I will be honest and say that with the way the Tampa Bay Lightning had been going for the last two months, I thought coach Guy Boucher's days might be numbered, but I actually didn't think he would get fired until this summer. I thought Tampa Bay wouldn't do it during the regular season because the team is just six points out of a playoff spot right now but general manager Steve Yzerman must have felt Boucher had lost the team, because making a move like this with 18 games left in the season is somewhat unusual.
The reason I think this happened now is that Yzerman is trying to get a bump from his team. The Lightning have lost three games in a row, they gave up four goals in the first period Saturday night in Ottawa and they just haven't been playing well for a while. But they're also just six points out, and that's not a margin that's insurmountable. Sometimes when you fire a coach the players respond and rattle off five or six wins in a row. With the shortened season, we're basically in the middle of the playoffs anyway. Making this move allows Yzerman to appease the fans by doing something, it could potentially give the Lightning that bump they need to make the playoffs and perhaps most importantly, it makes Yzerman a proactive general manager. He's making it clear that losing and the potential of missing the playoffs for a second straight season is not acceptable.
At the same time though, while I wouldn't necessarily consider this a knee-jerk reaction, I do think firing the coach is just the easy way out a lot of times. I'm a coach. I've been fired. The Lightning spent a lot of money over the last few years on guys like Sami Salo, Matt Carle and Anders Lindback. That was supposed to solve their problems and get them back to the playoffs, but it hasn't. In the end, it's always easier to fire one guy than fire or trade 10 of them. That's how I view a coach being fired 99 percent of the time. Stevie wasn't happy with how they were playing and this was an easy way to jolt the team while also giving him a leg up on finding the next coach he wants.
That, of course, is the big question in Tampa Bay now, though: Who is going to be the next coach of the Lightning. There has been speculation that someone like former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff or Jon Cooper, the coach of Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate are in the mix, but to me, Ruff is the guy that makes sense. The Lightning basically just did the Cooper experiment with Boucher, hiring a young coach without any NHL experience, and they just fired him. Usually you need to change your tact when you hire your next guy and given that context, Ruff makes sense. Yzerman knows him from their work together with Team Canada, he's very experience and not much is going to faze him. Cooper is a hot young coaching prospect and he'll definitely get his shot somewhere, but while it may not be Ruff, I do think they'll end up hiring an older more experienced guy like him.
Lastly, you have to look at how the players will respond to this. Strange as it may seem, I think these players are used to it given how many coaches Tampa Bay has had over the last several years. They fired John Tortorella, they fired me, they fired Rick Tocchet and now they've fired Boucher. I don't think it'll worry the players because they know a new coach will be coming in and given how hard it is to move guys with the salary cap, they'll probably all still be here. Many of these guys have had five or six coaches in their career so it probably won't affect them that much.
These players need to find a way to regroup in the wake of Boucher's firing though because the season isn't over. Tampa Bay, again, is only six points out of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they're also in the weakest division in the NHL. None of the teams in the Southeast have been very consistent. All of them have had good and bad stretches and none of them have been dependable throughout the season. It's a weak division and Tampa Bay is right in there. As well, the Lightning still have a number of good assets on their roster. Steven Stamkos might be the best young player in the game and he's not the only good young player they've got with Victor Hedman and Cory Conacher in the mix, too. If the Lightning find a way to get hot -- if the Boucher firing does give them that bump Yzerman wants -- they could still win this division.
Tampa Bay's cupboard isn't bare by any stretch of the imagination. They could become a good team again very quickly.