Disclaimer - This post is not meant to be a referendum on whether or not Bruce should be retained after the coming season if the team doesn't meet some quantified benchmark. Such a discussion would need to weigh a number of factors not dealt with in this post. This is just one person’s review of Bruce Boudreau's performance as coach of the Washington Capitals based on information in the public sphere. I chose seven categories that I felt are the crucial to look at when judging the performance of any professional coach.This was done in broad overview style, like many job performance reviews I've participated in.
Media Skills – 90%
Bruce is engaging, has great one liners (a skill which helps writers immensely), and appears to understand how important working with the media is. His personality is a big asset for the club. His celebrity allows him to be used for PR purposes.
Relationship with Players – 90%
Bruce excels in this area. Players who have played for him in the past almost universally praise him as a coach they enjoyed playing for. He also seems to be able to develop a rapport with players quickly. Goaltenders may be the only ones to disagree slightly.
Player Skill Development– 80%
Bruce does do things to put players in positions to use their skills. Jeff Schultz, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and have improved tremendously as players during Bruce’s time in DC. Other player’s offensive numbers have also improved steadily while playing for Bruce. Some of this is obviously a result of maturation and playing in an up-tempo offensive system. How much of their improvement is due to BB is open to discussion, but there is no doubt he has played a role. Alexander Semin’s lack of improvement in terms of understanding how to play in the NHL is a big concern. The same could be said for Flash. Certainly the player’s attitude plays the biggest role here. However, it is a coaches job to understand how to motivate players. If they truly feel the guy just refuses to change in a manner that benefits the team then he needs to go to the GM and request that the player be traded, waived, or sent to the minors.
Strategy/Tactics – 80%
Bruce himself has stated that he is stubborn. I don’t disagree with his assessment. I think this trait is both his greatest strength and possibly his greatest weakness. His steadfast belief in his system allows players to buy into it. This system when played correctly is extremely effective and helps the offense and defense. On the other hand, his willingness to change/adjust his overall strategy and in game tactics given the opponents strengths/weaknesses and style of play is a big question mark. His refusal at times to make tactical adjustments to other teams leaves his players in less than ideal situations on the ice. In terms of the special teams, the power play (PP)has seen a huge improvement under Bruce’s guidance. The penalty kill (PK)however has not. Whether or not this is mainly due to the same person still being in charge of it prior to BB’s arrival or not, ultimately the PK is Bruce’s responsibility. I think Bruce's reputation is worse than his actually strategic acumen. I think the category following this one has a lot to do with this.
Accountability/Motivation – 70%
Whether it is excessive ice time, poor on-ice performance, not sticking to the game plan, etc., Bruce has shown a continued unwillingness to discipline players, especially those who are considered "stars" or "major contributors". The only players who seem to be held accountable are 5/6/7 d-men and the goaltenders. In the long run I believe this hurt’s both the players and the coach. In addition, his refusal to publicly take the heat for the recent poor playoff performance shows either a lack of introspection or a stubborn refusal to see a need for changes to be made (see Strategy). Bruce is extremely passionate about the game and his team. It is clear this is helpful in his role as coach. However, his ability to motivate the team and individual players seems to be uneven at times.
Regular Season record - 95%
The team has improved points wise every year under BB. Last year they set a franchise record for points with 121. They finished first in the Eastern Conference and won the President’s Trophy. They have won their division all 3 years he has been coach of the team.
Playoff record– 60%
The team is 1-3 under Boudreau in the playoffs. Even the one series win was not impressive given the Rangers inability to score goals. The Caps game 7 performances mirror the playoff record. The team does not appear to be learning from prior year's playoff experiences. This is especially disconcerting given that "the core" of the roster has stayed intact over BB's three seasons.
Overall score is 81%.
Bruce’s score could easily be higher upon with improvement in just two of the seven areas, strategy and accountability. If he does that I suspect the playoff record category takes care of itself.