40 Years Later: Maple Leafs Should Re-Unite with Boudreau

An ugly chapter to the Vancouver Canucks’ 2022-23 season came to an end on Jan. 22, with the firing of head coach Bruce Boudreau and the subsequent hiring of Rick Tocchet after the team lost their seventh of their past eight games. A coach getting fired mid-season due to an underperforming team isn’t uncommon by any means, but what makes this situation unique is the way Canucks upper management handled the entire process.

The fact that the Canucks fired Boudreau is forgivable, as much as it’s a bad look for an organization that’s on its sixth coach in the past decade and their third since the start of the 2021-22 season. What isn’t forgivable is the way that upper management treated him throughout the entire process, essentially letting every last detail leak to the media and forcing him to coach his last few games while having already settled on Tocchet as their new head coach. It’s a move that isn’t sitting well with the fans, and one that represents what’s easily their “rock bottom” of the season. 

Bruce Boudreau Vancouver Canucks head coach
Bruce Boudreau, Vancouver Canucks head coach (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Boudreau now without a job, the Toronto Maple Leafs should seriously consider swooping in and giving him a role with the organization. Being a Toronto native, he’s expressed interest in wanting to work for the team he grew up supporting and playing for in the past, even if it wasn’t as a head coach (from ‘Bruce Boudreau has interest in joining the Maple Leafs’ staff, if they have interest in him’, The Toronto Star – 8/24/20). The Maple Leafs currently have three assistant coaches, and assuming he’s interested in staying in the game this season, they should find a way to open up a spot on their bench for him.

The Career of Bruce Boudreau – Cliffs Notes Version

As I stated off the top, Boudreau was born in Toronto, Ontario and was tied to the GTA for much of his playing career. Primarily a centre, he spent his junior career with the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League (now known as the Ontario Hockey League, or OHL), and the Maple Leafs drafted him in the third round of the 1975 NHL Draft. Though he only played 134 games in the NHL, he spent all but seven of those with the Maple Leafs, tallying a modest 68 points along the way. 

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Though he didn’t have much of an NHL career as a player, he’s one of the most decorated minor league players of all time, tallying a total of 799 points across 634 American Hockey League (AHL) games. He retired as a player following the 1990-91 season and immediately made the switch to coaching, securing his first head coaching job with the Muskegon Fury of the now-dissolved Colonial Hockey League, which lasted only one season. He worked his way up the ranks, coaching a number of different minor league teams before securing his first NHL job, with stops in the now non-existent International Hockey League (IHL), the ECHL, and the AHL. 

Capitals bench Boudreau enigma
Bruce Boudreau with the Capitals, his first head coaching job (US Presswire)

He eventually found his way to the Washington Capitals organization, spending two and a half seasons coaching their AHL affiliate Hershey Bears before taking over for the fired Glen Hanlon on the Capitals’ bench midway through the 2007-08 season. The team had a 6-14-1 record under Hanlon at the time, and Boudreau essentially turned their season around, coaching them to a 37-17-7 record the rest of the way along with a playoff berth. 

In 15 seasons as a head coach since then, Boudreau has seen head coaching stints with the Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, and Canucks, only missing the playoffs in three of those seasons. Though he’s never won a Stanley Cup, he’s got the highest winning percentage of any active coach with at least 900 NHL games to his name, with a lifetime coaching record of 617-342-128, good for a percentage of .626.

Boudreau Not the Reason For Canucks Struggles 

There usually aren’t too many instances where a coach who’s fired from a middle-of-the-pack team that wasn’t meeting results is looked at as a hot commodity after the fact. But, in Boudreau’s case, it’s the definition of a coach falling on the sword for the organization. If you want to pinpoint some of the main reasons for the Canucks’ struggles, the mismanagement of salary cap space and committing to players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers on long-term deals is a good place to start. Factor in the decision to lock up J.T. Miller long term over their captain and longest-tenured player in Bo Horvat, along with underperforming goaltending, and you can see why this team isn’t succeeding with the way they’re built. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean Boudreau is completely free of criticism, because the coach always plays a part in the success (or lack thereof) of a team. But for the Canucks to not only make him the scapegoat, but to drag out his firing and keep him in the dark while they not-so-secretly lined up a replacement for him, is an example of blatant mistreatment by ownership and upper management. Not to mention this was all to hire Tocchet, who carries a lifetime .444 winning percentage as a head coach and has only one playoff berth to speak of in his six seasons behind the bench.

Boudreau was a breath of fresh air when the Canucks hired him only 13 months ago. Their fans quickly took a liking to him, creating their signature “Bruce there it is!” chant during home games, and the players clearly liked and respected him as well. It remained that way until the very end – the fans even sent him off with one final chant the night before he was fired. How often do you see a coach getting a send-off from the fans right before the team lets them go? It’s an outlier of a situation, and one that most outside of the Canucks organization can agree was badly handled by the team’s brass.

Boudreau – The Secret to Breaking the Curse? 

This is a tongue-in-cheek statement, but I can’t help but look back to an interview Boudreau did on TSN 1050 with hosts Craig Button and Andi Petrillo, a year before the Canucks hired him. He revealed that when the Maple Leafs cut ties with him following the 1982-83 season, his father placed a curse on the team, saying they “would never win another Cup until he came back.” Obviously, those were simply the words of a loving father who wanted the best for his son, but here we are 40 years later…still no Cup.

In all seriousness, I highly doubt the reason the Maple Leafs have had such limited playoff success since then is traced back to the words of Norman Boudreau. But outside of the funny story the team would have had if they did manage to win a Cup with the junior Boudreau on the bench, they should have legitimate interest in bringing him back to the organization. They already have the core of their coaching staff with Sheldon Keefe at the helm, Spencer Carbery running the power play, Dean Chynoweth the penalty kill, and Manny Malhotra serving as a general assistant. But, teams have had as many as five assistant coaches on the bench, and with a general lack of NHL coaching experience on the Maple Leafs’ bench, Boudreau’s voice would only be beneficial.

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Now, it’s not certain if Boudreau is even interested in getting back into coaching this season, given the way his tenure with the Canucks ended. But, if he’s interested in finding work again, I don’t see why the Maple Leafs couldn’t open up a spot for him on the bench. Perhaps to replace Paul MacLean, who coached the team in 2020-21 and served as an advisor in 2021-22. Either way, it can’t hurt to at least talk to him and see if he’s interested in finally making his long-awaited return to the Maple Leafs organization, 40 years later.

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