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. 

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6 Comments on “Clipping the Tag”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Couldn’t happen to a better hockey guy/mind.

  2. Steve Says:

    I think the desire for a “name” coach on the part of the fan base, and other media types springs from the fact that the last two coaches prior to Boudreau also came with no experience – and certainly not the level of AHL experience Boudreau has. Cassidy’s hiring was a colossal mistake, and once any expectations were put upon Hanlon, he wilted as well.

    Certainly, the proof is in the pudding, and to this point, the Boudreau hiring looks like the right one. Furthermore, I get the impression it’ll still be the right move a year and two years from now. But given this organizations recent track record with uninitiated coaches, it’s pretty easy to see the misgivings many had.

  3. Mike L Says:

    Initially I was hoping that the Caps would pursue someone like Pat Burns, but I figured that Bruce had a great track record in the minors and deserved a shot at the NHL. He’s made the most of his shot, and so far all is going well. The Caps organization has done a great job here. 🙂

  4. Eric Says:

    I was hoping that with Boudreau replacing Hanlon the biazarre treatment of Steve Eminger would finally come to an end. Eminger was a starting defenseman last year with the prettiest assist of the ’06 season. What grievious sin has Emmy commited that he deserves to be treated in such a humiliating fashion? (And don’t say he played poorly, because half the team was guilty of the same thing.) Since Bruce won’t play him either, that would suggest Eminger’s banishment/prohibition comes from GMGM. I was hoping Boudreau would at least give the guy a fair shot to prove (redeem?) himself.

  5. Tom Seymour Says:

    HOOOORAY!!! Good for Bruce! I had the pleasure of watching Bruce work his system in Manchester for 4 straight years and I can tell you he knows his stuff. I also had the pleasure of associating with him during many fan / team functions. He is smart, knows the game like few do and can make players listen and learn. He may not have NHL experince as a coach, but he has player experience and that is something every player will look up to… and should. Congratualtions to Bruce and the Washington Capitals!

  6. Luc Bertrand Says:

    I’m very glad time proved you were right, Mike!

    One more argument you can use to convince those dishonest ones who keep being sceptical: If the Caps hired a “big” name or “nice suit” behind the bench, how could they compete with other teams to retain their best players once they become free agents?

    As a young and developing team, the Caps rather need more good players to help strengthening what has been built so far than paying millions of bucks for a guy who might care more about his reputation or pride than the team’s future. You may have the best coach available, it won’t be him who can score goals, check the opponents or make the saves the players don’t do. When you already have someone who possess such high value qualities BB has, it’s worth the way to give him a serious try. Don’t forget Bruce Cassidy was probably too young to deal with the big stars or vets the Capitals had at that time (Jagr, Lang, Bondra, Gonchar, Witt, etc.). Boudreau is older than Cassidy was and the team is much younger and unexperienced.

    As a coach who has been in the Washington Capitals organization for so many years, Bruce Boudreau must know that definition of “success” worth to claim for reopening his contract means going far into the playoffs, not just earning a division title or provide a couple of winning seasons. If Bruce can make the high hopes of the organization play to the heigth of their potential, he will be well placed to negociate with George McPhee, moreover if the team is back amongst the league’s most serious Stanley Cup contenders!


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