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Bruce Boudreau and Accountability

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"I'm fairly demanding. I may smile and joke with them, but if they don't do what is needed and necessary, they know they'll have to pay the price." - Bruce Boudreau, 11/07

"One thing you don't need to worry about with Boudreau is accountability. If he doesn't like something, it gets fixed." - Tarik El-Bashir, Washington Post, 10/08

A year ago, Bruce Boudreau was a month away from winning the Jack Adams Trophy as the National Hockey League's best head coach, despite having been in that role for less than one full season.

"Gabby" followed up his award-winning 109-point-paced partial campaign behind the Caps' bench with a 108-point/50-win season, good for fourth-best in the NHL.

Prior to coming to D.C., Boudreau had compiled a .631 points percentage in his previous six full seasons of coaching at the American Hockey League level (which included two appearances - one successful - in that league's finals), and since getting to the bigs, Boudreau's Caps have gone 39-13-15 in one-goal games.

Suffice it to say, Bruce Boudreau knows how to win hockey games.

And while, as the saying goes, "they don't ask 'how,' but rather 'how many'" (which will very soon be "how many in the post-season"), watching Boudreau for the better part of two seasons now, it's hard not to wonder what - if anything - the concept of "accountability" really means to him.

Fresh in our minds is the far-too-long shift length skated by some of the team's star players, an issue that didn't just appear in the playoffs. And yet, when asked specifically about Alexander Ovechkin staying out too long, Boudreau responded, "We'd like to corral him, but what're you gonna do?"

Don't ask us - you're the coach. But perhaps it's worth doing something, because shorter shifts from October through April may leave more in the tank for May and June.

We also watched all season as the Caps committed bad penalties by the bushel, and it contributed to their eventual downfall in the playoffs, as no team has been shorthanded as often or given up as many power-play goals as the Caps did this postseason. And yet when serial offender Alexander Semin took his umpteenth hooking call of the season at a critical point in a late-January game against Detroit, Boudreau let his Russian sniper hear about it between periods, but did little else:

Boudreau said he will continue to implore all of his players to take fewer penalties, but he likely won't hound Semin specifically. It's not his style, he said, and it often proves to be counterproductive.

"His good does outweigh the bad," Boudreau said. "He's a [team-leading] plus 23, and gets a point and half a game. But are you cutting your nose to spite your face by making a real big to-do about it?"

Don't ask us - you're the coach. But perhaps a little nick on the snout in February would pay dividends in May.

And then, of course, there's Tomas Fleischmann, a top-six winger (nominally, at least) who scored precisely two goals in 33 games between mid-January and early April, and yet saw little or any reduction in ice time at even strength or on the power play. Flash's unwillingness to go into high traffic areas remains among the more obvious frustrations for Caps fans, and yet he was often out with the first power-play unit despite Boudreau's insistence that the team needed players to set up shop on top of the crease and make life difficult for opposing goaltenders. The coach was asked about this latter point on get away day:

Q: The Penguins scored a lot of goals on the doorstep; was there a lack of that with your team this season?
A:Sometimes you try to change people. And sometimes they don't want to change. Every team in the NHL would want guys who drive to the net. That's one thing coaches love. But sometimes you have guys who you know are going to play a little bit on the perimeter. It doesn't always work. But they have such great strengths in other areas. What do you do?

Don't ask us - you're the coach. But perhaps cutting the ice time of those who "don't want to change" (especially those who don't have "such great strengths in other areas") will provide the proper incentive to do so.

There are other accountability-related examples from this past season both small (the "accountability" coach excusing his team for obviously playing down to the level of its competition at times; the utilization of Keith Aucoin) and large (when asked about what the team needs to improve next season, Boudreau seemed to pass the responsibility buck to GM George McPhee and the players, saying, "I don't think it's systems. We just have to get them to play the systems a little bit better. They've learned it for a year now. I'm not in charge of the personnel. But we'll see what the personnel looks like next year.") But the bottom line is this: Bruce Boudreau is, for the most part, "a players coach" who favors positive incentives to negative ones as motivation - which is fine (as his record confirms). Let's just be clear on what role "accountability" plays in the Boudreau regime, because despite the rhetoric, it appears to be a very small one.