A full year hasn’t even passed since Bruce Boudreau was hired by the Washington Capitals but he’s already well up the seniority list of NHL head coaches.
That’s because nine teams in the league made new coaching hires over the summer. Few stats say more about the nature of a profession than that. “Any coaching job where you’re getting paid is a volatile situation,” said Boudreau. “It comes with the territory.
“We know that we’re in this situation where we’re going to be accountable. If things don’t succeed, we know what’s going to happen.”
Almost everything that happened to Boudreau last season was a dream come true. After holding coaching positions in seven different cities, Boudreau was finally given his first NHL job in November and performed beyond expectations.
The 53-year-old took the last place team in the NHL and helped it reach the playoffs for the first time in five years, earning himself coach of the year honours in the process. Washington was 37-17-7 after Boudreau was hired.
Each of the nine new coaches would love to have a record like that after his first 61 games at the helm this season. According to Boudreau, there’s no secret way to make it happen.
“The main advice I always give is just be yourself,” he said. “What got you here is what’s going to keep you here.
“Just because it’s a different league and players make more money and there’s bigger crowds doesn’t mean that you change the way you are.”
It’s the sort of advice he’s already shared with John Anderson, the new head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers and Boudreau’s best friend. Anderson spent the past 13 years coaching in the minors and helped Chicago win an AHL title last season.
He’s just grateful for the opportunity.
“Sometimes you question yourself,” said Anderson. “But I really think things happen for a reason. Being in the minors for 13 years made me a better coach, a stronger person, a better person. I thank my lucky stars for all those years.”
He’s one of four men entering his first season as a head coach in the NHL. San Jose hired former Red Wings assistant Todd McLellan, Florida went with longtime Ontario Hockey League coach Peter DeBoer and the New York Islanders brought in Scott Gordon from AHL Providence.
Ottawa (Craig Hartsburg), Toronto (Ron Wilson), Colorado (Tony Granato), Los Angeles (Terry Murray) and Tampa Bay (Barry Melrose) also hired new head coaches.
“It’s a tough job and they’re all good at it,” said Boudreau. “There’s so many good coaches out there.”
That assertion is confirmed by the list of guys with extensive NHL experience that weren’t given a head coaching job: Paul Maurice, Bob Hartley, Ted Nolan, Joel Quenneville, Marc Crawford, John Tortorella, Pat Quinn and Glen Hanlon.
Hartsburg and DeBoer were both hired straight out of the OHL, just one year after New Jersey brought in Brent Sutter from the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels.
In the past, that wasn’t something that happened very often.
“I think the Canadian Hockey League is getting more and more recognized as a premier development league for personnel off the ice as well as on the ice,” said DeBoer. “I think it’s a great trend.
“People are looking for young fresh ideas and I think it’s great that the CHL coaches are getting recognized for that.”
The Senators are hoping that Hartsburg can bring some accountability to a team that spent the second half of last season in a free fall.
He’s prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the most out of his team.
“We like the pieces that are here, the depth that we have, but on paper it doesn’t really matter,” said Hartsburg. “It’s the identity we build and how quickly we build.”
It’s a completely different situation for Wilson in Toronto.
He inherits a team in full rebuilding mode and is expected to spend time developing some younger players while introducing a better defensive system. Like Hartsburg, he won’t be afraid to crack the whip.
“If you’re a coach and you’re not demanding, you’re not a coach,” said Wilson. “I don’t know what you are – a door opener, a custodian or something.
“I think every good coach in every sport is very demanding.”
After last season, the demands and expectations will only grow in Washington for Boudreau.
Even though he’s keenly aware about how volatile the profession can be, Boudreau hopes that he’s landed one of the rare coaching jobs that lasts a long time. Coaches may be hired to be fired but he never thinks about that.
“I hope I’m always breaking the mould and it never happens,” said Boudreau. “I don’t want it to happen, I don’t anticipate it happening any time soon hopefully. But if it does, I can’t sit there and gripe about it.
“It’s the nature of the beast.”