The lifespan of an NHL coach is only 2.3 years and coaches are starting to drop like flies. Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals (12-9-1) and Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes (8-13-4) were both let go by their respective teams this morning.
Washington had lost 8 of their last 11 games and the Canes are 14th in the Eastern Conference with an 8-13-4 record. The firing of both coaches were not surprises, especially Maurice who knew it was coming for weeks.
The next coaches on the chopping list could be New York’s Jack Capuano and Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, among others.
The Capitals are turning to former NHL player Dale Hunter and the Canes have hired Kirk Muller, a hot coaching candidate in the past year.
Boudreau who despite another disappointing playoff run last spring, kept his job over the summer but everyone knew he was a lame duck coach coming into the season and what cost him his job was Alexander Ovechkin whose steep decline as a premier player is now going into it’s second season.
Capitals GM George McPhee though, as expected, said that the primary reason for the switch was that Boudreau had lost the room.
“Sometimes it just wears out. … I’ve seen it before with other coaches. Sometimes like having the same teacher for five years… So you make the change and hope that a new voice and a new way of doing things and a new focus gets the best out of these players, ” McPhee said via the Washington Post.
“The league is so competitive that it requires a lot… Bruce emptied the tank, he gave it everything, he pushed every button he could push.”
McPhee is right in that the league is so competitive that a spark from a coaching change can mean so much. Washington despite their struggles of late is just seven points behind Pittsburgh for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Carolina is just five points out of a playoff spot.
McPhee said today that he’s thought about making a move for about a week now and based on his comments, he started eyeing Hunter a long time ago and Boudreau would have got the axe much earlier this season if it wasn’t for the Capitals 7-0 start.
“We’ve talked consistently over 12 years, ” McPhee said. “I was hoping that one day Dale would coach this team. Timing’s everything and the time is right now.”
 Hunter who has over 10 years of coaching experience in Junior A hockey, will now be making the jump from the Ontario Hockey League to the National Hockey League. A huge jump where he’s going from dealing with kids to now adults with huge egos.
This is a team that needs to be pushed but to survive in this league, you also have to have a good balance and know how to deal with star players.
For the Capitals, Mike Green can’t stay healthy, while Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have been huge underachievers. A shakeup needs to be made and it might be more than a coaching change.
“I called this a week ago, ” agent Bill Watters said, who was Bruce Boudreau’s agent during his playing days, via Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “It was inevitable with Ovechkin. I don’t know whos going to be the second victim, but Bruce is the first. When they decded that keeping Alex Ovechkin happy was secondary to winning Stanley Cup, that was the end of Bruce Boudreau, ” Watters added.
The comments echoed by Watters is what many outside of Washington feel.
Hunter played 19 seasons NHL seasons, including 12 with the Capitals. He is the only NHL player to score over 1,000 points and have over 3,000 penalty minutes.
Prior to the 2010-2011 season, the Capitals were a dynamic team that was special offensively. After playoff failures in 2009 and 2010, they developed a defense first type of mindset under Boudreau in 2010-2011 but Boudreau never found that common ground. Washington went too far into thinking defense first, even if the stats didn’t reflect it.
Based on McPhee’s comments today, Hunters top focus is going to be defense. Hunter though has to find the right mix that a team like Pittsburgh has under Dan Bylsma.