Be thankful for Boudreau

Be thankful for Boudreau
November 24, 2011, 4:03 pm
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Four years ago, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, Capitals general manager George McPhee fired coach Glen Hanlon following a 5-1 home loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Caps had lost nine of their last 10 games and were off to their worst start in 26 years.

Thats how Bruce Boudreau, who had spent most of his 30-plus years in hockey as a minor-league player and coach, was indoctrinated into the NHL coaching fraternity.

Unless something changes dramatically in the coming weeks, Boudreau will not leave the Capitals under similar circumstances, no matter what you hear on talk radio.

Last weekend, after the Capitals lost four games in a row, rumors swirled that McPhee was considering replacing Boudreau with former Capitals agitator Dale Hunter, who is currently the coach and co-owner of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

If Boudreau was privy to the rumors he wasnt letting on.

All I can do is come out and coach every day and work my heart out and let the chips fall where they may, Boudreau said. I cant control anybody else, so I try not to listen to it or let is bother me and just go out do my job.

Coupled with the rumors of Boudreaus imminent demise were rumblings of a locker room divide between Russians Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin and the rest of the Capitals.

Those rumors were so strong defenseman John Erskine said his own father asked him if there were problems inside the Capitals locker room.

This is my fifth year and the good thing about this team is that weve always had a tight group of guys in the room, Erskine told, and I dont think anythings changed, no matter whats being said outside the room.

I think guys get along in here and we have guys like (Mike) Knuble who speak up when things are wrong. I dont see any problems with that.

As for Ovechkins leadership abilities and a supposed power struggle in the locker room, Erskine said he just doesnt see it.

Ovis a great captain, Erskine said. Hes Russian, so hes not that outspoken. But hes a leader by the way he plays. He goes out and hits hard, and whether he scores goals or not hes still one of the best players in the world and hell get through this.

To be sure, the pressure on Boudreau and the Capitals this season is real and it is palpable. Asked if hed invited all of his players to his house for Thanksgiving dinner Boudreau quipped, I think thats the last thing theyd want to do.

Clearly, Boudreau has placed some sandpaper between himself and his team.

But if Boudreau is fired as head coach of the Capitals it wont be because of the increased level of accountability he has placed on his players this season. And it wont be because of a massive player revolt.

Every disciplinary move Boudreau has made this season from cutting Ovechkins ice time and benching Alex Semin to sitting Joel Ward for missing a team meeting has come fully endorsed, if not encouraged, by McPhee.

Which begs this question: How can a GM fire a coach for doing something hes been asked to do?

Love him or not, say this about Boudreau: he has painted all of his players with the same brush this season. That is a welcome change, at least in the opinion of Eric Fehr, who played parts of six seasons under Boudreau before getting traded to the Winnipeg Jets.

He said it last year at the beginning of the year that it was going to be tougher -- and that didnt really happen, Fehr said. I think this year theyre feeling a little bit more pressure to continue to get better.

I thought he did a pretty good job of (holding players accountable) but youve got a lot of skilled players out there that need a lot of ice time. Its a tough job for him trying to get everybody out there and keep everybody happy. I wouldnt want to be in that spot, but hes doing the best he can.

And its a pretty safe bet hell be doing it the rest of the season.