It would be positively stunning if the Washington Capitals don't make some changes going into next season following another early playoff exit. But it's not certain whether that will include Bruce Boudreau no longer being their coach.
General manager George McPhee was asked directly Thursday if Boudreau would be back next season.
"I expect him to be back. He's a good coach," McPhee said. "Someone said he's not a playoff coach; there's no difference between a playoff coach and a regular-season coach. You're either a good coach or you're not. He's a good coach."
Boudreau's regular-season record with the Caps is 189-79-39 (a .679 points percentage — the highest all-time among NHL coaches with at least 250 games) while his playoff record is 17-20 (.459).
But players defended their coach at every turn Wednesday night after being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning and again Thursday on breakdown day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. Brooks Laich called criticism of the coaching staff at large "totally unjust."
"Bruce I think is just a wizard. The guy just walks, talks, breathes hockey," said Laich, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. "And I'll guarantee he cares more about this team, about his team, than any other coach in the league."
Boudreau undoubtedly is a player's coach, and it's hard to fault him directly for the Caps' demise. But there still is evidence that Washington underachieved in the past two postseasons.
In some cases, that could lead to the end of a coaching regime.
"Well, does it really change things in most cases?" McPhee said. "What we're doing here, I believe, is putting a good team on the ice every year and hopefully one of these years we win it. But we're in the mix every year. And it could be worse. We could be missing the playoffs."
But owner Ted Leonsis apologized on his blog for letting the fans down with this playoff disappointment. And while he understands fans wanting change, he's not rushing into any decisions.
"The best course of action for us ,though, is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it," Leonsis wrote. "Clearly, we know we have to improve to build a franchise that is as good as our fan base."
A spokesman for Leonsis declined to make the owner available for an interview Thursday.
Before the Caps were eliminated, Boudreau bristled at an inquiry about his job security as a "stupid question." It did not meet with the same disdain Thursday, but Boudreau didn't let on much about his feelings.
"It's not up to me to think," the coach said. "Those questions — how can I answer them? And I can't. And I leave it up to somebody else or I'd go nuts."
It's up to Leonsis and McPhee. Were it up to the players, Boudreau wouldn't be going anywhere. Team captain Alex Ovechkin doesn't want to talk about changes, and his older teammates said they must bear responsibility.
"It's the guys in the dressing that have to go out and play and execute the plan. The only thing he can do is put the plan together and keep us on track," veteran center Jason Arnott said. "It's hard to lay blame on coaches because they come to the rink and try to do the right things for us, and if we don't execute it, then we don't go far. It doesn't lie on his shoulders; it lies on our shoulders."
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