Skip to main content
// //

At the noon news conference called Monday by the Ottawa Senators, one voice was noticeably missing.

It belonged to Erik Karlsson – the team captain who is off on forced vacation, his befuddling team having missed the postseason – and besides, the presser had been called to introduce new head coach Guy Boucher, who had a great deal to say.

But still, what would Karlsson have said? Or at least thought?

Story continues below advertisement

Here you had a 44-year-old coach who made his small mark in the NHL by suffocating offence to the point of absurdity. And this man was about to take charge of a stubborn 25-year-old Swede who is the game's greatest, and only, forechecking defenceman, a swashbuckling, freelancing, ice-time-gobbling attack missile who is a two-time-and-defending Norris Trophy winner, as well as a finalist once again this year for the award given to the top player at his position.

Unstoppable force, meet unmovable object … maybe.

New general manager Pierre Dorion went out of his way to say that Boucher, most recently coaching in Switzerland, had been his first choice all along, as well as the top choice of his lieutenant, Randy Lee. Given that a much-higher-profile available coach, Bruce Boudreau, had been in town for interviews with Dorion and Lee on Saturday, only to jump for a rich, four-year contract offer from the Minnesota Wild, had led to speculation that Boucher had been second choice and that, just perhaps, panic had played a part.

Not so, insisted Dorion. Boucher had been his first interview and first choice from that point on.

As for the unpredictable personality of team owner Eugene Melnyk, Dorion said his boss's singular instruction had been to hire the best coach available, which he believes he has now done.

Boucher arrives in Ottawa after three seasons coaching SC Bern of the Swiss elite league. Previously, he led the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning for two-plus seasons, taking them to the Eastern Conference final in 2010-11. He arrived in the NHL after success in the American Hockey League and in junior hockey. Then only 38, Boucher was considered a modern "star" with his impressive education credentials, his remarkable communication style, his passion, intensity and fiery nature, his innovative ways and his immediate success.

But it did not last.

Story continues below advertisement

The low point came in November of 2011, during a game in Tampa against the Philadelphia Flyers when the Flyers called Boucher's bluff. Weary of Boucher's strategic decision not to have his players forecheck – instead keeping one "checking" forward outside the opposition blueline, using the next three players like a football line and keeping the fifth skater well back – Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger simply refused to move the puck out of the Flyers' end.

If no one was going to come in and try to get it, Pronger was just going to hang onto it and wait the Lightning players out.

The standoff went on for a good 30 seconds before one of the referees blew his whistle and cited virtually unknown rule 72.1, which says officials can "enforce continuous action" if required.

"Would you pay money to see that?" an incredulous Pronger said following the game.

NBC analyst Mike Milbury was outraged by Boucher's tactics, saying, quite accurately, that "coaches are coaching this game, sometimes, to death."

"It's embarrassing," added fellow analyst Keith Jones.

Story continues below advertisement

To those who love this quick, creative sport, Boucher's coaching style in Tampa Bay was a grievous insult to how the game was intended to be played.

"The object of the game is to score goals," Milbury argued. "It's just not right."

Though there are as many accounts of leopards changing their spots as there are of headstrong NHL coaches changing their ways, it does and can happen, if rarely. And the Boucher who appeared in Ottawa Monday claimed he has learned much in his time away from an NHL bench.

He cited examples of successes he has had with star players, though some reporters recalled how, when he had coached the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL, he and rising-star defenceman P.K. Subban had rarely seemed on the same page. Boucher expressed an admiration for "immediate attack." He said he intended to turn the Senators misfiring power play into an "accelerated power play." He said of Karlsson that "he's the best in the league – you've got to cherish that."

But he also announced that he had already hired former NHL coach Marc Crawford as an associate, and spoke at length of the benefits of having more coaches involved, just as in school a reduced "teacher-student" ratio can be a good thing.

NHL hockey, he said at one point, is increasingly "going the same direction as football" and there should be "experts" in virtually every field of play involved in instructing the players.

Story continues below advertisement

What's next, wondered those who already feel NHL hockey is ridiculously overcoached – sending in plays from the bench?

"We're in the business of doing the impossible," Boucher said of the role of coaches.

That may prove necessary.

It will, at the very least, be a compelling storyline to launch the 2016-17 season.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies