Boudreau Firing Not Surprising Result After Turmoil, Caps’ Slide

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Managing Editor

There is an old adage in professional sports about how it is easier to fire a coach than it is to fire 23 players, and that could not have been more true in this morning’s axing of Bruce Boudreau by the Washington Capitals.

Following a team-best 7-0-0 start the Caps had fallen on hard times in recent weeks, going just 5-9-1 over their last 15 games.

There were obviously issues in the dressing room that revolved around new implementations by Boudreau, involving accountability of his club’s numerous star players.  The coach was apt to bench anyone if they were playing at a level deemed less than what was expected.

The situation between Boudreau and Ovechkin may have been 'irreconcilable'. (Photo credit: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

One of the most-publicized – and perhaps damning - incidents occurred on November 1, when Boudreau sat captain and face-of-the-franchise Alex Ovechkin in the last minute of a contest that Washington trailed by a goal.

Even though Nicklas Backstrom would score both the game-tying goal late in regulation and the game-winner in overtime, cameras caught Ovechkin - who was visibly unhappy - murmuring on the bench.  If you are good at reading lips, Ovechkin’s displeasure at Boudreau’s decision to leave him on the pines at a critical time in the tilt was crystal clear.

Prior to last year, Ovechkin had scored 50-or-more goals and 100-or-more points in four of five NHL campaigns.  Even in his sophomore season of 2006-07, when he did not attain those levels, he still recorded 46 goals and 92 points.

Already coming off a career-low 32 goals last season, Ovechkin was slumping badly again in the season’s first two months this year. 

After 22 games, Ovie had all of eight goals and 17 points – good for second on the club, but far below the numbers usually put up by the 26-year-old Russian-native.  He had all of one goal and three points in his last eight contests, a stretch in which he also was tagged with a -7 rating.

Something had to change, and there was no way that Ted Leonsis and the Capitals were about to move Ovechkin.

Not surprisingly, it was Boudreau who ended up as the one on the chopping block.

Stephen Whyno, the Caps’ beat writer for The Washington Times, tweeted this quote from Bill Watters, who was Boudreau agent during his playing days.

I called this a week ago. It was inevitable with Ovechkin. I don’t know whos going to be the second victim, but Bruce is the first.  When they decided that keeping Alex Ovechkin happy was secondary to winning a Stanley Cup, that was the end of Bruce Boudreau.”

In hiring former-Capitals captain Dale Hunter as Boudreau’s replacement, there is no doubt Washington is getting another incredible bench boss.  He has spent the last 11 years as coach of the OHL’s London Knights, sporting a gaudy 451-189-23-24 mark.  There is no reason to believe Hunter won’t attack this opportunity with the ferocity that helped him to become the only NHLer ever to record more than 1,000 points and 3,500 PIMs during his 19-year career.

But one has to believe that Boudreau deserved a better end to his time with the Caps.  He took over a team that was very much in disarray in 2007, and turned things around to the tune of an amazing 201-88-40 record.  He won the Jack Adams Trophy in 2008, and became the coach to win 200 games the quickest in NHL history.  Now he is out of a job, but there is no doubt Boudreau will be picked up by another team at some point during the remainder of the regular season.

With the air of frustration and dischord surrounding the team, a change definitely had to be made.  The disinterested play exhibited by Ovechkin, as well as that of fellow-Russian star winger Alexander Semin (five goals, 10 points, -3 in 21 games), seemed to seal Boudreau’s fate.  

Thrashings at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets (4-1 on November 17), Toronto Maple Leafs (7-1 in on November 19), New York Rangers (6-3 in Washington on November 25), and to an injury-depleted Buffalo Sabres squad (5-1 this past Saturday night) also could not be ignored.

Boudreau’s biggest downfall during his time in America’s capital was his 17-20 playoff record.  By acquiring character players such as Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer over the last few years, the Capitals had added several character players to not only help push the club over the hump in the postseason, but also to get them through the times of adversity.  This is certainly one of those times, and it will be interesting to see how they react and get the players to respond.

Sure, Boudreau deserved a much better fate in Washington.  But it was easier to change coaches than to go through a massive rebuilding stage for a club that appeared destined to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

Sometimes old professional sports adages ring true far too often.


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle