Ducks had to fire coach Boudreau, but stars share blame
The Anaheim Ducks fired coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday in a move that seemed inevitable after they were upset, once again, in the first round of the playoffs, this time by the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night. It was their fourth straight Game 7 loss on home ice under Boudreau, all of which overshadowed the considerable regular season success that saw him become the fastest coach in franchise history to reach 200 wins, compile a .648 winning percentage—by far the best of anyone who has ever stood by their bench—and lead the Ducks to four straight Pacific Division championships.
But his 1-7 record in Game 7’s, including 0-4 in Anaheim, led to questions about Boudreau's ability to get his team ready for the biggest moments. "I want playoff success," GM Bob Murray said a his press conference to address the coach's dismissal. It's worth noting that Boudreau's failure to get the highly regarded Capitals over the same postseason hump (they never got beyond the second round) led to his dismissal in Washington in 2011 after three-and-a-half seasons.
There was unrest in Orange County after the Ducks’ latest inexcusable, unexplainable, playoff loss and someone had to be the scapegoat. But while Boudreau is the easy target, he’s not the only one to blame. Murray pointed his finger at the group's core, asking, "Where were they? Where was the passion? They weren't playing to win. They were playing not to lose. You can't play hockey that way and it was very disturbing to watch."
After a lackluster first period on Wednesday night that saw Nashville take a 2–0 lead, the Ducks woke up and outshot the Predators 13-6 in the second period, followed by a 15-4 advantage in the third during which they trimmed the deficit to 2–1, but they just weren’t able to get the equalizer past goalie Pekka Rinne. While Boudreau can tell his players how to play and position themselves, they ultimately have to capitalize on their chances. Anaheim’s star scorer Corey Perry, who led the team with 34 regular season goals, failed to score during the course of the seven-game series.
Some blame has been cast upon Boudreau for his decision to start the series with John Gibson in net. Before Game 1, the coach joked that he could flip a coin to choose between Gibson and Frederik Andersen, the 26-year-old veteran with strong postseason credentials, having backstopped Anaheim to the Western Conference Finals last year. The 22-year-old Gibson turned in two dismal performances by allowing some soft goals as Anaheim fell to a 2-0 series deficit. Boudreau then switched to Andersen, who put the Ducks back in the series with a shutout and three straight wins. Then came another mystifying Game 7 collapse at home.
Boudreau’s work this season was nothing short of remarkable as he turned around a team that sat in the basement of, not only the Pacific Division, but the entire league, at Christmas, and was still able to storm back to win its division, something that makes him a viable candidate for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
But the Stanley Cup window for Murray’s core group of Perry, captain Ryan Getzlaf and forward Ryan Kesler, is closing fast. Getzlaf and Perry both turn 31 next month while Kesler is almost 32. Murray had to send a message that this type of early exit was inexcusable and therefore he was faced with a choice of getting rid of his core or his coach or both. "It just wasn't going to work going forward," he said about keeping Boudreau, adding that the team has talented players but they have to answer for the collapse and are in for a stern message when he begins meeting with them in coming days.
“I would like to thank Bruce for his hard work and dedication to the franchise,” Murray said. “This was a very difficult decision to make. Bruce is a good coach and character person, and we wish him the best of luck in the future.”
Now the question becomes who will replace Boudreau. "I'm in no hurry." Murray replied when asked about his coach search.
Current assistants Trent Yawney and former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, who helped turn a struggling power play into the league’s top unit, will be strong candidates, as will former NHL bench bosses Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford. There’s also Dallas Eakins, the coach of Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, who not only brings a familiarity with the Ducks’ system, but also coached the Edmonton Oilers. Travis Green, a longtime NHL center who played for the Ducks from 1997 to '99 and in 2006-07, is currently coach of the Utica Comets, Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, and also a possiblity. Then there’s the man who Boudreau replaced in Anaheim, the one who led the Ducks to their lone Stanley Cup in 2007: Randy Carlyle. Since his axeing in Toronto last year, Carlyle has been a frequent visitor to Ducks games.
Almost to the day last last year, Anaheim defeated Calgary in Game 5 of their second-round series to send Boudreau to his first-ever conference finals as an NHL coach. As his players spilled over the boards to celebrate, the cameras panned to an emotional Boudreau, who was seen emphatically pointing at his wife, Crystal, and sons, Brady and Ben.
Unfortunately, that was his brightest moment in the California sun.