By Kyle Shohara
As equipment bags were being packed and locker stalls cleaned out, the Ducks held their end-of-season exit interviews inside Honda Center much sooner than they anticipated. It’s been three days since they saw their postseason cut short in another disappointing Game 7 defeat on home ice. This time around, however, the players felt they deserved a better fate.
So today many of them reflected on the season that was – or maybe the season that could’ve been – all the while knowing their performance in that First Round series against the Nashville Predators played a big part in yesterday’s dismissal of head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“He was a coach who really cared about you as a player and a person,” said Ryan Kesler, who spoke softly and still had the disappointment of the Game 7 loss on his face. “I think that’s rare to find nowadays. Every day, he’d ask you how your day was the day before. He’s a quality guy, and to see him fired sucks. At the end of the day, he was our leader and our coach, and he took the fall for us.
“He’s a good man and he’s a good coach, obviously. I think losing that Game 7 was a nail in the coffin. It’s tough to see your coach fired, and I think the onus goes on us.”
Corey Perry, arguably the team’s purest goal scorer, failed to light the lamp in the entire series and was the first to admit his performance in the postseason was unacceptable.
“I take a lot of blame for what happened,” said Perry, who had 34 goals in 82 games during the regular season. “I didn’t score a goal. I take a lot of responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.”
Perry says he considers Boudreau a friend whose “door was always open.” So not only is he losing a coach, but a man who he could talk to about anything at any time.
“He coached this team, and I can’t say enough about him,” Perry said. “He did a lot for my game. It’s tough when you know the reason somebody got fired is because we as a team and as individuals didn’t perform to where we needed to perform, and that’s the hardest thing. You lose four Game 7s at home, and he has nothing really do with what we did on the ice. We’re performing, we’re playing and we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I think a lot of guys are doing that.”
Andrew Cogliano also expressed his feelings on the man, who, he says, was able to lift his game to a level never reached before.
“He gave me a very good opportunity,” Cogliano said of Boudreau. “I thought my first year here wasn’t the way I planned, and when Bruce came in, his trust in me brought my career to another level. I’m very thankful for that.”
As one of the veterans on the team, Cogliano, still only 28 years of age, says it’s time for guys to take a good, long look in the mirror to figure out what truly went wrong.
“We haven’t gotten the job done,” Cogliano said, reflecting on the past four playoffs exits. “We made good strides throughout parts of the year. We showed some major character coming back from what we did at the beginning of the season. Last year we went to the conference final, so there are positives. But we haven’t done the job at the right times, and when it really counts. I’m not sure what the factors are. This isn’t on Bruce.
“A lot of guys need to figure out where they’re at and where we went wrong. A lot of those guys are the guys that have been here for a while. I’m not just talking about the captains on the team. I’m talking about myself, guys like Cam [Fowler], Hampus [Lindholm] and Sami [Vatanen] who aren’t young anymore. I’m not [singling] those guys out. We’ve been here for a while now. We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. Guys have to think. Guys have to figure out where we’ve gone wrong. Today is a much different feeling than it’s been the last couple of years leaving the rink. The last couple of years, there has been a sense of hope, like we had a good end to the season. But there’s zero feeling of that today.”
Yesterday, Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray had some rather sharp comments regarding his team’s core leaders and the club’s performances not only in this series (Games 1, 2 and 6), but in previous runs, too.
“There are definite concerns in that area,” Murray said. “The core has to be held responsible. They have to be better. Maybe I haven’t been hard enough in the last few years, but they’re going to hear some different words this time. Let’s face it … I’d like to know where the heck they were in Games 1 and 2. The players are going to have to answer that in the next four or five days. Where were they? They showed up in Game 7, but where was that passion? That controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable, too.”
Today, Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf responded to those comments. “The one thing about me and Bob is we don’t have mixed opinions on a lot of things,” he said. “I don’t disagree with him in the fact that we’re going to have to answer some questions. We’re going to have to figure out where things are going wrong, what’s happening when we get to playoff time, what we can do differently to be better and more prepared. There was nothing he said that surprised me at all.”
Getzlaf adds, “Some of the leadership group has been here a while. We’ve developed a relationship with Bob, and we’ve been through a lot of different things. Bob tries to give us the respect of trusting us on what we need to do, as we’ve trusted him for a lot of things. Whether he thinks he’s hard on us or not, we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves and take a lot of pride in representing this organization. He’s not the only one upset. At the end of the day, we take a lot of the brunt on ourselves, and he knows how I feel about different situations throughout the year.
“We’ll have our conversation at the end of all this. He likes to meet with everybody before he meets with me, and we’ll go forward from there.”
Lindholm, along with Vatanen, center Rickard Rakell and goaltender Frederik Andersen, are impending restricted free agents who are all expected to get significant raises from what they made on their current contracts. Whether all of them return next season remains to be seen.
Lindholm says he understands that contract negotiations are a two-way street, and until conversations begin, he’d prefer to stay out of it.
“I like it here, but at the end of the day, it’s about what they want, too,” he said. “I’m their player. Any player in the league wants security. Whenever we start talking, I’ll have to see my options and whatever they want to do with me. I can’t start talking about something that hasn’t started yet.
“At the end of the day, I just want to play hockey. Whenever [contract negotiations] happen, it’s going to happen. It’s not something I’m thinking about right now. Whenever that conversation starts, I’ll deal with that. Next year is a new year.”
Like his Swedish countryman, Rakell says his main goal is to remain a Duck. “I hope I can stay here. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I’m really motivated to do more for this organization,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s going to work out. I enjoy it here, and I think we have the potential to do big things here. Obviously, I want to be here for a long time.”
As does Andersen, who was strong in net in Games 3 through 7 after John Gibson got the nod in the opening two losses of the Nashville series. Andersen said today his goal is to remain in Anaheim.
“When the time comes, a decision will be made,” he said. “I like playing here. I know the guys love having me in net. I’ve proven I can be a No. 1 goalie, especially in the playoffs. Last year, I took a team deep. It didn’t pan out this year, but personally I did my part. Obviously, I have to be better, but we took it to a Game 7.”
Unlike the aforementioned RFAs, David Perron could hit the open market on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent. But the 27-year-old, who did so well alongside Getzlaf, says, “No matter where I’m going to end up, it needs to be a style of play that’s similar to this team. If it works here, why not stay here? There’s a business-side of things, but you work hard your entire career to get to a point to maybe become a UFA, but we’ll see what happens. My style of play fits this team. It’s how I like to play the game. I was able to show what I could bring every night.”
Perron also showed the toughness that makes hockey players unlike any other athletes in pro sports. After separating his shoulder in March in a game against the Winnipeg Jets, Perron returned to the lineup after only missing a little more than three weeks.
“That’s probably a 6-8 week injury and I came back in three and-a-half,” he said. “I’ll have some rehab to do over the next little while. It’s going to be in pain for a while. You play through it with a couple of injections to make it feel better. I wanted to do it because it’s the playoffs. I was extremely excited to get the opportunity to come back and play in the playoffs. When I got hurt, I thought my season was going to be over. My game was getting better as the series was going on.”