The Anaheim Ducks may have entered the season as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the eyes of many, but their abysmal start to the season has left coach Bruce Boudreau squarely on the hot seat. It's understandable that the faithful’s frustration level would be at a boiling point after three consecutive Game 7 playoff losses, on home ice no less, but surprisingly Anaheim fans overwhelmingly want to give Boudreau the chance to right the Ducks instead of firing him this early in the season.
“Usually I am the first one to grab the axe, but in this case the players still love him, they're just not meshing yet,” says Robert Hayek, 28, a Ducks fan from Huntington Beach, Calif. “If we fail to make it to the Cup [Final], then he should be fired. Otherwise, he deserves the chance to right the ship.”
Hayek is one of many Ducks fans who feel that Boudreau is simply still experimenting with his lineup and, despite the poor results, needs more time to find the right combinations.
“Every year, the Ducks are getting closer and closer to the Cup,” says Criss Vo, 20, a student from Westminster, Calif. “If we fire Boudreau, I am not entirely sure if that new head coach would be able to reach the bar he set last season. I say keep Boudreau because he does really well in the regular season, it's still really early in the season, and he’s still experimenting with the lines.”
After blowing a 3–0 lead in Dallas on Tuesday night, the Ducks are off to a 1-6-2 start, have barely been able to find the back of the net (seven of the team’s nine goals have come in only two games) and they were the first team since the 1930-31 New York Americans to be shut out in five of their first eight games of a season. To make matters worse, captain Ryan Getzlaf has been sidelined by an appendectomy.
But many Ducks fans don’t feel that’s on Boudreau. It’s on the players.
“It’s the coach’s job to guide the players, but when does the onus fall on the players to get the job done?” says Darren Wallach, 43, of Crofton, Md., who used to live near Anaheim. “You don't fire a supervisor if his employees do a bad job. Bruce has a great regular season track record and the team gets further in the post season each year. This is the players not finding their chemistry yet. The coach can only do so much with what he has.
“I'd say he should be allowed to get past the first quarter. If the team can’t get to the .500 mark at least, then maybe the coaching staff needs to be revamped.”
Another reason why Wallach and other Ducks fans feel the players deserve most of the blame is because Anaheim’s highest-paid five forwards—Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg—all failed to find the back of the net until Hagelin finally broke through against Dallas.
“I’m mad at the players,” says Lupe Mouzakis, 29, a pharmacist who just moved to Colorado from Orange County. “With the exception of a few, they can all be replaced with someone else, either by trade or sent to the AHL. I don’t want BB getting fired, and there’s no better replacement out there.”
Before last spring, much of the criticism of Boudreau was that he often presides over strong regular season campaigns but fails to guide a.deep run in the playoffs, dating back to his days as coach of the Washington Capitals. But last season he quieted much of his doubters by leading Anaheim to the Western Conference Finals, the first time in his NHL career that one of his teams has made it past the second round of the playoffs.
But after winning the Pacific Division for three consecutive years, and having the best regular-season record in the Western Conference during the last two, Anaheim and its coach are in unwelcome and unfamiliar territory this season as the Ducks have lost the first four games on their current five-game road trip after struggling at home during the first week.
“It’s been an extremely poor start but if the past two games are any indication, we are on the mend and will start playing Ducks Hockey as we are accustomed to,” says Juan Alvarez, 21, of Anaheim. “With a bunch of new faces on the team (Hagelin, defenseman Kevin Bieksa, forwards Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli, and goalie Anton Khudobin), chemistry will take a bit longer to build as well. Just as we’ve gone 1-6-2, we can easily go 8-1-0. The goal is to make the playoffs, and once we're in, anything can happen.”
The Ducks end their trip on Thursday night in St. Louis before returning to the friendly confines at the Honda Center. Fans in Orange County just hope to see Boudreau behind the bench when they do.