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Boudreau won't be out of a job for long

In the right situation, former Ducks coach would be great fit

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The Anaheim Ducks fired coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday, and it's easy to understand why. For the fourth straight year, they blew a 3-2 lead in a Stanley Cup Playoff series and lost Game 7 at home. This is a team with players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler; a team built to win the championship. This is a spectacular failure.

But understand too that Boudreau has been a spectacular success by many other measures, and almost certainly will land another job in the NHL quickly if he wants to, the way he did with the Ducks after he was fired by the Washington Capitals in 2011-12.

Boudreau has gone 41-39 in the playoffs and never made the Stanley Cup Final. But his regular-season record is 409-192-80. He coached the best offensive team in the League in Washington and the best defensive team in the League in Anaheim.

There are legitimate questions about how Boudreau handles pressure. An emotional, honest guy, he paces before big games and isn't afraid to share it publicly, perhaps to his detriment. He can project panic when he needs to project calm.

Video: NHL Live: Bruce Boudreau out in Anaheim

But those qualities make him who he is, and they have been the key to his success otherwise.

"He's a coach who expresses exactly how he's feeling, exactly what he wants you to do," Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy once said when he played for the Ducks. "There's no gray area with Bruce. You know when you're playing well. You know when you're not playing well.

"When we've been ultra-successful, he's been able to push the right buttons to keep us motivated and working hard both individually and as a team. When we're in need of confidence, he absolutely has the pulse of the room and knows exactly what needs to be said."

If you're the general manager of a team on the cusp of a Stanley Cup, Boudreau probably isn't your man right now. But if you're the GM of a team with some talent in need of a turnaround, a team that needs to take the next step, he might be just what you need.

The Capitals were 6-14-1 when they hired Boudreau on Thanksgiving Day in 2007, calling him up from Hershey of the American Hockey League. This might be hard to remember now, but except for Alex Ovechkin, they were struggling to score. Washington went 37-17-7 the rest of the season, and Boudreau won the Jack Adams Award.

In his first four seasons, Boudreau led the Capitals to four straight division titles and a Presidents' Trophy. But he never led them past the second round of the playoffs, and they tried to change their identity from a high-flying offensive team to a lower-risk defensive team.

It might have been a mistake. It didn't work. It led to friction with Ovechkin and Boudreau's firing early in the 2011-12 season (and eventually more upheaval in Washington with two more coaching changes and a GM change).

Ducks GM Bob Murray hired Boudreau immediately. The Ducks were 7-13-4 with stars who needed a boost and youngsters who needed to develop. After an adjustment period of about a month, the Ducks got hot and made a run at the playoffs. They didn't qualify because the hole was too deep, but they went on to win four straight division titles.

The tough part of all of this for Boudreau was the Ducks appeared to be making progress - out in the first round, out in the second round, out in the Western Conference Final - and this season might have been one of his best coaching jobs.

The Ducks started this season 1-7-2 and were 12-15-6 at the Christmas break. Kesler said after a 3-2 shootout loss in New York against the Rangers, Boudreau came in the dressing room and gave a speech. He told the Ducks to take their three days off, reset themselves and come back for the "back nine." They would concentrate on structure and defense.

From Dec. 26 on, the Ducks had the best record in the League: 34-10-5. They ranked at or near the top in most major categories over that stretch - goals, goals against, power play, penalty killing - and finished the season first in goals against (188), first in penalty killing (87.2 percent) and first on the power play (23.1 percent). They joined the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues as the only teams in the NHL to post 100 points each of the past three seasons.

Yes, they fell into a 2-0 hole against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round. Yes, they lost Game 6 on the road again. Yes, they lost Game 7 at home again. As in many of Boudreau's Game 7 failures, his team started slowly and fell behind. The Ducks trailed 2-0 after 15:53 and couldn't come back. But a lot of that is on the players. Biggest example: Perry didn't score a goal in the series.

Boudreau is an affable guy. He has the label of a player's coach. But don't let that or his Game 7 hiccups leave you with the wrong idea. He isn't walking around with sauce on his face all the time like he once did on HBO, throwing the puck out there and letting the boys do what they want. He gives the players defined roles, and he puts them in position to succeed. He shows he cares about them on and off the ice.

"He understands the player's mind," Getzlaf once said. "He understands how to treat people with respect, and he gets that in return. … He's not as soft and freewheeling as everybody thinks he is when it comes to the accountability aspect."

Boudreau is being held accountable now. But someone should hire him soon.

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