A month ago, I had to confront what a large segment of the Capitals community had been shouting for over a year: Does Bruce Boudreau need to be canned? I worried that people might read the article as my argument that the Capitals do, indeed, need a new coach. The point was to try the notion on for size, and to question the nature of coaching changes in sports in general. While that sounds like backpedaling, I still have some of my same doubts about Bruce as I did then. So do a lot of folks. However, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun over at ESPN think he’s gone from the gallows to a Jack Adams Award candidate. Where does the truth lie? As always, somewhere in between.
Before the trading deadline and the acquisition of Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott, the Capitals were 33-20-10 (60.3% of possible points). Since the deadline, the team is 8-1 (89%), so clearly, there is something happening here. That being said, Bruce didn’t make those trades, George McPhee did, so the answer to the Jack Adams question (an award Bruce already won in 2007-08) is not exactly cut and dry.
If Boudreau deserves a coaching award this year, it is for one reason and one reason alone: resolve. The man knows who he is and knows what he wants his team to be, two qualities essential in a winning coach. Despite the scrutiny of his style (i.e. swearing and looking generally bewildered, hand in pants like so much Al Bundy) on display during the Caps’ HBO appearance, he hasn’t changed a thing about how he conducts himself. The cheesy local car commercials haven’t been replaced with classier endorsements. The suits haven’t gotten any less ill-fitting, and the f-bombs have not stopped dropping.
More than his personality, Bruce showed a much ballsier kind of resolve. After the Montreal series in last year’s playoffs, he noticed that the high-octane offense isn’t exactly the most reliable way to go deep into the playoffs. He changed the system, instilling discipline in his scorers to check more aggressively, allow fewer goals, and inspired a penalty-killing unit to rise to one of the leagues’ top handful of shorthanded teams. But it completely failed at first. The system, and the players’ awkwardness in adjusting to it, lost them eight games in a row in December. It chained up the best living scorer of the puck to a pedestrian (by his standards) 84-point-paced season. Depending on who you talk to, it almost got Bruce fired.
But he stuck with it. He didn’t do what so many of us would’ve done and say “f— it, Sasha, Ovi, Nicky, just see if you can score 6 and we’ll let in 4 or 5.” He forced his team to evolve, and put his neck on the line.
And it completely f—ing worked.