Basically the second the Ducks went down 2-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday night, people began speculating whether this was it for Bruce Boudreau behind the bench in Anaheim.
You can see why they would. The guy loses Game 7 matchups on an alarmingly regular basis, and his teams so often seem to put up little or no fight to their opponents in the process. He’s 1-7 in his career in such situations, and has dropped six straight. That kind of thing builds you a reputation in this sport, and it’s a reputation you certainly do not want to carry.
In fact, in the last four Boudreau-coached seasons, the Ducks have found themselves in 2-0 holes less than 17 minutes into each of the four Games 7 they have played. They also faced a 2-0 deficit in 2010 against Montreal (2-1 loss) and were down 5-0 against Pittsburgh in 2009 before scoring (6-2 loss). Only Game 7 against the Flyers in 2008 (a 3-2 overtime loss) and Game 7 in the opening round against the Rangers in 2009 (a 2-1 win, but they conceded 5:35 into the game) blemish this otherwise ignominious record.
Again, the reputation grows.
It therefore becomes pretty easy to label Boudreau as a choker who chokes in almost every Game 7 he can, watching as his teams dig their graves early then just stand neck-deep in them for the final three-quarters of the contest.
But given what we know of the random nature of NHL games — that any contest between two reasonably good teams is effectively a coin flip — can we not conclude that Boudreau’s teams have run into a seemingly consequential run of futility that is, in actuality, a really rough run of bad luck? I mean, no one wants to say that kind of thing because we’d really like to say, “Actually, Boudreau sucks and is an idiot who loses all the time.” It fits so well with the level of consequence we put into elimination games when they are, in fact, more or less the same as any other hockey game, ruled by randomness.
What, for example, does a coach really control in terms of on-ice events? He puts a system in place, and deploys the players, but he cannot pull Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf — two big-money, high-level forwards who combined to score just two goals in the series, neither of which came after Game 4 — and say, “Time to go score a goal.” He likewise cannot advise Frederik Andersen on how best to not-concede two goals on the first 10 shots he faces.
In fact, if we look at what Boudreau-coached teams have actually done in the eight Games 7 of his career, you can see that, in theory, they should have won a lot more than one by now. We’re talking a score-adjusted 5-on-5 possession number of 53.1 percent and a shots-for share of 53.7 percent, but goals-for of just 33.3 percent. That latter number is because Boudreau’s teams have shot 4.5 percent in eight Games 7 for him, and his goalies have a robust full-strength save percentage of .896. Yeah, it’s only eight games, a small sample size one way or the other, but if you have a 94.1 PDO over any kind of stretch, you’re going to lose a hell of a lot more games than you win.
Let’s not forget, Boudreau’s job was thought to be in jeopardy as recently as October, when — hey, what do you know — the Ducks were a marginal possession team but suffering from a league-worst shooting percentage and middling goaltending that gave them a PDO in the 95 range.
Boudreau was able to pull the club out of its tailspin then, by changing the team’s approach until winning in the way the Ducks always had — bullying teams offensively — came more naturally once again, and won the division.
And winning the division is important. It typically shows a team is consistently good for the full 82-game slate. And it’s therefore critical to note Boudreau’s teams have won their division in every one of the seven seasons in which he was the head coach for the full 82. That’s truly incredible.
(For the year in which he was fired in Washington and took over a rudderless Ducks team, he finished with 89 points, which isn’t a terrible total all things considered. And when he took over the Capitals in late November of 2011, he won 81 points in the team’s final 61 games, a pace for nearly 109 points. That team won the division as well, though to be fair, it was only the Southeast.)
Over the course of his entire career, Boudreau’s teams look like this:
This is a coach whose teams are consistently elite or close to it in most 5-on-5 statistical categories, and who also routinely have some of the best special teams in the league. This over hundreds upon hundreds of games. But because he’s 0h-fer in Games 7 in Anaheim, the hockey world has to talk about how he is never going to win.
How long to do you think a coach this good with a team this talented at more or less every position can continue to lose these coin flips? As you can see above, the last time Boudreau was out of a job, he was on the unemployment line for a grand total of two days. He was fired by the Capitals on Nov. 28, 2011, and hired by the Ducks on Nov. 30. This is, indeed, the kind of coach you fire your own coach to hire.
NHL teams — well, the smart ones anyway — would recognize that. Boudreau shown himself to be a smart, adaptable coach who can turn talented teams into regular-season juggernauts. The only reason his firing is even up for discussion is that a collectively large portion of the punditry and (probably) people in front offices believe that any single elimination game is more important in terms of determining coaching, player, or team quality than hundreds of other data points.
You hear these labels applied to Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and more, all the time. Hell, people have even started saying Henrik Lundqvist is the reason the New York Rangers can’t win it all. It’s silly.
There’s no doubt these games do mean more than the average playoff game, and certainly more than those in the regular season. But firing a guy because he can’t win in four straight Games 7 would be the height of idiocy.
Let’s not forget, the Capitals were mediocre (and unwatchable) the second Boudreau was fired. It took them most of a season of Dale Hunter then two more years of Adam Oates to get things back together. And that was with a younger, better core group of five or six important players than what Anaheim has going for it today.
What makes anyone think Anaheim would be any different?
The question to ask yourself when you’re preparing to fire a coach is, “Would his replacement do a better job with this group?” When it comes to Boudreau, I don’t see how you find an available candidate who fits that bill. Or even comes close.
(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)
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