Hiring Guy Boucher and Bruce Boudreau may mean big improvements for the NHL's Ottawa Senators and Minnesota Wild.
The Pierre Dorion era is off to a promising start in Ottawa.
While he didn't land the biggest fish in his coaching search, the new GM of the Senators reeled in a pair of proven performers in Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford. And in doing so, he put his own bold stamp on a team in need of a fresh, new direction.
Boucher, named on Sunday as the 12th head coach in franchise history, is regarded as a systems guy. That sets him up to remodel a team that suffered from a lack of cohesive structure under Dave Cameron last season.
What'll be interesting to see is what that structure will like, although it's reasonable to suspect it will hew closer to the offensive style that made him a hot commodity as Boucher worked his way up the ranks. Current Sens forward Mike Hoffman scored 52 goals while skating for him on the QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs in 2008-09, in part because of Boucher's excellent work on the power play.
But in his first NHL run-through with Tampa Bay, he employed a passive 1-3-1 trap that worked for a while—the Bolts made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011—but soon was foiled, most famously by the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a rigid style that eventually lost the support of the veterans in the room and cost him his job after three seasons with the Lightning.
To his credit, Boucher leapt at the chance to improve his craft with Bern of the Swiss league and two tours as head coach of Team Canada at the Spengler Cup tournament. The time overseas gave him a fresh perspective on the game that set him up for a second chance in the NHL.
“I'm an offensive guy," he said last December. "There are a few ways that [European] teams transition that I wouldn’t have dared do in the NHL before, but now seeing how they did it, there’s some of that I’m pretty sure I can incorporate [into the NHL]. To come [to Europe] and understand their culture and their way of doing things certainly gives me a lot more tools.”
Still, Boucher alone might have seemed like a consolation prize to Sens fans who are frustrated by losing out on Bruce Boudreau. But the addition of Crawford as an associate coach makes for a pretty compelling tandem.
Crawford brings another level of experience to a team that previously had hired three rookies to run the show. He spent last season as the head coach of the Zurich Lions in the Swiss League. Before that, he manned the bench in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Dallas and Colorado, where he won the Stanley Cup in 1996 with the Avalanche. He burns bright, but the guy knows his X's and O's.
With those skins on the wall, Crawford is a ready-made successor if Boucher stumbles. So the fact that Boucher actively sought him out says something about his confidence and his commitment to the organization. "It's not about ego," he said of Crawford's hire. "It's about getting it right."
For this team, getting it right means improving its miserable special teams and enhancing its structure in all three zones. If the Sens can do that, no one will remember that thet missed out on Boudreau, who chose over the weekend to take his considerable talents to Minnesota.
The former Ducks coach has his work cut out for him with the Wild, a group whose reported dressing room fractures make them a team in name only. But Boudreau might be the best man to fix that. He's a player's coach, someone who has the knack for knowing when to cajole and when to lay down the law. He can get young players and veterans pulling in the same direction. And he can make it fun to be at the rink. After years of frustration and demanding systems work, that might be the magic bullet right there.
He's not the most structured coach, but the Wild can build on the strong defensive base that was cultivated by former coach Mike Yeo. Boudreau's strength is at the offensive end of the ice—perfect for a team that finished 18th in scoring and 15th on the power play. He gets his defensemen involved in transition and excels at involving young players who can contribute to the attack. It's easy to imagine kids like Matt Dumba, Mike Reilly and Jonas Brodin taking that next step under his tutelage. Forwards like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker should thrive as well.
In time, the Wild will likely look something like Boudreau's Anaheim and Washington teams: fast, aggressive and physical. That'll set them up well to succeed in the brutally competitive Central Division. And it should lead to some very entertaining hockey. That's a term that hasn't been used often enough to describe the Wild. But we could be hearing it a lot now that Boudreau is calling the shots. How far he can take them is the biggest question, given his history of impressive regular season success and tantalizing but ultimately bitter postseason results.