In approximately 67 hours, Bruce Boudreau went from being a dead duck in Washington to the head Duck in Anaheim. Boudreau’s transition from team-to-team is the quickest in NHL history and proves that if you do solid work behind a bench in the league and haven’t been riding the coaching carousel for decades, some team will be in sufficiently dire straights to snap you up quickly enough.
You need only take a cursory glance at the standings to know how regularly failing and firings are interwoven with fame and fortune in the hockey-coaching community.
Out of the Eastern Conference’s top five teams – the Penguins, Bruins, Panthers, Leafs and Rangers – only Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma and Florida’s rookie coach Kevin Dineen are on their first NHL head coaching assignment. Blueshirts bench boss John Tortorella is working for his second team, Boston’s Claude Julien is coaching his third and Toronto’s Ron Wilson is on his fourth. It’s no different with the West’s top five teams: Minnesota has a rookie head coach in Mike Yeo, but Detroit’s Mike Babcock and Phoenix’s Dave Tippett are on their second job, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is on his third and St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock is coaching his fourth team.
The fact is, if you’re an NHL coach who’s had success for a decent amount of time either in terms of a Stanley Cup victory that Bylsma, Tortorella, Julien, Babcock, Quenneville and Hitchcock have on their resumes or you’re a Jack Adams award-winner like Tippett and Boudreau, a GM interested in making a coaching change is likely to feel more comfortable bringing you in and selling you to his players, media and fans. That has to be a bit of a comfort to Carlyle, who won the Ducks’ only Cup in 2007 and also has the cushion of a three-year contract signed in the summer to sit on for the foreseeable future.
Just like Boudreau, he’ll probably be back on the scene soon enough. A struggling team with a soft touch of a coach will want the stern, structurally sound philosophy Carlyle offers – in other words, the reverse of what happened in Anaheim, when Ducks GM Bob Murray saw Boudreau’s more player-friendly approach as the balm to soothe what ailed his team. And as we see in Columbus, Long Island, Calgary and Colorado, there is no shortage of struggling teams who might snap up Carlyle before the all-star break, if not the start of next season.
But back to Boudreau for a second. He’ll get the benefit of a clean slate, as well as the return of key defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, due back in a couple of weeks from a broken finger that’s had him out since mid-November. Boudreau will also be far from the churning soap opera in Washington and safe in the knowledge that efforts to motivate Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf (and, if he isn’t traded, Bobby Ryan) won’t be under the microscope to nearly the same degree as his trials and tribulations with Alex Ovechkin were.
However, there are only so many kicks at the can he, and most coaches, will get regardless of their trophy-winning history. Hitchcock and former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish were considered, but passed over for numerous jobs last summer and legendary coaches Mike Keenan and Pat Quinn no longer are the first, second or third choices of teams as they once were.
But that’s the normal order of things in the coaching world. Including Carlyle’s firing, there now have been 167 NHL coaching changes since the Buffalo Sabres hired Lindy Ruff, the league’s longest-tenured bench boss, in 1997. Ruff and Nashville’s Barry Trotz stand out because they are the exceptions to the rule, the rocks in a never-ending sea of shifting sands. For virtually every other coach, it doesn’t matter how many wins they’ve amassed, they have and always will be more expendable and acquirable than talent. They’re the first to fall when things go awry, but nearly as often, the first call made to replace a colleague who has fallen on hard times.
For guys like Boudreau and Carlyle, that’s a curse and blessing they’ve been aware of from the moment they began coaching. It’s the nature of the fickle, insatiable beast.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.