10 Aug The Curious Case of Bruce Boudreau
By: Eric Saltsman
The year was 2010. I was in my fourth and final year of university and I was living in a house with five other boisterous, sports-enthused lads. Given that there were six of us living under one roof not only could we afford cable… we could spring for the luxury of HBO. Little did we know how good we had it, before the perils of “real life” would set in the following April.
Little did we know our lives were about to change forever. After the long, dreary month of November came December. With it brought the likes of the end of term, the beginning stages of Christmas cheer (which was ironic for a house half made up of Jews) and, most importantly, the inaugural season of HBO’s 24/7.
For the first time, we as fans were privy to the behind-the-scenes antics of players and coaches alike. We got to see how these guys lived, who played against one another on their PSPs during flights and what their pregame routines entailed.
The obvious focal point leading up to the Winter Classic tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals was the rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin; two generational talents who had been and will continue to be compared for the eternity of the game. In recent playoffs the two had gone head to head in a seven game series that brought out the finest in both players. Now they would clash in the great outdoors at Heinz Field to ring in the new year.
However, what instantly became the true focal point of the show was comparing the antics and mannerisms of the opposing coaches, Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau.
On the one hand, there was Dan Bylsma. Young. Well-spoken. Recently having led his Penguins team to a Stanley Cup in his rookie season as a head coach (having taken over part way for Michelle Terrien). He referred to players by their numbers (instead of “Sid” it was “87”). And whichever goaltender who would be minding the net on any given night would be, as Bylsma said, “in the cage”. Most notably, Bylsma always seemed to keep his temper under control and remained level headed amidst both victory and defeat.
And then there was Bruce Boudreau. He was brash. Loud. He had an unexpectedly high voice that couldn’t go two sentences without dropping an F-Bomb. Boudreau coined the term “shit-bum” – which soon became a staple slogan of our household – and may well have doubled as a term of endearment for his wife given how much he said it to his players. But when it came to his coaching prowess… it seemed almost inexistent. And yet, the Capitals continued to be tops in the East year after year. He was clearly a good coach because his team won games… it was just really hard to see why that was.
Ultimately, all of the regular season success in Washington (more than 300 wins) never translated into the playoffs and the Capitals could never get past the second round. So, in 2011, after the Capitals got off to a slow start, Boudreau was canned. And that, as they say, was the end of that.
Now, usually when a coach gets fired it takes them some time for them to get back on their feet. Likely, you won’t see them coaching another team until a vacancy opens up in the summer of the season to come. And, this is not to mention the fact that they generally have to be the right fit for the culture of the team they go to next.
But that didn’t happen. Matter of factly, a mere two days after his firing, Boudreau was picked up by the Anaheim Ducks. Not even enough time to pick up EI in between.
After parting ways with Randy Carlyle earlier in the week, Boudreau seemed to be a bit of a bizarre choice by the Ducks. In Boudreau Anaheim was getting another crusty, grey haired (or lack thereof) old school type of guy. And, given his recent firing, seemed a strange way to “change the culture” for a Ducks team that boasted several elite players and were less than a handful of years removed from their first ever Stanley Cup.
But, to his credit, Boudreau was the fastest coach to reach 200 wins and a Jack Adams winner in his rookie coaching season. And if you look at the likes of Dale Hunter, Adam Oates, and Barry Trotz, it would appear that Boudreau wasn’t the reason for Washington’s inability to get past the 2nd round of the playoffs… although, we wouldn’t know all of this until years later.
So, onwards to Southern California, where between 2011 and 2016 Boudreau would go on to win 352 games and take home four division titles. And, yet, his lack of success in the playoffs became what might be classified as “colossal failure” as Anaheim, a team with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, lost in four consecutive game 7s… on home ice.
Alright, fair to blame the coach at that point.
So, in April of 2016, “Gabby” as Boudreau is known as in the hockey world, got canned. And this time, his unemployment stint lasted all of… a week. And in early May of 2016 Boudreau signed with the Minnesota Wild.
So let’s just take a moment here and reflect on the fact that, since 2008, the man has been “in between jobs” for a grand total of 11 days. Say what you will, there must be something about him that teams are looking for. Or maybe Boudreau just has no need to enjoy funemployment.
So why would Minnesota gobble up the opportunity to bring in Mr. Boudreau? Well, after nearly a decade as a bench boss in the NHL Boudreau has a fairly impressive coaching resume. Here’s a man who has 409 wins in 681 career games and has 8 division titles that he is responsible for in that time. For those of you scoring at home, those kinds of numbers will get your squad into the playoffs year after year.
And so the Boudreau experiment will continue, this time in Hockey Town USA. And who knows how far he will be able to take this group of Wild “shit bums” who have made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. The Wild have a good team, not a great team, but a good and competitive team with the likes of Parise, Suter, Pominville, Dumba, Stall and Dubnyk. But in the Western Conference, it is always a dog fight and it is not surprising that this squad hasn’t had the legs to make it past the 2nd round.
Boudreau took the Capitals as far as the 2nd round. He took the Ducks as far as the Conference final. I suppose it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that he may well fair one step better in this next tenure and take the Wild to the cup. I wouldn’t put my money on it, but if you’re one for trends then you could make the argument that he is directly on pace to get to the big dance.
On the surface, Budreau might not look like much: a portly, tomato-faced man who was a career minor-leaguer in his playing days. Some say he’s the reason the ageless Teemu Selanne retired once and for all.
But, say what you will about him, he has stumbled his way into a very successful coaching career. And, if all goes according to plan, I’m sure many years more to come for the 61 year old Toronto Native.