Per the team, the Washington Capitals have fired head coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Dale Hunter.
In four-plus seasons behind the Caps' bench, Boudreau amassed an impressive 201-88-40 regular season record and led the team to four-consecutive Southeast Division titles.
But his 2-4 playoff series record - losing all four to lower-seeded teams, culminating with a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning last spring - and the team's recent slide after a perfect 7-0-0 start, doomed Boudreau in D.C. What we noted in May (while advocating a change) seems even more true today:
[E]ither Bruce Boudreau had the wrong message, or he had the right one and was incapable of getting his players to execute it. Whichever it was, it's ultimately a poor reflection upon the coach - being an effective communicator and motivator is every bit as important as being an effective tactician and strategist here.
Actually, there's a third possible explanation, and it's potentially the most troubling of all. Perhaps it's the players - specifically the core players, in whom so many years and dollars are invested - who are simply incapable of receiving the message, insistent on freelancing and system-allergic. Bruce Boudreau could be the most brilliant hockey general to stand behind an NHL bench since Scotty Bowman, but if his charges are unable to process and execute his orders, the results won't reflect that acumen. But there's no way of knowing if that's the case without seeing how these players - most of whom have only played for Boudreau at the NHL level, at least since there were expectations heaped upon the team - respond to another voice, and the sooner the organization finds out what it has in the way-more-than-$100 million it has invested, the better.
Further to that last point, Boudreau's performance has been inextricably linked with that of his superstar, and as Alex Ovechkin has struggled over the past 18 months or so, Boudreau's inability to help him out of those struggles have come to the forefront:
"For as long as the league has been around there are a handful of guys who can make a difference and you really have to learn how to coach them," McPhee said on the morning of the Caps’ regular season opener.
"The rest, you open the door and they just go. It’s about teaching and coaching and showing the guys who can make a difference how to make a difference."
And while no single quote sealed his fate, this one from Boudreau's post-game presser last night encapsulates why his time was up:
"[Mental fortitude has] got to come from within, I’ve got to believe. I’m hoping that’s got to come from within because if I’ve got to teach them how to be tough, then I don’t know quite how to do that."
"Hoping" and "I don't know how" don't inspire a lot of confidence, and sure do sound eerily similar to some of Glen Hanlon's last words as Capitals bench boss nearly four years ago to the day (in fact, so do a lot of quotes). As George McPhee said then, "For the most part this year, I thought we were a team that played hard but wasn't getting rewarded. But the last few games, it looked like we had lost the team, and you can't ignore that." Don't be surprised to see a similar quote today.
Ultimately, it comes down to what we'd written in May:
To be sure, Bruce Boudreau isn't "The Problem" with the Washington Capitals. When a franchise suffers soul-crushing defeats in three-consecutive springs (or four, depending upon how easily one's soul is crushed), there's plenty of blame to go around. But, as the old sports cliché goes, you can't fire all the players, so it's usually the guy calling the shots who takes the fall. And in this case, that would probably be fair. Bruce Boudreau is a good coach and a great guy. But, for whatever reason, he's never been able to consistently extract from this Caps team a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts when it's mattered most. It's time to find someone who can.
There'll be plenty to discuss on this move - from the decision itself to the reasons behind it and what Hunter brings to the team - but for now we'd like to tip our cap to Coach Boudreau and thank him for all he's done for the team, its fans and the city. Bruce Boudreau may not have been the guy to take the Caps to the next level, but it's been a pleasure to watch and cover him over the past handful of years, and we wish him nothing but the best in whatever he does next.