Clipping the Tag
As one opens Christmas presents, one frequently finds that some of the items received need to have tags and/or labels scissored off, once the assurance has been made that the item fits and/or the recipient is happy with the look and feel of the gift. A day after Christmas, the Washington Capitals have done some tag-clipping of their own.
As we mentioned moments ago on our weekly Capitals Report podcast, the Caps today removed the “interim” tag from the title of head coach Bruce Boudreau. That’s great news for Bruce, obviously, but I think it is also a positive development for this team and this organization.
I know there was a groundswell of support among Caps fans to bring in a “name” head coach, someone with more NHL experience and someone whose name and face would be familiar to hockey fans (think Pat Quinn, Bob Hartley and whomever else’s name you’d like to insert here). They conveniently forget that Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour and every other guy who has ever coached in this league started off with no NHL experience.
I also know that among my media cohorts there were those who questioned the choice of Boudreau as coach strictly on cosmetic purposes. I’ve argued my point with them, and they’ve come around. You can have a polished-looking guy with fine suits and lots of hair product behind your bench, but it doesn’t mean anything if he can’t coach. Ken Hitchcock and Randy Carlyle don’t necessarily look the part either, but they’ve got rings on their fingers that say otherwise.
I don’t agree with either line of thinking (“experience” or “cosmetic”), but then I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune of watching Boudreau work for the last few seasons and getting to know him personally. He’s a smart guy, a good coach and I have no doubt that he will succeed at this level. From the moment he was named interim head coach on Nov. 22, I was hoping he’d eventually be named the permanent coach. (As much as anyone can be “permanent” in the NHL coaching game.)
I admit that I wondered how the players would respond to him when he came here. He can come across as a bit folksy if you don’t know him; not that that is a bad quality, it’s just something that’s more frequently associated with baseball managers than with hockey coaches. I also wondered how they’d take to him showing video of his AHL Hershey Bears to show how his system works, but it turns out I had nothing to worry about in that regard, either.
A couple weeks into his tenure, I took a bit of an informal poll of the Caps’ locker room to see how some of the team’s vets felt about their new bench boss. I didn’t have to check with any of the players Boudreau had in Hershey, I already knew they were behind him all the way. Turns out that all the vets I talked to felt the same way, and more than a couple of them expressed hope then that Boudreau would soon have his interim label removed.
I dutifully played devil’s advocate and brought up the concerns of others that I mentioned here in earlier paragraphs, and they were laughed off. None had any interest in playing for a recycled “name” head coach, and none cared a lick about how a coach is supposed to “look” behind the bench. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted anyone besides Boudreau as this team’s head coach, not that it would matter if I did.
Boudreau getting to the NHL after years and years of toiling and riding buses in lesser leagues makes for a great story. But it will make for a far greater story if he is able to do what he has done at every other level where he has coached: Win.
Me, I think he will.
So now it’s back to the business of trying to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff chase. A run of five or six (or more) straight wins has vaulted some other teams back into the playoff picture (think New Jersey, Buffalo) and could do the same for the Caps. Forty-six games and a lot of work remains, starting tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning comes to town.