The legend goes that when the founder of Islam was asked to give proofs of his teaching, he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did not comply, Mohammed raised his hands toward heaven and said, 'God is merciful. Had it obeyed my words, it would have fallen on us to our destruction. I will therefore go to the mountain and thank God that he has had mercy on a stiff-necked generation.'
Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, courtesy of the Phrase Finder.
Bruce Boudreau is gone because he demanded that Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin backcheck, and they refused. So goes the media narrative, and though the truth is far more complicated, there's certainly something to it.
But what if Boudreau's failing wasn't his inability to get Ovechkin and Semin to buy in? What if the error was asking that of them at all? What if Ovechkin and Semin know that asking them to hang back and support the defense is an ineffective use of their talents?
The Caps' greatest regular season success has come in the run-and-gun 2009-2010 President's Cup season. True, they failed spectacularly in the playoffs, but they failed against a team that reorganized its entire gameplan in response to the Caps' style of play. And it took seven games and a great deal of terrible puck luck for the Caps to lose against Montreal.
It seems to be a "given" for many that Dale Hunter has been brought in to succeed where Boudreau could not: to convince Ovechkin and Semin to play hockey "the right way." But should he even try?
There's another model out there, and it was executed with a great deal of success by last year's President's Cup team. Vancouver shields its best offensive players, the Sedins, from almost any defensive responsibility. They are permitted to specialize in doing what they do best: score goals. And others -- the Keslers and Malholtras -- give them that space by taking the tough minutes.
Ovechkin was +45 in 2009-2010. Alex Semin was +36. Their offensive prowess was enough to prevent goals against, just on the strength of the respect they were given by other teams. But their scoring, and the scoring of the rest of the team, dried up in 2010-2011. Boudreau reacted by shifting to the more defensively-responsible scheme that the team has played since. But maybe what the stars really needed was to correct the flaws in their offense, not their defense.
What if the defensively responsible scheme played by everyone else on the Capitals could be coupled with offensive freedom for the team's best offensive players? That might look an awful lot like the Canucks' system last year, and but for some amazing goaltending by Tim Thomas, they might have won a Stanley Cup that way.
Ovechkin and Semin need to regain the offensive punch that they have been lacking the last year and a half. The predictability of Ovechkin's game and inconsistency of Semins have been discussed at length in these parts. And they need some answer to the trap. But maybe fixing those flaws is all they need to do. Maybe the Washington Capitals are at their best if Ovechkin and Semin leave playing defense to the professionals, and focus on what they do best, like the Sedins do.
Boudreau ordered the mountain to come to him, and was crushed. Perhaps Hunter's best strategy is to accommodate the mountain.