The Washington Capitals remind me somewhat of the Florida Everblades, an ECHL team I covered for several years in Fort Myers, Fla. Before the mob is assembled, the torches are lit and Bruce Boudreau's head is called for, let's consider a similar situation that might be instructive.
Florida's first season in the ECHL was Boudreau's last, when his Mississippi Sea Wolves won the 1999 Kelly Cup. It has been a model franchise ever since, winning the points title twice and finishing either first or second in its division seven times. Playing an entertaining, wide-open style of hockey, Florida regularly enjoys packed houses and has never missed the playoffs.
The Blades have been wildly successful by every conceivable measure ... except one. They have never won the Kelly Cup (although they reached the finals in 2004 and 2005).
Did I mention they're on their fourth coach in 13 seasons of existence?
Before the bloodthirsty horde runs Boudreau out of town, it should recognize what he's accomplished in four seasons, and realize that the next guy isn't guaranteed to match or exceed those results.
If you still want to fire Boudreau, you've been warned.
It's not that I don't understand the sentiment. Postseason results during his tenure have been bitterly disappointing. Four division titles, two No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and one overall best record should equal more than 17-20 in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
When a coach's regular-season winning percentage is .681, but his postseason winning percentage is .459, it's natural to wonder if he's championship material. Getting teams to play their best hockey when it counts least isn't something you'd highlight on your resume.
It's clear that some change is needed for the Caps, who Wednesday became the first No. 1 seed in the 17-year history of the current playoff format to be swept in either of the first two rounds. Debate among yourselves whether that's worse than last year's ignominy, when the top-seeded Caps didn't reach the second round.
But I wouldn't make a change behind the bench.
Maybe it's wishful thinking, the belief that Boudreau can take the Caps further. Maybe the reluctance to fire him is a subconscious reflex based on his affable nature. Maybe the culture of premature playoff exits is so ingrained, the only remedy is hiring an outsider to decontaminate the locker room.
I know, I know — you can't fire the team. And if owner Ted Leonsis decides that a shake-up must start at the top with Boudreau (and general manager George McPhee?), it's difficult to make a strenuous argument in opposition.
However, there's no defense against gut decisions. If he has even the slightest sense that Boudreau can get the job done, then Leonsis should bring him back next season. If he isn't convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Boudreau must go, Leonsis should resist the crowd's pleas and stick to his plan.
Otherwise, he's basically making a move because Boudreau's Caps are 0-for-4 in their quest for a Cup.
Judging teams by titles won is totally unfair. Yet, it's standard operating procedure in sports. Worse than that, the value of annual regular-season success decreases in direct proportion to annual postseason failures. As if reaching the playoffs once and winning it all is better than advancing regularly and never winning.
"It's exciting when I think about what we can do next year," Boudreau said Thursday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "How many Presidents' Trophy teams have implemented all these young guys into the lineup?
"Marcus Johansson is going to be a great player next year. We had John Carlson and Karl Alzner as two rookies playing the most minutes of any defensemen. We have three young goalies. I think all these guys are going to be great next year, so it's an exciting thing moving forward with this group."
The youngsters will have a valuable year of experience. Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin are in their prime. After successfully transforming into a more defense-oriented team, the Caps can be a little more aggressive offensively as they fine-tune their approach.
There's a lot to be said for consistent, winning hockey teams, playing year after year in arenas that are full and energized. "We'll keep putting good teams on the ice," McPhee said, "and hope one of these years we kick the door down in the playoffs."
For now, that's a better plan than changing coaches and hoping to win a championship.
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