Lots of Habs fans are mourning the loss of Guy Boucher to the Tampa Bay Lightning today. Lots more are making fun of those fans, wondering why people are freaking out about losing a coach who's received a lot of hype but has never won a championship.
I think I understand from whence both sides come. It's true Boucher has a great track record, with his teams in Drummondville and Hamilton performing exceptionally well in the regular season. Still, while he's won world under-18 and under-20 gold medals as an assistant coach, his own teams haven't won the big tournaments. His players praise his style, approach and system, and observers say he's destined to break new ground as his career progresses. That still remains unproven in the NHL, where he'll have to deal with jaded big-money pros.
There's no doubt it would have been nice for the Habs to hold onto Boucher because there's no reason to believe he won't be able to find success in the big league. He fits all the criteria a Canadiens coach must fulfill, and if he's truly a rising star, it's a shame to see him go elsewhere and make another team better. He's also a rookie and will undoubtedly have to make rookie mistakes. We've already seen enough of those from Montreal coaches in the last decade to last a lifetime.
I think the sense of loss a lot of Habs fans are feeling for a guy who's not yet proven himself is part of a greater phenomenon. What it comes down to is, the Habs never get the big star. Every year there's a Steven Stamkos, John Tavares or Taylor Hall who everyone knows will make a huge difference to whatever team drafts him. That team is never the Habs. Each summer, a big-name free agent or two hits the market. The Canadiens are always high on the players' lists, but in the end they almost always go elsewhere. When Bob Gainey stepped down, there was an opportunity for the team to really look around and bring in the best GM-in-waiting candidate out there. Jim Nill in Detroit comes to mind. Instead, the team quickly slid Pierre Gauthier into the role without really exploring other options. When Guy Carbonneau got fired, Gainey had a chance to find a young, creative coach to help develop the young players. He went old-school instead and hired Jacques Martin.
It's not that Gauthier or Martin or the number-27 pick or free agent signing Travis Moen are necessarily sub-standard or bad. They're just boring. BORE-ING. Boring and dusty and a bit shabby compared to the talent other teams attract. We're Habs fans. We want flashy players, smart, bold managers and wily, entertaining coaches. We're sick and tired of never making a splash. As a collective, we're weary of always seeming to settle for the best we can get, rather than the best there is.
Guy Boucher was a splash. He represents the exciting, talented guy everybody wants, and the Habs had him in their system. Watching him head off to Tampa...incidentally, a team that gets a LOT of splash-makers and has a Cup to prove it...is disappointing. That's why so many of us are feeling kind of gloomy right now.
The salary cap and current contracts mean the Canadiens we saw on the ice three weeks ago (is it only three weeks?!) are going to be pretty much the same guys we'll see in October. If their playoff performance is an accurate indicator of their potential, that's not a bad thing. If, however, the playoffs were a one-off and the reality of the Habs is actually the up-and-down exercise in frustration we endured for 82 regular-season games, changes have to happen. Boucher represented hope in that regard. If it turns out Martin and his system had a whole lot less to do with getting to the semi-finals than Hal Gill's giant stick, Cammalleri's thirteen goals or Halak's acrobatics, we could know there was a new, exciting option waiting in the wings. With Boucher's departure, we have to face the fact that we're stuck with Martin, even if the team flounders, because there's nothing better in the offing. That's frustrating, and a bit of a downer.
The thing with these disappointments, though, is that they pass. When free agents like Shanahan and Briere chose other teams a lot of us were disappointed, but when we saw the reality of their ups and downs, we were a bit relieved they went elsewhere. When Bob Gainey signed and traded for a bunch of little guys last summer, many of us were angry. The reality of their performance went a long way in assuaging that anger.
So, maybe when we see the reality of Guy Boucher's performance in Tampa, we'll be crying harder over his loss than we do about picking Andrei Kostitsyn in the first round in 2003. Or, maybe we won't.