With great expectations comes a very short leash.
When Sidney Crosby makes his first visit to Washington this season on Dec. 1 – the first meeting between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals since last year's Winter Classic, the night of Crosby's concussion heard ‘round the world – it will be Dale Hunter behind the Caps' bench, not Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreau, in his fifth season in Washington, was relieved of his duties after back-to-back losses to the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres in which Washington was outscored 4-11. This is the same Bruce Boudreau that has compiled one of the most successful records in Capitals history, resurrecting the lowly Caps from the ashes in 2007 when he was hired mid-season and inherited a dismal team that was 6-14 and hadn't made the post-season in five years.
That bottom dwelling group went 37-17-7 for the rest of the season to win the Southeast and honor Boudreau with coach of the year. The Capitals broke the 100-point barrier the next three seasons and won a President's Trophy in 2010. So what changed to put a savior like Boudreau on the hot seat?
Boudreau's job security was always "uncomfortable," for lack of a better term, due to the lack of post-season success. The trademark run-and-gun style of the Washington Capitals never seemed to translate to the post-season, where it fell short against the lockdown styles of the Montreal Canadians or the more balanced approach of Pittsburgh.
Washington was subpar in net for most of Boudreau's years, running out names like Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and José Théodore that, at the time, made the Caps remind you of a finely dressed man wearing beat-up Reeboks.
The overpowering offense combined with underwhelming goaltending didn't add up to wins in the playoffs. The Caps seemed to answer that void this year by acquiring Tomáš Vokoun, arguably the best goalie on the market. Vokoun has responded with a save percentage and goals against average that rank 29th and 30th in the NHL, respectively.
In addition, thanks to Boudreau's new defensive scheme, perennial stars like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström have seen the greatest decline in production of their careers and Alex Semin has become all but irrelevant. What was once the best offensive team in the NHL now isn't quite great at anything.
So obviously Boudreau has explaining to do. First, his teams weren't strong enough defensively to win a tight series, let alone a Stanley Cup. Then he completely neutralized the strengths of the league's best offense. And in the same vein, this year he's turned off those stars completely. Without question, the Caps this week looked like a group begging for a new suit behind them on the bench.
So can we gather from all of this that Bruce Boudreau isn't that good of a coach? People insist that anyone could manage the Yankees and win or coach the Miami Heat and make the playoffs. Who's to say that anyone sending out players like Ovechkin, Bäckström and defenseman Mike Green wouldn't sleepwalk to the playoffs? Boudreau actually found a way to screw that up and to make Ovechkin look average. Thankfully, HBO taught us how.
HBO's "24/7" took us behind the scenes in Washington for two months (part of which was a seven-game losing streak). We saw Boudreau stacked up against last year's Jack Adams Award winner Dan Bylsma – coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Bylsma was professional, classy and controlled, Boudreau appeared erratic, whiny and dropped more F-bombs than an Ozzy Osbourne marathon – Rex Ryan eat your heart out. But none of this got results. If anything, a rather stoic looking Boudreau that none of us really knew became a babysitter to his players. And when that failed and Boudreau grabbed the reins, the Caps became ordinary.
What more evidence did Washington need to know that it was time for a change? Apparently, very little. Dale Hunter, you're now under the microscope.
St. Louis, Carolina and Washington have all made coaching changes and Jack Capuano of the Islanders is on the fence. Who will go next? Randy Carlyle in Anaheim. You heard it here first.