The 2015-16 season was one big uphill battle for the Anaheim Ducks. In hindsight, the success they had seems fleeting when juxtaposed with a catastrophic October, a last place finish at Christmas, and an injury-riddled end to the season. A team with Stanley Cup expectations fell well short of that, and it never even truly felt that close.
General manager Bob Murray took an ax to his forward group last summer and tweaked it incessantly during the regular season. The result? 127 goals scored at even strength, good for 26th in the National Hockey League. Say what you will about puck luck, but that number doesn’t reflect well on Murray’s acquisitions. Anaheim still rattled off yet another Pacific Division crown, all the more remarkable given their goal-scoring woes.
At the heart of the road to that first place finish was head coach Bruce Boudreau, who transformed a team that essentially forgot how to score goals into a puck possession behemoth. And yet on Friday morning, he also paid the price for his own coaching wizardry, fired by the same boss who stood up for him at the beginning of the season.
Boudreau’s ability to adjust on the fly also gave new life to expectations that had seemed dead in the water after a dreadful start. If anything though, he gave a group that may not have been all that functional its best shot at success. Ultimately, his body of work was judged on his ability to win one critical game, which is a crappy metric at best. Take his latest Game 7 “failure”: Anaheim out-shot the Predators 37-20, including a dominant 28-10 margin in the final 40 minutes of play. To add salt to the wound, goal-less Corey Perry couldn’t tuck away a backhander into a wide open cage in the dying minutes of the game.
How any of that should fall on Boudreau’s shoulders is tough to understand. There’s no doubt that he had his share in the Ducks’ collective defeat though. Starting John Gibson for Games 1 and 2 seems like terrible decision in retrospect, and his persistent use of the Kevin Bieksa-Cam Fowler pairing just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. That’s without even mentioning how he thrust guys like Nate Thompson and Ryan Garbutt into top-six roles.
Boudreau’s Tactics A Part Of NHL Coaching Reality
Then the reality sets in though: all NHL head coaches make weird decisions, even the very best ones. We just saw it with the widely respected Darryl Sutter, who insisted on pairing Drew Doughty with a pylon formerly known as Rob Scuderi. Joel Quenneville, who’s had nothing but success in Chicago, refused to give the promising Teuvo Teravainen consistent minutes in the 2015 playoffs. Winning buys coaches a lot of rope when it comes to decision-making.
For all the problems Anaheim had, Boudreau simply wasn’t one of them. Though successful at a historical clip in the regular season, he was essentially fired for his lack of sheer luck in the playoffs. The Ducks might end up paying dearly for this decision, as there are few available head coaches out there that are in Boudreau’s stratosphere. Assistants Trent Yawney and Paul MacLean aren’t viable candidates. Dallas Eakins is a promising AHL candidate, but he’s unproven at the NHL level. Guy Boucher could be interesting, but it’s unclear whether he’ll cross the Atlantic back to North America..
Murray made a short-sighted decision on Friday pretty much anyway you look at it, and he’ll soon find out that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. For a team that already has an aging core tied up with big money and term, the firing will have even more meaningful long-term ramifications. Meanwhile, Boudreau’s unemployment should be very short-lived, and he will make the next franchise he coaches for a very happy one.