ARLINGTON, Va. – Glen Hanlon was fired as coach of the NHL-worst Washington Capitals on Thursday, with the team off to its slowest start in 26 years.
Hanlon, in his fourth season at the helm, was told of the decision a day after loud boos and chants of “Fire Hanlon!” echoed through the arena during a 5-1 home loss to the Atlanta Thrashers, Washington’s fifth consecutive defeat.
“He understood that it had to be done. We had talked after our game on Monday night and had some concerns about whether he was losing the team,” general manager George McPhee said at the team’s practice facility.
“For the most part this year, I thought we were a team that played hard and wasn’t getting rewarded. But the last few games it looked like we’d lost the team, and you can’t ignore that. You have to do something about it.”
Hanlon will be replaced on an interim basis by Bruce Boudreau, the coach of the Hershey Bears, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate.
Boudreau got a call from McPhee at about 7 a.m. Thursday, hopped in his car and drove for nearly 3 hours, then ran the Capitals’ practice, barking instructions and making the last player to reach a huddle skate a lap.
He will make his NHL coaching debut Friday at Philadelphia.
“I haven’t really had a lot of time to focus on too much, except that it’s unfortunate because Glen was a good friend of mine,” Boudreau said. “But at the same time, I’ve sort of waited 32 years for this opportunity, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Boudreau, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, is familiar with several of the Capitals’ players, having coached seven current members of the roster at Hershey, which he led to the 2006 Calder Cup title.
He takes over a club that is 6-14-1 for 13 points, four fewer than any other team in the league through Wednesday.
McPhee met with the players Thursday and “told them they should meet together for a little bit and talk about what’s been going on here, because some of them have to pull up their socks.”
After beginning the season 3-0, the Capitals have lost nine of 10 games, and 15 of 18, leaving them with their lowest 21-game point total since having 12 in the 1981-82 season.
“It’s a new page,” star forward Alex Ovechkin said after the team’s first practice under Boudreau.
Expectations among the Capitals – from team owner Ted Leonsis right down to Ovechkin and other players – were high entering the season, because of the addition of a few free agents and the team’s top pick in the 2006 draft.
But other than Ovechkin, the team has had plenty of trouble scoring, and the problems have spread to other areas in recent games. Washington keeps falling behind and failing to recover, going 1-10-1 when opponents score first, and turnovers and poor line changes have been increasing.
“Hopefully a fresh voice will get some guys going here,” goalie Olie Kolzig said.
Hanlon leaves his first NHL head coaching job with a 78-123-9-29 record.
After Wednesday night’s loss, he was asked whether he believes his players can turn things around.
“Of course I do – or I wouldn’t go in tomorrow,” Hanlon replied, his voice soft and words slow. “You never stop believing. That’s the real hard part of handling losing, is that you can never stop believing. … I believe in the players.”
The Capitals promoted Hanlon from assistant coach to head coach in December 2003, replacing the fired Bruce Cassidy. Washington wound up finishing last in its division that season, as well as in each of Hanlon’s two full seasons.
But after slumping to 27th in the 30-team NHL in both 2005-06 and 2006-07 – when they had the lowest payroll in the league – the Capitals came into this season counting on being an improved club, an optimism reflected in the motto, “New Look. New Season. New Attitude.”
Leonsis proclaimed “the rebuild is over” in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors two days before the start of training camp, while Hanlon spoke early in the regular season about the team being ready to “shift from development to winning.”
“Glen did a real nice job bringing some of our young players along,” McPhee said. “It’s not an easy thing, this process of trying to build a team and build a winning team. It takes time.”