will the Caps get it together will come from Hunter. It will come from none other than Alex Ovechkin. The Alex Ovechkin of a few years ago has gone missing. His production has gone from 109 points two years ago to 85 points last year, to just 17 points (on pace for just 63) and a pathetic -7 so far this year. His lethargy, especially on the defensive end, is easily noticed after just a few minutes of watching him, and as captain, it's highly likely his attitude has rubbed off of the team, particularly on his countryman Semin. While it's certainly not fair to blame all of the team's problems on Ovechkin, when you are considered one of the best players in the NHL (a distinction that doesn't feel close to true at the moment) and a captain of a team with Stanley Cup winning talent (we think), that's how it works. The onus is on Ovechkin, and the rest of the Capitals roster, to take advantage of this page turner. Prove that the problem was Boudreau, not them. If they can answer the call, then maybe this just a blip and this the year the Washington Capitals mean something in the NHL only than postseason failure. If not, this season will end like so many have before, with head scratching and wonders of what went wrong.
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11/28/11   |   kramer   |   11004 respect

I was a bit surprised the Caps made this move now.  I do think that the issue with Semin goes beyond defying Boudreau.  After falling on the ice pouting in Tampa last year with nearly 3 minutes to play in the 3rd period and not going off for what was supposed to be his line change, and thus leaving his replacement on the bench who may have been able to do something instead of watching the Lightning put the proverbial nail in the coffin with a late goal, I would've personally told Semin he wasn't welcome in my locker room for that stunt if I were Boudreau.  I know he has a lot of talent, but that's completely unacceptable, and I think he needs to get his act together more than Ovechkin.  Ovechkin on the other hand needs to learn to do something that I know is very hard for him.  I believe teams know he shoots and shoots and shoots.  If you don't have the open shot, don't just shoot for the sake of shooting, learn to pass the puck once in a while!  Maybe I'm crazy, but with the word coming out of DC that Hunter isn't a fan of the "run and gun" type offense, I see some problems brewing between he and Ovechkin.