Guy Boucher doesn't look like someone who would be scared of anything, with his penchant for black clothing and a noticeable scar across the side of his face. But there's one thing that petrifies the Tampa Bay Lightning coach these days: his telephone.
"I'm scared to check my phone," Boucher said with a wry smile as his team prepared to face the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night at the MTS Centre here. "Hopefully we don't have another one traded today."
Boucher has reason to worry. Before each of the team's past three games, Boucher has been told by general manager Steve Yzerman that a top-line player has been shipped off.
First it was centre Dominic Moore, who was traded to the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 16. Then defenceman Pavel Kubina went to the Philadelphia Flyers the following Saturday and, finally, right winger Steve Downie moved to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Even worse for Boucher, while he is still expected to push his team for a playoff spot, Yzerman received no players in return, just draft picks. And, if all that wasn't enough, Boucher got told on the same day of the Downie trade that team captain Vincent Lecavalier will be out for several weeks because of a broken hand.
Despite all that turmoil and a depleted lineup, Tampa Bay won all three of those games and was just five points behind the Jets and Florida Panthers for top spot in the Southeast Division heading into the NHL's games Thursday.
"I've always thought that a coach's No. 1 attribute has to be adjusting and being able to adjust, whether it's during the game, or between games, or between periods," Boucher said Thursday. "And I think this is where that has to come in handy."
Boucher acknowledged that the trades have been hard on the remaining players. "There was one game that we knew during the day [about the Kubina trade]but it wasn't sure," he said. "They saw one player [Moore]taken out as he is going from warm-up. The other player [Downie]is one of their top friends."
He added that he has impressed at how his players have responded. "Three different scenarios but one common reaction: reload and focus on the task. And that's what the players were able to do. So I have a lot of respect for our players. They responded very well."
While the trades didn't yield any players, they did generate two first-round and four second-round picks in the coming draft. That should be more than enough to eventually solve Tampa's needs, which include goaltending and defence. But in the meantime, Tampa will be hard pressed to score goals. Lecavalier is second on the team in goals behind Steven Stamkos and Downie was among the top five.
"I'm the first guy to trust Steve Yzerman and the plan that he is putting forward right now," Boucher said. "So it's tough to manage in the few hours after but, in the long run, we know that it's going to be a plan that's going to take us closer to where we want to be."
Several players echoed that sentiment. "Obviously it looks like we're selling and we lost some great players, but at the end of the day you have to trust the management," Stamkos said.
"Steve knows what he's doing," forward Teddy Purcell added. "He's been in this league long enough and we respect him." But Purcell also joked that on the NHL's trade deadline next Monday, "I think I'm going to sleep in and turn my phone off that day."
For others, such as forward Ryan Malone, the trades threw the players a curve ball because the Lightning had gone 5-3-2 in the 10 games prior to the trading flurry (compared to 5-4-1 for Winnipeg). "All we can do is try to prove [Yzerman]wrong, right?" he said.
When asked if he felt his players were demoralized by the trades, Boucher smiled and said: "I always found that everyone has a choice in life. … Give me one or two minutes, get the slap and get up and choose what you want to see in it. What I see in it is that it's a sometimes a step back to take two forward."
A few minutes later he put it in more graphic terms: "The players have really taken to heart that if you lose an arm you can still walk. And if you lose two arms you can still walk. If you lose a leg well you can still get in a wheelchair or you can do something."