There’s an unwritten rule in sport that you never block your best people from moving on to bigger and better things. Sure, sometimes you hear of a team refusing another’s request to interview a coach or executive, but no franchise wants to be known as one that stalls the careers of its personnel.
During the summer, Montreal opened the door for Hamilton Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher to move up the ladder with another organization; he’s now the coach in Tampa Bay. Now, I’ll admit I don’t know if the Canadiens considered promoting Boucher themselves, but, unless he turned them down, the wrong decision was made.
Boucher, 39, is widely considered the best young coaching mind in hockey. Everywhere he’s gone he’s won. Montreal, of course, already had a coach – and an accomplished one at that in veteran Jacques Martin. The 58-year-old has a Jack Adams award and is ninth all-time in coaching wins (559) and games coached (1,185). He’s in his 16th season and has never been fired mid-campaign, something few among his peers can boast. But Martin and Boucher appear to be polar opposites and not in a good way if you’re a Habs fan.
Stern and stoic are words that come to mind when I think of Martin. And, all his wins aside, Martin’s teams aren’t known for breaking ground strategically and he’s never led any of them to a Stanley Cup. Boucher, on the other hand, is charismatic, a cutting-edge tactician and master motivator. His players love him and he seems to always get the best out of them, regardless of talent level. Julien BriseBois is the Lightning’s assistant GM and used to hold the same position with Montreal.
“They all talked about how well he developed players in Drummondville (of the Quebec League),” BriseBois said when I asked him about Boucher’s reputation before he landed in Hamilton, “how good of a communicator he is…how he relates to players and how he got the best out of him. His ability to team build is something we heard a lot about.
“And another thing was how innovative he was from a systems standpoint. He managed the power play for (two Team Canada under-18 teams and the 2009 world junior team) and we were really impressed with his work.”
The Hamilton Spectator’s Gary McKay got to see Boucher up close when the coach was with the Bulldogs. He was also impressed, both with how Boucher interacted with his players and as an X’s and O’s man.
“I think he tries to pull out the little boy, the minor hockey player, in all these guys,” McKay said. “He makes it fun on the ice.
“And he brought some really innovative (tactics) into the game.”
Innovative, there’s that word again, never far from the lips when discussing Boucher. Coupled with his people skills, Boucher has it all going for him as an up-and-coming coach. Just the kind of asset you want to hold on to if you’re an NHL organization.
Logic dictates the only way Montreal could have done that was to offer Boucher the head job with the big club. And while it would have meant paying Guy Carbonneau and Martin to not coach the Habs, it’s only money – and there’s no salary cap on coaches.
Some will say you can’t fire a coach who just led a No. 8 seed past both the Presidents’ Trophy winner and the reigning Stanley Cup champion en route to the conference final, but that’s essentially what Montreal did with its playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak. The Canadiens bid adieu to him in favor of the guy they thought was better for them in the long run. Why not do the same with Martin?
Would Boucher have relished the chance to coach in Montreal? I can’t say. But I do know it should have been seriously discussed. As BriseBois, who assured me his and Boucher’s moves to the Lightning this summer were a coincidence, said: “(H)e brings so many things to the table. He’s the complete package.”
The Habs would regret letting a player described as such get away. And while it may not be this year or next, eventually they’ll regret letting Boucher get away, too.
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