It did not take long for one of my NHL second round predictions to come true. Five days after publishing my predictions which included a brief analysis of the possible fate of each team and player who won or lost big, the Anaheim Ducks, – one of the first round’s biggest losers – fired coach Bruce Boudreau after a devastating loss to the Nashville Predators.
To me it comes as no surprise. There are regrets including some of the Anaheim players stating that Boudreau took the fall for them but Boudreau’s NHL coaching record speaks for itself. He is one of countless coaches – also in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB – who can make a bad team good but cannot make a good team great. He is in the class of George Allen, Dan Reeves, Don Coryell, Marty Schottenheimer, Chuck Knox, etc., coaches who take teams that were being kicked around at the bottom of the league and then get them into the playoffs, but never win a championship.
In Boudreau’s case, he was one of an unfortunate string of coaches who could not get an Alexander Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals team into at least the Conference Final. He managed to surpass himself in Anaheim by getting to the Western Conference Final but no further.
In fairness to Boudreau, he was pitting his Ducks against the two dominant teams in the NHL of the last four years, Chicago and Los Angeles. It was no disgrace to lose to the Stanley Cup champion. That the Ducks lost to the Blackhawks and Kings is as much the fault of management which failed to provide Boudreau with enough talent or players who had won a championship before and could be relied upon to come through in the clutch.
But to lose to the up-and-coming Nashville Predators, was viewed as a step backwards, no matter how good Nashville really is. The Ducks had home ice, had battle-hardened veterans who had been through the fight against more formidable teams, and at one time led the series 3-2. And when their two main rivals, the Kings and the Blackhawks were eliminated, the door seemed wide open for the Ducks to at least advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The loss to the Predators made it seem that the Ducks were just spinning their wheels under Boudreau instead of progressing. When management compared his coaching record with Anaheim with his coaching record in Washington, his fate was sealed.
Boudreau is as much a coaching mystery as any in sport. No one can really explain why one coach succeeds while another fails, why one team of players has the chemistry to win championships and another does not, why some players can rise to the occasion and others cannot. In this irrational category fall hexes and jinxes. Most of my predictions for these two rounds were based on the “show me” theory, that until you proved that you could get over whatever “hump” there was in the past, you should not be trusted to win. Based on this theory, so far the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been almost a complete revolution, and have made me look bad as a soothsayer. The Ducks defeat – when I had predicted victory – was a part of that revolution. But Bruce Boudreau failing to win in the playoffs was the same old story.
Already there is talk that the Calgary Flames will hire Boudreau to replace the fired Bob Hartley. But based on Boudreau’s coaching record, it will probably be better if the Flames find a new man who has been waiting for his chance to make his mark as a coach in the NHL. Boudreau could probably get the Flames into the playoffs, year after year, but if he could not get the more talented Capitals and Ducks deep into the playoffs, it is doubtful he can do much with the Flames. More likely Boudreau will resurface in the NHL as an assistant coach under a more successful headman. Maybe Boudreau will get another chance some day and maybe he will learn whatever failings he had as a head coach kept him from a championship though that seldom happens in coaching history. But for now it is a time to analyze why the Predators were able to rise to the occasion, why the Ducks went to sleep, and why Boudreau was part of the equation.