Thought exercise: name the number of National Hockey League coaches that would ever think to scratch their number one defenseman. Struggling to come up with names? That’s not a lack of knowledge on your part, it’s just that no coach worth his salt would ever even think to do that.
Sure, it was against the cellar-dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets. Sure, Cam Fowler could probably use the rest with perhaps the most important playoff run of his career in the not-so-distant horizon. But for Bruce Boudreau to scratch his best defenseman for performance reasons is pure insanity.
There’s something about offensive defensemen that NHL head coaches just love to pick at for whatever reason. Just ask P.K Subban. Cam Fowler was a minus player against the New York Rangers in Sunday night’s 7-2 drubbing, and maybe didn’t play his best hockey.
Does that warrant scratching him altogether though? Coaches like to think that penalizing a star player sets a tone of accountability in the locker room; that everyone is equal. That notion doesn’t really hold up to snuff though.
If that were truly the case, and Boudreau scratched players when he felt like they weren’t bringing it, then how can anyone explain the inane amount of ice time that Clayton Stoner has received this season? That’s without even mentioning how Boudreau tried his hardest to prop up Rene Bourque.
Tactically speaking, Boudreau is a fine coach. His NHL career is gleaming with offensive powerhouses both in Washington and Anaheim. Neither stop has brought him playoff success, but it is beyond any reasonable doubt that he’s more than a competent head coach.
It’s safe to say that Alex Ovechkin would have scored a ton of goals without Boudreau, but it’s nearly impossible to argue that his system didn’t help Ovechkin to some degree. The same thing has happened in Anaheim, where he’s given his defensemen and forwards alike the green light to make plays.
Although accomplished, scratching Fowler leaves one wondering if Boudreau really values the notion of accountability or if its just a red herring to use his star players as scapegoats.
Fair or Fowler?
There’s a line of thinking in hockey circles that top players should be held to a higher standard. While there may be some merit to that, it becomes counter-productive when players of lower skill aren’t held accountable for their actions either.
Stoner has been mediocre at best this year. There’s no way around that fact. So scratching Fowler, perhaps the team’s second or third most important player, is almost a slap in the face.
With the Ducks sitting comfortably in first place in the Pacific, Boudreau can get away with these kind of moves. It would be hard to believe that he’d do the same were Anaheim in a tight playoff race. Ultimately there’s no way Fowler spends more than a game in the press box, but the very act itself remains alarming.