Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bye Bye Boucher

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.


Unknown said...

Another thing I'm telling myself as consolation: we've broken in new coaches many times at the NHL level only to see them move on to better things elsewhere: Therrien, Julien, Lemaire, Vignault, etc. Maybe, just maybe, this time Boucher will cut his NHL teeth somewhere else, then come home and fulfill his destiny here. :-)

Anonymous said...

Tampa will win their second Stanley Cup before the Habs get No. 25. I'm not thinking the Bolts will win any time soon, but as other franchises hire good young GM's and coaches and the Habs continue with french speaking re-treads, the future is very depressing.

redbaron said...

I agree in part, especially when it comes to coaches and GMs, but Gainey made a heckuva splash last year by signing Cammalleri, one of the very best talents available.

CheGordito said...

Guy Carbonneau was new and flashy - and it worked for a while, but he didn't have the credibility (or ability?) to stick around when the going got really tough.

Guy Boucher was even more exciting, and we'll see if the Habs can get him in the future.

JF said...

There is every indication that Guy Boucher will be an exceptional coach. However, it's likely to take him a while, despite his meteoric rise in the coaching ranks. He won't be working with aspiring players any longer but with established players, superstars, millionaires. There's bound to be an adjustment and a learning process, and it's perhaps as well that these things happen in Tampa rather than in Montreal, where the media and the fans would be quick to crucify him for mistakes. Don't get me wrong; I'm as disappointed as anyone that he's left the Habs, but we can't rule out a possible return in a few years. Meanwhile, the organization had better be on their toes to spot any other rising stars in coaching and find a way to keep them in the fold, especially as it looks like we could be facing the wholesale departure of our coaching staff.

Anonymous said...

No state income tax, big salary, great place to live, Stamkos, Vinnie, Marty, Malone etc and no press pressure. A total no brainer for Boucher. I'll be watching the Bolts next season.

Kyle Roussel said...

For some die-hard fans, I think this symbolizes the disjointed "vision" that the team had.

Gainey brought up a perfectly good coach in Lever...and then let him go. For what? Ok, maybe to clear a spot for Boucher, who would be their heir to the coaching throne in Montreal. Except then he gave Jacques Martin 4 years. How did Habs management think this was going to turn out? That Martin would coach 4 seasons, bring a professional atmosphere back to the team, and that Boucher would dutifully toil away until called upon?

The problem, on top of what you mentioned, is that they can't stay out of their own way.

In the end, Boucher struck while the iron was hot, and he can't be faulted or accused of not being loyal. It's the Habs who need to answer for these puzzling moves. They've lost Lever and Boucher, and all the big club has to show for it is a short stint behind the bench as an assistant by Lever. I know, I know, young Bulldogs that were exposed to Boucher will also pay dividends...if they manage to get to Montreal. And even then, they won't be playing Boucher's "innovative" system, they'll be playing Martin's outdated, obsolete system.

MC said...

I have no doubt that Boucher will have success. He is smart and good with people, so I would be very surprised if he struggles. But at the end of the day the coach doesn't score goals or stop pucks, his spectrum of success is limited by the talent on the team. I think Montreal's coaching is good enough to win it all with the right team in front of them, and I am happy with that. I didn't feel that way with Tremblay, or even Therrien. Sometimes boring is okay ;-)

With the talent in Tampa Bay, they will be very dangerous next year, and the bolts are a couple of defencemen away from being a contender. I suspect St. Louis will really benefit from Boucher's system, so it will be a fun sideshow to watch.

MathMan said...

Actually, personally I am kind of gloomy about Boucher leaving because I do think that Martin is very substandard/bad on top of being boring, and that the Habs will need to look for a coach sooner rather than later if they want to improve... and now Boucher, who seems to have all the skills the Habs so badly need (modern system, great communicator, proven development skills, all the things Martin is the exact opposite of) is out of the candidate pool.

Which means that when the Habs do need a new coach, and the way Martin coaches we'd better hope it's soon, they may not find someone quite as good. And they're certainly not going to go very far playing Martin's obsolete and stunningly ineffective passive puck concession system!

Anonymous said...

Like you J.T. I would have liked to have Boucher with the team this year. And like you I find the team boring. No trades bringing in the Big M these days. Remember Svoboda being ushered into the draft? That was a big Habs draft. Remember D. Savard, Muller, Damphousse? Assets for assets?

Mr Gainey once said that before you could build a team you needed assets. I think if the lockout hadn't happened, and if UFA at 26 was real, then maybe the team might be there. But really the best young players are locked up to long term contracts early now and you need a couple of them to really climb to the next level. The team doesn't have those assets, or game breakers.

In Montreal no one other than players is ever blameless or blameworthy. But really, the odds are that they should have had a couple decent first rounders in the last ten years. Team wise Serge Savard left, it went to **** or it went to **** and Serge left, however you want to look at it. M. Savard will likely always be remembered as firstly an excellent player who overcame adversity to excel, and as the last GM of the Montreal Canadiens before the transition to fanboy ownership/management meddling.

I like Philly. Now I despise them for owning the Habs lately (and I likewise despise the Habs believing Philly can own them) but by gosh, they moved Bob Clarke out and changed that team into a real threat. If they had a goaltender the Flyers would rule. It wasn't working so they mixed it up. If Mr Gainey is to be remembered for anything it should be for having the guts to clean house last year. He wasn't winning with them, he could certainly lose without them.

The sad fact in my view is that the Montreal Canadiens have a tough time winning in the latter part of the season. The chips are down and other teams begin to work towards the playoffs. This year the Habs played as a team for so many games in the playoffs that even I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe they could pull off a fluke.

They did not. They do not have strength down center. They do not have game breakers. No big guy at the net. Foot guard straps that trip them up. Injured powerplay specialists. Draft picks given up for transient gain. Conditions on player, coach, and management selection.

J.T. I love them dearly, have followed them all my life, but they are bush league. Making a mint, but not hockey history. I liked it better the other way around.

J.T. said...

@anon: I liked it the other way too.

DT said...

Without Markov in the lineup on a regular basis, how can the season or the playoffs be an indicator of what this team is capable of? All teams deal with injuries, but when the main quarterback of your special teams PP is out, that spells trouble. The bottom line is, the Habs team, as is now stands, NEEDS it's Markov (/Duncan Kieth) to be healthy and playing. And the players know that.
It would be nice to have the Habs will pick up Boucher on the rebound after his stint in TB, after he has lots of NHL experience under his belt.

Anonymous said...

Great hockey by two very good teams. Wish it was the Habs but they wouldn't have won a game. Feel bad for Leighton that winner was a stinker.

Anonymous said...

Not surprising to see people over-react when even 'analysts' like Renaud Lavoie start writing a blog about how losing Boucher is as bad for the Habs as losing Markov or Subban and that they really should have done something to keep him...

Personally I think that the timing for him to coach the Habs was just bad, and who knows what the future holds, maybe it will be better for us if he can come back here after his rookie mistakes somewhere else, or whatever. But I don't blame the Habs for a lack of vision or anything when it comes to him leaving, it was about time that they hired a coach with experience when they got Martin (even though I'm not a fan of 'The System') and you don't get an experienced coach with a 1-2 years contract, and they couldn't be sure that Boucher would be NHL ready in a year and good to the point where he's getting offers from other NHL teams after only 1 year in the AHL.

The timing just wasn't there, but at least we got him for 1 year and it seems like he contributed a lot in improving Subban's game, and that's already a major plus.