Let me preface this by saying I’ve got much love and admiration for Bruce Boudreau. He’s a great quote, a helluva pitchman, and from what we’ve heard, very good with and for the players he coaches. But putting this together in the time that I did was certainly inspired by the spirit of Michael Arace's quote, "a losing streak can skew long-term perspective."
But in between promising players for being "out to lunch" in some circumstances while occasionally reducing ice time to more valuable ones (or flat out Freebird solo-length shifts to the team’s elite players), the meme of accountability has been a drum that has been covered in various degrees of depth here before. But as time goes on, just how legitimate a concern is this? Or more to the point, combined with the increasing expectations for success in modern sports, are we starting to stroll into the area of discussion on what to do with the coach who’s had the Crash Davis life before making it big?
Consider this for a moment; Bruce Boudreau, who is still on his first pot of coffee in terms of NHL management experience, is already the 8th highest tenured coach in the league with his current team at only 184 games (Ed. note: before Tuesday night's game vs. Montreal), 21 games behind Bruins’ coach Claude Julien. Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock is in 5th at 269 games, But Hitchcock is struggling to stay at .500 with Columbus, and conversations around his dismissal may have begun. No such talk surrounds Boudreau and Julien currently; in fact, the only coach with both a higher winning percentage and experience with his current club than Boudreau is Mike Babcock. Pretty cool, but leads me to a larger discussion.
After leaving Anaheim, Babcock took over the Wings coaching duties in ’05-’06, and after two years of postseason progression, won the Cup in ’07-08 in his third year with Detroit. Babcock took over for Dave Lewis, who produced consecutive 100 point seasons (and Conference Quarter/Semi Final exits). Babcock replaced Lewis, established a system with an already solid team and improved on their results, presumably using his previous coaching experience and tweaking an already established system that works well for the Wings. But other recent teams have experienced similar results. Consider:
In ’05-’06, previously experienced coach Peter Laviolette won the Cup with the Canes in his first full year with the club, defeating Oiler for life Craig MacTavish, who reached the finals in his fifth year with the team.
In ’02-’03, Pat Burns’ Devils beat Babcock’s Ducks squad. Both coaches were in their first year with the club, and Burns' Jersey stop wasn't his first on the coaching carousel.
Is there a trend to gleam here? Well, many of the recent coaches had previous head coaching experience before bringing the Cup home. Those who didn’t ? Well, the experience took a little longer. If a rookie coach with his first team doesn’t get to the final in his first year or two, he occasionally gets to the Final in his third full year with the club, if at all (unless you’re Torts). In fact, the last coach to win a Cup that took longer than four full years to do it with one team? Al Arbour with the Islanders' dynasty.
While Bruce Boudeau is 8th in tenure with one team, when it comes to first-time pro coaches, only three have spent longer times with their club. Carlyle is one; the other two are Barry Trotz and Lindy Ruff. Carlyle has his ring has a coach, but it’s anyone’s guess when Trotz and Ruff are going to get a chance for one, let alone hold the Cup high. And as recent coaching history would lead one to conclude, it’s one thing to get to the bigs and wow people when you’re here. Wowing them to the point where you have job security is another matter. Evolution and development as a coach can make the difference in being Mike Babcock or Terry Murray.
Bruce Boudreau’s success is both enjoyable and rewarding, and a nicer guy we may never experience as fans of the franchise. But never forget that the goal for all of us, is seeing a parade on Constitution Avenue in June. Progress has to be built on the previous two postseasons. And if this town’s boss is about "change you can believe in," change may be an unfortunate yet legitimate discussion to have if this isn't realized.