by pcoffey on 11/28/11 at 03:59 PM ET
Are Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice any worse as coaches today than at this time last season or the season before?
So why were both dismissed Monday by the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes respectively?
The players had turned a deaf ear, something that happens to all coaches in all sports. And it’s something they all know is coming. It just becomes a matter of racing against time to get out on your own or face the axe. At the end of his first tenure with the New Jersey Devils, Jacques Lemaire realized this and resigned before it was necessary to fire him. Ditto in Minnesota. So coaches know when the message isn’t getting across.
In Washington, the expectations are huge for the Capitals. Blessed with a dynamic lineup that figured to be better than the current 12-9-1 mark that has Washington in eighth spot in the Eastern conference, this is supposed to be THE year for the Caps after a couple playoff disappointments. But the team has been middling and Alex Ovechkin has not been the human dynamo that had become the face of the NHL.
Boudreau must have seen it coming. Must have realized that the players no longer were getting the message. He is a hard charger, a passionate coach who told the players where they stood. It will be interesting to see how the Caps respond to Dale Hunter, a former Capitals fan favorite who had become a successful junior coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. Hunter also has the reputation for being blunt.
“The reason for the change was we weren’t winning, obviously,” Capitals GM George McPhee told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com. “This wasn’t a slump. You can ride out slump. This was simply a case of the players no longer responding to Bruce. I had to make the change.”
“Dale, as we know, is a no-nonsense guy and he will push these guys.”
Truth be told, Boudreau was no pushover and was demanding as well, but Hunter will bring a new voice, perhaps a new voice stressing the same things as Boudreau. With a record of 201-88-40 with the Caps, it’s obvious Boudreau was no dope, but his voice became so much white noise, relegated to the background.
“I don’t think accountability was the real issue here,” McPhee said. “I think Bruce came in here and emptied the tank. He gave everything he could and did a really good job, but the tank was empty. And when that happens you get a new coach where the tank is full and see if it makes a difference.”
Now, the onus falls on the players. A coaching change gets people’s attention. Should the struggles continue, Hunter won’t be the one heading elsewhere.
“These are always difficult decisions,” McPhee said. “You don’t want to make these decisions, but when you see what I saw you have to make these decisions. You can’t look the other way. We got their attention now and hopefully they respond in the right way.”
The song is pretty much the same in Carolina, where GM Jim Rutherford faced the sobering task of firing Maurice for the second time as Hurricanes’ coach. Like Bourdreau, Maurice is no coaching neophyte, and he had to realize the Canes’ 8-13-4 record was going to catch up with him as Carolina falls farther and farther behind in the standings.
Like the Caps, the Canes also are turning to a first-time NHL head coach in Kirk Muller, who won many fans based on his work as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens in recent seasons. This season, Muller was the head coach of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, having taken the step back, away from the NHL, to get the necessary experience as a head coach. In Rutherford’s eyes, Muller is ready.
“Kirk is a proven leader and motivator, and he has strong communication skills,” Rutherford said in a statement. “He was a captain and a Stanley Cup winner as a player, and did excellent work as a coach with the Canadiens and the Admirals. We feel confident that he is the right man to lead our team now and in the future.”
One of Muller’s first tasks will be to get some of the Canes’ top players moving in the right direction. Eric Staal has just five goals and six assists in 25 games and is a minus-17. Defenseman Tomas Kaberle still hasn’t scored a goal and is a minus-10. The Canes need more from everyone on the roster and the words of Maurice, one of the most well-spoken guys you’ll ever run into, were no longer getting through. As Hurricanes coach, Maurice was 384-391-145. Overall his NHL coaching record is 460-457-167. He led the Canes to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final.
And as in Washington, the coaching change in Carolina is a prelude to more moves with the new voices can’t get their messages across. Like Hunter, Muller isn’t going anywhere. The next change-of-address cards will go to the players.
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About Iced Coffey
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.