Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is at a loss for answers after the Ducks’ latest loss, and that surely raises the question of whether it’s time for a new voice behind the bench.
In Monday night’s 5–2 defeat by the New York Islanders, the Ducks—a popular preseason pick to lift the Stanley Cup next spring—once again looked like an ugly mess as they fell to 12-15-5 and remained in seventh and last place in the Pacific, the NHL’s worst division. Most revealing is that the team’s leadership can’t figure out how to salvage this season.
After the game, when asked about the biggest issue the Ducks must address, Boudreau started out by saying that they need consistency, and he noted how they played well in Saturday’s 2–1 win at New Jersey but then had a setback like Monday night’s, the kind of thing that has been a problem for Anaheim all season.
“We’ve done this for a month and a half, play a good game, play a bad game, play a good game, play a bad game,” he said. “I think when we play a good game, and then if we play another game and we have success at that game, than we have to build off of that until it becomes a habit.”
A typical answer from any coach, and one that Boudreau has become comfortable saying. He’s cited “consistency” over and over again this season. When asked how to find that consistency, Boudreau shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
Anaheim’s frequently poor play during the first three months has baffled hockey fans and media everywhere. Every team goes through slumps during the long grind of the regular season, but Anaheim has some of the league’s most potent offensive weapons in Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. Yet the Ducks sit last in the league in goals-for per game (1.84)—well behind 29th-place Philadelphia (2.15).
Boudreau is a proven coach, the fastest in modern NHL history to win 200 games (with Washington) and he has led the Ducks to three consecutive Pacific Division championships. The biggest knock against him is that his regular-season success doesn’t fully translate to the playoffs, but last spring he led Anaheim to the Western Conference Finals before the Ducks fell to eventual-champion Chicago in seven games. Yet something has to change now, as a team with this much talent should not be struggling as much or as badly as it has, and it surely doesn’t help that the man in charge isn’t sure how to fix things.
This Ducks have more issues than their well-documented offensive woes, including the inability of Frederik Andersen or John Gibson—two young, promising goalies—to lock up the starting job. Anaheim’s captain and leader, Getzlaf, has scored one goal this season, which came on an empty-netter. In Monday’s game, the Ducks fumbled several passes, setting up several scoring chances for the Islanders, and that kind of bungling has been a storyline all season. With many of Anaheim’s prime trade bait locked up with long-term deals that make it difficult to move them, it’s starting to look like the only answer for GM Bob Murray is to change the voice in the room.
When the Ducks stumbled out of the gate to a 1-6-2 start this season, Boudreau found himself on the hot seat. SI.com spoke to the team’s fans about how they feel about the coach. At the time, they were overwhelmingly in support of Boudreau, saying that he was simply experimenting with his lines and needed more time to right the team. Anaheim then reeled off four straight wins, and the Ducks appeared to be back on track. But since that streak, they have won back-to-back games only once, when they defeated San Jose and Pittsburgh in early December. Now, several of the fans we spoke to in that story have told us that their patience has run out, and it’s time for a change.
There’s a belief in some circles that perhaps this team just isn’t that good. And while that may be in fact the case (time will tell), it’s hard to believe that a team that finished with 109 points during the 2014-15 regular season and needed only nine games to reach the Conference finals, then loaded up during the off-season by adding speedy forward Carl Hagelin and physical, edgy defenseman Kevin Bieksa can somehow be this much worse.
Anaheim’s inconsistency is turning into the reality of how the 2015-16 Ducks will be remembered, something that Hagelin says must change right away. “We have the guys in the room [to change this]. We have a lot of great players in there. We just need to come to a game and all 22 guys or 20 guys need to play at their best. That’s what it comes down to.”
Getzlaf agreed, saying it’s on the players to perform, not the coaches. “Coaches can’t go out and play for us. They put together their game plan. They do their homework. Within our locker room, we have to be mentally stronger. We got to find a way to get mentally up for the game, involved in the game early. The missed passes. Not putting it on a guy’s tape when he’s there. Those things in this league should come as nothing (difficult). You shouldn’t have to think about those things and right now we do.
“Our job isn’t just to show up here and put our skates on and go out there and see what happens. We have to have the mental focus to play in this league on a nightly basis.”
While Getzlaf makes a valid point, the question becomes who will give this team the mental focus it needs to once again compete with the league’s elite?
When the Ducks fired their previous coach, Randy Carlyle, in 2011, the move came in early December of that season, and Murray said in a statement, “At this time, we simply felt a new voice was needed. Bruce is a proven winner with a great track record, and we are optimistic we can turn this season around under his leadership.”
And, like in 2011, perhaps a new voice is all that’s needed to turn these Ducks around.