Reading Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray’s rationale for firing head coach Randy Carlyle was just like listening to Washington Capitals GM George McPhee do the same when he fired Bruce Boudreau on Tuesday:
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” Murray said in a statement released in the wee hours Thursday. “Randy is a terrific head coach, and did a tremendous job for us for six-plus seasons.
“At this time, we simply felt a new voice was needed. Bruce is a proven winner with a great track record, and we are optimistic we can turn this season around under his leadership.”
McPhee had this to say on Tuesday: “This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as much as you don't want to make a change, you have to make a change. Bruce came in here and emptied the tank. He gave it everything he could and did a really good job, but the tank was empty. When that happens, you get a new coach, where the tank is full and see if it makes a difference.”
So Boudreau took his empty tank across the country where it was filled up by the Ducks. He is their new coach because Murray, after wrestling with the decision for the past few weeks, finally decided Carlyle may have directed the Ducks to their only Stanley Cup in 2007 but the reason the team was sitting near the bottom of the NHL’s Western Conference with a 7-13-4 record was that the coach’s players tuned him out.
So not even a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on his final night on the job was enough to save Carlyle. He was fired along with assistant coaches Dave Farrish and Mike Foligno. Even the video co-ordinator got the chop.
One side note: Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who hired Carlyle when he was running the Ducks and holds him in high regard, was quick to head off the inevitable speculation Carlyle might replace Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who is awaiting a contract extension. Burke said on his Twitter account he is “sad to hear about Randy Carlyle. But our coach isn't going anywhere!”
This week’s firings of Boudreau, Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes and Carlyle and the quick hiring of Boudreau were all about two things: changing the message to the players and taking away their excuses.
The Capitals slid into ennui partly because Boudreau is not a taskmaster and because their resident superstar, Alexander Ovechkin, took advantage of that and his status as the local saviour of hockey. Boudreau tried to take on the disciplinarian role but that never works when you were a friend to the players for years.
On the left coast, Murray had the opposite problem. Carlyle is a demanding coach in the mould of a Ken Hitchcock or Mike Babcock. Many of the their players do not like them but they perform for them, or else.
So just as McPhee realized his team needed someone like Dale Hunter to come in and lay on the whip, Murray came to the conclusion his players needed to hear a more friendly voice. And there just happened to be a player’s coach with a great track record (if you overlook the playoffs) available, so hello Boudreau.
It is a tried-and-true formula in the NHL because it usually works. Boudreau got his first job in the NHL because the Capitals were not moving under the defensive, conservative approach of Glen Hanlon and he made it to 200 wins faster than any other NHL coach. Larry Robinson replaced the dour Robbie Ftorek late in the 1999-2000 season and took the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup. Then he was dumped in mid-season on two occasions in later years.
Now the Anaheim players no longer have the excuse that it’s difficult to play for such a demanding coach. Same thing in Washington, where the players admitted they stopped responding to Boudreau, who said as much himself.
This has been a crazy week for coaching changes but there may be more ahead. If these teams all realize immediate dividends then other GMs with under-performing teams may follow suit.
All eyes will be on the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders in this regard. But a team really in need of a change from taskmaster to worker’s friend is the Calgary Flames. Head coach Brent Sutter is the leading proponent of the family creed that there is no fun in hockey.
Finally, Carlyle’s firing may keep winger Bobby Ryan with the Ducks. Murray reluctantly decided he would trade Ryan but only if he could get a stunning package of players in return. About 20 teams called but if Boudreau gets immediate results Murray may decide he doesn’t need to trade a talented young scorer.