Hockey coaches come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. No general manager or team for that matter, will sacrifice a winning coach for almost any reason. Take for instance the LA Kings re-signing Darryl Sutter just last week. The team went through what many believed to be a mid-season mutiny in 2015 after players locked Sutter out of the locker room during an intermission in Tampa. Players were supposedly trying to avoid an angry rant from their coach, a move that may get some GM’s thinking about sacking their bench boss.
Dean Lombardi stood pat with the man that had won his franchise a Stanley Cup in 2013-14, a move that means the Kings will once again be looked at as Cup contenders next year.
The difference a good coach makes is undeniable, ask any Toronto fan after this season.
The 2014-15 Leafs, with Randy Carlyle and Peter Horacek at the helm, were a disaster. They finished 27th in the league in CorsiFor%(CF%) at 46.4%, and were 24th in PDO with a SH% of 7.5% and a SV% of .918. On top of that they finished with 68 points to finish 27th overall. This year’s iteration was very different. The Leafs hired Mike Babcock in the summer and though the team on paper got much worse, the on-ice product was, for the first time in years, watchable. The 2015-16 team finished with a CF% of 51.3%, good for 13th in the league, and while they finished 30th overall in the standings, actually managed one more point than the previous season. Their PDO dropped because of a dearth of talent, giving them a league low shooting percentage of 6.4%, but it was evident the difference a good coach makes.
Ottawa Senators fans already know this. They saw it happen when Paul Maclean took an unlikely group of players to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and Sens fans are hoping they’re going to see it again with Guy Boucher.
Boucher has been coaching in Europe the past three seasons in Switzerland at SC Bern winning the Swiss Cup in 2014. The past two seasons he has coached Team Canada at the Spenglar Cup and this year won the tournament. He has 20 years of coaching experience which is a lot considering the man is only 44 years old.
His last job in the NHL was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, coaching for two seasons before being let go in the midst of 2012-13. Boucher had his best success with the club in his first year at the helm taking the Lightning all the way to the conference finals before losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
It’s no coincidence that this year was Boucher’s best considering the goalies he had. With Dwayne Roloson at the helm and Mike Smith and Dan Ellis chipping in duties, the team managed 103 points, and surprised the Penguins and Capitals en route to the Conference Finals that year.
Roloson was 41 at the time and had a year better than most had expected, the next year the team wasn’t so lucky. Forced to start Mathieu Garon over Roloson the team allowed the most goals in the league that season, and Garon finished with a save percentage of .901. The goalie problems continued in Tampa for Boucher until he was fired in the middle of the 2012-13 season. Shortly after he left, the team traded for Ben Bishop and the Vezina nominated goalie has brought needed consistency to the crease there. It is no coincidence that Tampa is a perennial contender now that they have an all-star goalie.
Special Teams Wizard
So what does Boucher bring to the Sens? And what do the Sens give him?
Boucher is a creative coach with a pedigree for creating suffocating defensive systems and destructive power plays. In his first season as coach of the Lightning finished in the top-ten in both penalty killing (83.8%) and power play (20.5%) efficiency. His second go round wasn’t so pretty. Goaltending issues from the start, poor possession play (47.3CF%) and a significant drop in powerplay scoring (down almost 5 points from the previous year) all contributed to a year to forget, one that set the stage for Boucher’s exit 32 games into the 48-game 2012-13 season.
Ottawa struggled on special teams this year, something Boucher will already be working on with his team.
Boucher is coming into a good situation in Ottawa. A two-time Norris winner in Erik Karlsson, who is looking for his third trophy in five years, sits on the blueline. He also comes onto a team with a good, young core of forwards. Mark Stone and Kyle Turris are both signed through the 2017-18 season, and Bobby Ryan until 2022. With Karlsson and Marc Methot as the top defensive pair, their secondary D-group will be lead by Dion Phaneuf. The Sens will be looking to re-sign several important players including Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci as well as Patrick Wiercioch if the price is right.
Hoffman actually played for Boucher in parts of two seasons for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL, and has been outspoken in his excitement.
What Sens fans should be hoping for the most is a reunion between Boucher, and the best player he has ever coached :Steven Stamkos.
Under Boucher, Stamkos enjoyed two of his best campaigns in 2010-11 and 2011-12, scoring 45 goals and 91 points, and 60 goals and 97 points respectively.
Adding to the intrigue, rumours of a rift between Stamkos and Lightning coach Jon Cooper have been floating around for some time now. Would Stamkos consider a move to Ottawa? Would Ottawa open the vault and prepare to hand over most of what is inside? These are questions for next week, as I look into the offseason moves the Sens should make, as well as who they are most likely to take with their pick in the first round of the draft.