Craig Berube simply isn’t working out in Philadelphia. Despite the bevy of excuses that have been stacked to block logic, Peter Laviolette’s former assistant won’t be leading the Flyers to a Stanley Cup. Not this year, or any other year down the road. It is what it is. But there is a coach that’s perfectly suited for not only the current roster, but the upcoming ones as well. The Flyers need Guy Boucher, and they need him badly.
The Right Fit
Craig Berube deserves to be applauded for what he was able to accomplish after last season’s unfathomable 0-7-0 start. The former enforcer appeared to be the change of pace the Flyers needed in turning their worst start in franchise history into a playoff berth. Unfortunately for Berube, the honeymoon was interrupted with another first-round exit from the playoffs.
This season, Berube has failed to adapt to the changes that the new campaign ushered in. A lack of salary cap space, deficiencies on defense – made even worse with the loss of Kimmo Timonen – and a question of depth were the obstacles that were known. In addition, the challenges that popped up undetected from the radar, a la R.J. Umberger’s lack of effectiveness, and a conspicuous lack of consistent effort, is what will, or at least should, lead to GM Ron Hextall searching for a new coach in the offseason.
That goes without even mentioning the dinosauric egg Berube’s team has laid all season long on the penalty kill. The same penalty kill that ranked within the top 10 in the league last season, despite being the most penalized team out of all 30 squads.
From afar, something is broken. This is the same personnel, same system, same coach that finished 7th in the NHL last season (83.4 percent). A drop-off of 10 percentage points is more than just bounces, cycles and the occasional breakdown. — Frank Seravalli, Philly.com
While firing the head coach isn’t always the smartest route to take when things go awry, refusing to do so when it’s abundantly clear that said coach isn’t a fit could bring the same consequences as a premature firing. In other words, you’d better be right with whichever path you choose. But the Flyers have that shining path from the lighthouse to guide them towards Guy Boucher, who sits across the pond in Switzerland.
Guy Boucher got #TBLightning to East Final in 2010-11. Only logical for one of teams w/coaching vacancy to take a look in his direction.
— Pete Jensen 🏒 (@NHLJensen) June 6, 2014
Boucher may only have two and a half seasons of NHL head coaching experience, but the Notre Dame-du-Lac, Quebec native earned his stripes right off the bat. Boucher led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 46-25-11 finish in the 2010-11 season, which ultimately ended in a Game 7 defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But how does one super fun ride for Tampa Bay correlate to Philadelphia’s current situation?
The answer is simple: personnel.
Boucher’s familiarity of the European style of hockey has grown in this year alone, as the 43-year-old has been coaching SC Bern of the Swiss hockey league since January. Adding to his overseas resume, Boucher is currently guiding the Canadian international team in this year’s Spengler Cup.
Boucher, 43, a native of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Que., coached Tampa Bay from 2010-13 but is familiar with the nuances of European hockey on the wider, longer ice surface. He’s currently coaching SC Bern in the National A League in Switzerland and has been behind the bench internationally for Canada numerous times.
Boucher served three seasons as an assistant with Canada’s under-18 program, winning gold in ’08. The following season he was an assistant with the Canadian junior squad that won a record-tying fifth straight gold medal. — Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Are the pieces starting to come together now? Guy Boucher? NHL and European experience? It fits all too well with the European takeover on the Flyers’ roster. Philadelphia currently has five skaters in the lineup who not only hail from European countries, they’re also familiar with the style of play.
Jakub Voracek, Michael Raffl, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nicklas Grossmann, and Mark Streit, to be exact.
Somebody in North America needs to hire Guy Boucher ASAP! The guy can flat out coach. Players will play for him! #SpenglerCup
— Mike Barkhouse (@mikebarkhouse) December 30, 2014
And before a roll of the eyes accompanies the sight of Grossmann’s name, keep in mind Boucher’s defensive system in Tampa Bay. The dreaded 1-3-1 zone. How could any Flyers fan forget? It was executed to the tee against Philly themselves.
The Flyers couldn’t even beat the trap with Tampa missing two top defensemen:
Hm, Boucher doesn’t always use the trap. But what better time to implement a defensive system that relies more on positioning and less on actual skill than when you’re missing two of your top defensive talents? — Travis Hughes, Broad Street Hockey
That analysis was from 2011! Anyone else see how it’s still relevant today? Especially with the current landscape of the Flyers’ blue line. Boucher’s 1-3-1 zone would benefit the likes of Michael Del Zotto and Mark Streit, relying on positioning and solid backchecking from the forwards, while sniffing out situations to jump in and join an offensive attack with the puck at the other end.
Hmmm. I wonder who ended up winning that game. Call it lame. Call it boring. Call it whatever you want. It’s exactly what the top heavy Flyers need to even think about consistency, or dare I say… a playoff push?
One Flyer who more than likely wouldn’t object to the idea of hiring Boucher is Sean Couturier, who played under Boucher in the 2008-09 season for the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs.
“Growing up I really was more offensive-minded,” said Couturier back in April. “Then when I got to junior, I had Guy Boucher as a coach and I was more on the third and fourth lines. To be consistently in the lineup, I had to be a solid two-way forward and take care of my own end. At a young age, 15-16 years old, I kind of had to be that way if I wanted to play.
“It just got into my game, and ever since that’s the way I played. If you want to be that guy at the end of the game, up a goal or down a goal, you’ve got to be reliable defensively. I try to take pride in it. Sometimes that’s how you to have to prove yourself.”
Guy Boucher may not be an animated genie that’ll grant his finder three wishes, but he is certainly the perfect fit for the Philadelphia Flyers. And sitting at 14-16-6, the Flyers are floating around in “No Man’s Land.” They certainly need him more than he needs them.
Fired in Tampa Bay
Since his firing near the midpoint of the 2012-13 season, Boucher’s name seems to always find its way into various coaching vacancies. And although he’s yet to find his way back to the NHL, that doesn’t mean his return isn’t inevitable. But isn’t his regression, as well as his early exit, from Tampa Bay concerning?
Perhaps it is. But that’s without delving into the surroundings and events leading up to his dismissal. Nevertheless, he did go 51-53-9 with the Bolts since falling one game shy of a Stanley Cup Final appearance. How is that explainable with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and a younger Vinny Lecavalier in the lineup? After all, it looks awfully familiar to what Craig Berube is looking at now, isn’t it?
While Boucher was ultimately fired for the exact same reason as my advocation of seeing Berube let go, the former Lightning coach brings more to the table than just experience in coaching.
Above and beyond Boucher’s system is his history and ability as a motivator. For a team looking to take that next step or get over a hurdle, Guy Boucher is arguably the perfect candidate. With degrees in engineering, history, and sports psychology, Boucher has used his education to get the most out of players everywhere he’s coached… — Michael Stuart, Hockey Buzz
Let’s not forget Boucher’s all-around defense in Tampa Bay. One that successfully shut down a team like the old Flyers with a thinning blue line, backed by Dwayne Roloson, who was already well past his prime. The setting is similar in Philadelphia, but varies with the Flyers’ stability in net with Steve Mason, and even his backup, Ray Emery.
So I ask, is the Guy Boucher firing an example of "letting the players off the hook"? Can't trade everyone, just fire the coach. #Lightning
— Frank Rekas 🏒⚾️🥃 (@FrankRekas) March 24, 2013
Sure, it’s concerning that Boucher could “lose the team,” like Berube has, in a hypothetical scenario. But that’s a risk every team takes when hiring a coach – one the Flyers took when they hired both Peter Laviolette, and later Craig Berube.
The Bolts saw incredible possession gains upon Boucher’s arrival, only to see them taper off in the following two seasons. But a look ahead to the Flyers defensive situation in the upcoming seasons is one that’s overwhelmingly more favorable than what Boucher utilized near the end of his tenure in Tampa Bay.
Boucher completely turned around the Lightning’s fortunes, creating a dominant possession team that finished third in the league Fenwick while the score was close, behind only Chicago and San Jose. Boucher’s Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals and came within a game of a Cup Final appearance.
It didn’t last into the next season, but the initial impact of Boucher was pretty incredible, especially considering the weak defense he was given. — Andrew Berkshire, SB Nation
Furthermore, all of the hot coaching candidates available – from Dan Bylsma, to Paul MacLean – bring a past that’s filled with risk. But based on the fit, the Flyers need Guy Boucher ahead of all the rest.
Is It Even Possible?
When Guy Boucher’s name pops up in casual conversation – on possible coaching candidates, of course – it’s often followed up with, “Oh yeah, I forgot he was coaching overseas,” or something along those lines. From there, the discourse either goes to, “Well dammit, I’ll have another beer,” or, “When does his contract expire? Does he have an opt-out clause?”
While both of those responses are perfectly acceptable in just about any setting, the true answer to the latter inquiry is unknown in terms of an opt-out clause. And although the contract itself runs through the end of the 2015-16 season, many believe it’ll be easier to breach than one might imagine.
… The contract is through the 2015-16 season. It’s unclear whether or not there is an NHL out-clause, but it’s a pretty safe bet should a team come calling, Boucher will be back. — Sean Leahy, Puck Daddy
Should Boucher be able to opt-out of his current contract, the next hurdle lies in the previously built-up conclusion that the former Bolts coach would land in Montreal. After all, the man of many faces with a scar on it did win the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award after leading Montreal’s AHL affiliate – the Hamilton Bulldogs – to a 52-17-11 record in 2009. Boucher’s success in Hamilton, along with his alma mater, made for an emotional first visit when his Lightning traveled to Montreal in 2010.
Not only has Boucher called Montreal his home since attending McGill University from 1991-95, the Canadiens gave him his first professional head coaching job last season by hiring him to run the Hamilton Bulldogs, their American Hockey League affiliate.
Boucher won the AHL Coach of the Year award and became the hot new name in the coaching fraternity this offseason before being wooed by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman… — Dan Rosen, NHL.com
That’s not stopping other teams from possibly pursuing Boucher. Last week, the New Jersey Devils fired Pete DeBoer, replacing him with GM Lou Lamoriello. But various reports were quickly out with speculation of Boucher ending up in Newark.
How about Guy Boucher stepping in as the next coach for the Devils? Wouldn't totally surprise me.
— Brian Bobal (@Brian_Bobal) December 26, 2014
New Jersey has since hired Adam Oates and Scott Stevens as some sort of unorthodox coaching duo, joining heads with Lamoriello; but nonetheless, Boucher was at least on their radar. This is encouraging if you’ve bought into the the idea of Boucher in Philadelphia. And judging from Montreal’s 48 points through 36 games, the Habs are not likely to be on the search for Michel Therrien’s replacement anytime soon.
The Flyers could always stick with Craig Berube, though. And while Berube has been dealt his own difficult hand of cards, keeping the status quo merely means more mediocrity. The choice is clear. It’s Guy Boucher.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.