For all his success throughout his National Hockey League career, Anaheim Ducks’ head coach Bruce Boudreau has yet to achieve universal admiration. Labeled early on as a guy who could coach fire-wagon hockey in the regular season only to wilt in the playoffs, Boudreau’s successes have always carried a heavy asterisk. Even a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2015 wasn’t enough to silence the doubters, as many pointed to the fact that Anaheim only had to face Winnipeg and Calgary to get there.
All the man’s ever done is win hockey games at a historical pace, yet that never seems to be enough. All doubt should be laid to rest after this most recent campaign, which truly demonstrated just how sharp Boudreau’s hockey mind is.
Boudreau’s Personal Growth
Ego plays a huge role in NHL coaching. Boudreau’s own ego was on full display in the 2015 playoffs, where he simply refused to insert trade deadline acquisition James Wisniewski into the lineup. Wisniewski, a prize deadline catch, was considered to be one of the final pieces to Anaheim’s Stanley Cup puzzle. Anaheim struggled to produce any offense in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, making the decision to sit an offensive defenseman look even worse.
The entire ordeal strained Boudreau’s relationship with his boss Bob Murray, but it didn’t cost him his job. Results are the ultimate barometer of success in professional hockey, and Boudreau had delivered some good ones, albeit in disappointing fashion. The embattled coach had just pushed the eventual champions to the brink and Murray couldn’t sell the idea that his coach wasn’t the man for the job given that fact.
Paul MacLean, a former Jack Adams winner himself, was brought in as assistant coach later that summer. Boudreau reportedly had no say in the matter. The message was loud and clear: he had better perform, as the organization already had a backup plan if he didn’t.
October was not much kinder to Boudreau. The Ducks managed one measly win in the first month of the season. Already skating on thin ice, his firing seemed like a matter of time.
Then a funny thing happened. On October 30th, Murray spoke to the media and did the unexpected: gave his team (and his coach) a vote of confidence. He rationalized the situation, explaining that, “I really don’t like commenting on rumors, but I will say this, we were one game away from the [Stanley Cup] Final just five months ago, so while this has been a terrible start, I’m not inclined to make rash changes. I’m going to be patient.”
A Signature Season
Boudreau took that vote of confidence and ran with it. The Ducks committed to a defense-first style, playing a stifling brand of hockey not unlike that of the rival Los Angeles Kings. Labeled early on in his career as an offensive-minded coach, Boudreau constructed a defensive machine on the fly. Anaheim’s puck possession numbers soared, getting to nearly 57 percent possession at one point:
The lock-down defense afforded Anaheim time to find their offensive groove. Boudreau entrusted Rickard Rakell with a bigger role, moving him to the wing to ignite the dormant Getzlaf-Perry tandem. He eventually shifted Rakell onto the second line as a center, which sparked a breakout season for the young Swede. Rakell’s progression allowed Ryan Kesler to slide into a purely defensive third-line role alongside Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg, a line which became one of the league’s best shutdown lines.
Boudreau also placed a lot more faith in his young defense corps. The 22-year old Hampus Lindholm and 24-year old Josh Manson became Anaheim’s top pairing and one of the very best in the entire league. There aren’t many coaches around the NHL that would place that kind of confidence in defensemen with such little experience, making the move all the more bold.
The Ducks present a unique blend of defensive prowess and offensive creativity. With a clean bill of health, they should be considered favorites in the Western Conference. They have their head coach to thank for a large part of that. Facing the prospect of losing his job, Boudreau checked his own ego, developed a dominant defensive system, and led his team to a fourth consecutive Pacific Division title. If that’s not worthy of a Jack Adams Award, then what is?