TAMPA, Fla. – Bold and fearless on the ice during a Hall of Fame playing career, Steve Yzerman is taking the same approach to rebuilding the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In his first major move since becoming general manager of the struggling franchise, Yzerman stepped outside the NHL to hire Guy Boucher as the team’s new coach on Thursday.
Boucher has only one year of professional coaching experience, none on hockey’s highest level. But Yzerman was not deterred from making him the league’s youngest coach, saying the 38-year-old has adapted to the players, personalities and level of play he’s encountered at every stage of his career.
“I wanted a strong leader. Someone who’s been successful. Someone who will sell the game to our fans. … I have no doubt he will challenge our players to be better,” said Yzerman, hired last month to overhaul a team that hasn’t advanced beyond the opening round of the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup six years ago.
“He’s ready to coach in the NHL. There’s no question in my mind about that. … He’s been a part of winning programs for a long time, so I had no reservations. He’s 38 years old, he’s not 21. He’s been in this game a long time.”
The former coach of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs agreed to a contract after turning down a chance to coach the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week.
He replaces Rick Tocchet, who was fired April 12 after a 34-36-12 finish left the Lightning out of the playoffs for the third straight time.
Boucher led Hamilton—Montreal’s top minor league affiliate—to the second-best record in the AHL.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity. I’m certainly looking forward to building a culture,” Boucher said. “I think we’ve got some great building blocks, and a lot we can work with, and guys we can certainly trust to carry that culture. I’m very eager to start. I feel ready to start.”
Boucher was a junior league coach for three years before leading Hamilton to 52 regular-season wins and a berth in the AHL Western Conference Finals this season.
His teams are known for playing an unorthodox offensive style, but both he and Yzerman noted one of Boucher’s strengths is an ability to adjust to the talent available.
“For me, I’m not coaching systems, I’m coaching individuals. Managing people comes first on my list before managing either the group or systems. If I have 24 people on my team, I need 24 ways to coach. That’s the way I approach the game,” Boucher said.
The roster he inherits includes Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, the top pick in the 2008 NHL draft who scored 51 goals this season to tie Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
“They’re offensive players, and that certainly goes along with my philosophy of fast-paced hockey. Very aggressive offensively and defensively,” Boucher said. “They’ll fit right in to what I’d like to do.”