Point-Counterpoint: Should Boudreau keep his job?
In the wake of another playoff collapse by the Capitals, everyone seems to be debating the future of Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau. CBCSports.ca senior writers Chris Iorfida and Jesse Campigotto join the fray with their opinions on the question of the day: Should Boudreau keep his job?
If you made a list of the top five Jack Adams candidates this season, Boudreau would have to be there. The Capitals won the Eastern Conference title despite a slowish start, and more significantly, they altered their game in a positive direction to do so.
True, some of that was by necessity, due to a lack of execution. From the jump this season, the Capitals never looked like that offensive juggernaut of the past, and their power play was rarely great. Every team goes through a long losing streak during the season, but the Capitals had the misfortune of having theirs when HBO's 24/7 cameras were rolling.
But … take a look at Washington's goals-against and penalty-killing rankings in comparison to 2008 to the end of the 2010 season, and you'll see significant improvements toward a complete game.
Health is so critical to a Stanley Cup run; one is hard-pressed to name a recent team that won a championship with significant injury woes. Most teams have 12 to 15 players who suit up in all playoff games.
Washington looked like a Cup contender in February and March, but were hit with a number of injuries that took their toll. It was in contrast to Vancouver, which got hit soon after the all-star break but got those players back come playoff time.
Trade deadline acquisition Dennis Wideman was lost for good in March, Mike Green took a shot off the head in February, and John Erskine missed a number of games late in the season. As a result, young defencemen like John Carlson and Karl Alzner — along with Scott Hannan — were logging 27-28 minutes during a string of relatively meaningless games in the final two weeks of the season.
That took a toll, and it's hard to believe Nicklas Backstrom isn't dinged up. The guy has just about never gone nine games in his career with only two points to show.
Also, Boudreau's hand was a bit forced when it came to goaltending.
Michal Neuvirth looks like he can be a fine NHL starting goalie. Braden Holtby looks like he could be a future star. But given that Neuvirth had played 48 games and set a franchise rookie record for wins, he had to get the call in net when the post-season began. In that sense, Boudreau was the anti-Peter Laviolette. And Neuvirth did nothing to justify pulling him, until the final game of the playoffs.
Maybe Boudreau isn't a master strategist. But that's not what lost the Lightning series. Every game was a one-goal affair into the third period, at which point Tampa Bay usually dominated. To me, that suggests a worn-down Capitals team. And even the most wide-eyed Lightning fan would have to agree that the Florida team got the lion's share of bounces and calls.
Try to get more secondary support for Alex Ovechkin, get another veteran body to support Carlson and Alzner, and maybe trade Green — who has just one year left on his deal — to get a significant return.
There's a ton of promising young players, including forwards Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, and nearly all the UFAs are the older, veteran-supporting-cast type. Certainly the Capitals would have to be one of the more attractive possibilities for free agents around the league, plus depth positions could be filled from an AHL affiliate that won the championship in 2009 and 2010.
You wouldn't know it today, but the future is bright for the Capitals. A coaching change is not needed at this point.
Campigotto: No (but...)
I like Boudreau a lot (partly because he might be the most entertaining HBO character since Pauly Walnuts, or at least Leon Black), and I don't like the NHL's general trigger-happiness when it comes to firing coaches. But it feels like maybe Boudreau has taken this team as far as he can.
The guy has tried everything. First it was the refreshing run-and-gun approach he took upon his takeover early in the 2007-08 season, which unleashed the full offensive potential of guys like Ovechkin (65 goals that season) and Green (56 points, then 73 and 76 the next two seasons).
Then, when consecutive years of playoff failure made it seem like a more conservative approach might be better, Boudreau moulded the Caps into one of this season's stingiest teams. But the season ended with a four-game sweep to Tampa Bay, with Ovechkin attempting to go coast-to-coast with the puck throughout the last couple minutes of garbage time.
And, in defence of Boudreau, that's the Caps' real problem, isn't it? Too many one-way forwards who don't seem able (or willing) to do the "little things" like blocking shots that seem so crucial to winning in the playoffs these days.
I remember reading a piece in Sports Illustrated shortly after Jason Arnott arrived in a trade. The veteran forward, who won a Cup in 2000 with New Jersey and spent parts of four seasons with Dallas (both "playoff-style" teams), said he felt compelled to speak up because of how atrocious his new teammates were without the puck. Arnott arrived at the beginning of March, after the Caps' supposed tactical transformation had taken place.
I agree that changes must be made to "diversify" the roster (I don't mean that in a passport sense), maybe add some more defensively inclined forwards. And, with Backstrom one year into a 10-year contract and the maddening Alex Semin owed $6.7 million US next year, it's probably Green who can net the fairest return, even if that seems like selling low.
Of course, these decisions are the job of general manager George McPhee, who has somehow managed to evade most of the criticism as everyone latches onto the Boudreau debate in the wake of the Tampa sweep.
The blame for Washington's perennial playoff floppiness should be split equally between the coach, the players and the GM (and maybe even owner Ted Leonsis). But, as we've seen so many times in sports (and in life), it's the guy who makes the least money that ends up paying.