With the Washington Capitals mired in a frustrating losing funk, Bruce Boudreau feared for his job.
"Only the most secure, secure people, I would think, don't think it could ever happen to them," he said.
But Boudreau insisted he never knew for sure that he was going to be fired "until the moment happened" Monday morning in a 6:15 a.m. meeting with George McPhee. After a 3-7-1 stretch that took the NHL's best start and turned the Caps into an underachieving group, Boudreau's tenure was over. Looking back, he admitted players probably tuned him out but was lacking for answers to explain the entire ordeal and how his time in Washington came to an end so abruptly.
"God, you know what, I wish I knew the answer to that," a frank Boudreau said in a wide-ranging phone interview Wednesday. "If I knew the answer, I would've fixed it."
The shelf life of an NHL coach is limited — something McPhee pointed out when talking about his appreciation for Boudreau as well as the fact that he believed players were no longer responding to their coach.
It seemed like Boudreau was having a hard time coming to grips with it, but he agreed that perhaps the Caps had indeed stopped listening.
"In certain ways, yeah," Boudreau said. "I'll say it like this — the two games that bothered me were the Buffalo game and the Winnipeg game. In the third periods usually I've had fairly good results with having a good talk in between periods. And we had no push-back."
Boudreau said that lack of response from adversity or intermission speeches "bothered" him. Being able to motivate players is considered one of his biggest attributes.
"That hadn't happened before. And I don't know the reasons; maybe we were tired, maybe we were emotionally spent," Boudreau said. "Maybe in the Buffalo game they scored the goal on the first shot in the third period, and maybe it deflated them. I don't know."
Talking about Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, Boudreau said he didn't think he had a bad relationship with either star player, pointing out that he could talk to his captain whenever and that he probably understands Semin better than most people in the game. The former coach cited frustration by both players as reasons for their lack of production so far this season.
But even if there were players in the locker room who didn't like Boudreau, he said he's "too naive" to think they'd just stop playing because of feelings toward him, using examples from his playing days.
"It didn't matter to me one way or another if I liked the coach or disliked the coach. I thought I played hard because I played for my teammates and I played because I wanted to win," Boudreau said. "I might've hated certain coaches that I played for, but it wasn't going to stop me from playing. So I have a hard time thinking like that. It's hard to think like that. I can't picture anybody saying, 'Hey, listen, I'm not going to play because I don't believe what he's saying.' "
Accountability was one of the new themes around the locker room this season, but Boudreau doesn't believe that extra emphasis on playing the right way contributed to his exit.
"I can't believe that we're that small-minded that that would be a negative," he said.
Boudreau had one year remaining on his contract with the Caps after this season, though it is believed he won't be out of a job for long. Another NHL team could come calling this week, this month or in the offseason, and he would listen.
"Absolutely. It's what I do," he said. "I love hockey, and I love my job. Even when things are going bad, I love my job."
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