Surreal Time in Anaheim
Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 10:04 AM
In what had to be the strangest night in Anaheim Ducks history, the elation of a long-awaited victory was quickly replaced by the enormity of a major coaching change.
At 10:21 p.m. Pacific time last night -- almost exactly an hour after the Ducks snapped a seven-game losing streak with a triumphant 4-1 win over the visiting Canadiens -- the Ducks announced that head coach Randy Carlyle had been replaced by former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau.
Despite the fact the announcement came well past bedtime in most of the hockey world, it spread like wildfire through social media and sports tickers throughout North America. It was a seemingly unprecedented move in which an NHL head coach was let go and immediately replaced by another established coach -- not a former assistant filling an interim role.
In Boudreau, the Ducks get a coach who had established himself among the NHL's best the past five seasons, a man made famous to America during a colorful stint on last year's HBO special 24/7 Penguins Capitals: The Road To the NHL Winter Classic. Boudreau, as it's already well-known, was let go by the Capitals on Monday after a rough 10-day stretch that Anaheim can certainly relate to.
But before we look ahead to the Boudreau era, we should look back to what Randy Carlyle meant to the Anaheim Ducks organization. He was the franchise's winningest coach with a 273-182-61 record highlighted by the team's only Stanley Cup title in 2007. In his six-plus seasons at the helm, he led the Ducks to the playoffs in five of them. For all of that, Ducks fans will be forever grateful.
But as Bob Murray said, the Ducks were in a position where "we simply felt a new voice was needed."
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” Murray said in a statement released by the Ducks. “Randy is a terrific head coach, and did a tremendous job for us for six-plus seasons. We thank him greatly for his hard work and dedication to our franchise, not the least of which was a Stanley Cup championship. At this time, we simply felt a new voice was needed. Bruce is a proven winner with a great track record, and we are optimistic we can turn this season around under his leadership.”
The impact that a mid-season coaching change can have in the NHL is well-documented. In 2009, Dan Bylsma was hired in February to take over a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was a middling 27-25-5. Four months later they won the Stanley Cup. The year before, Joel Quenneville took over the Blackhawks just four games into a highly anticipated season in which they started 1-2-1. They made it to the conference finals that season, and two years later they were lifting the Cup.
Boudreau himself already has his own mid-season success story. He was hired as Caps head coach on November 22, 2007, after the team had started 6-14-1 and were 30th in the NHL standings. He went 37-17-7 the rest of the season, and led the Capitals to the first of four straight Southeast Division titles.
Boudreau won the 2007-08 Jack Adams award (NHL Coach of the Year), led Washington to the 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top club in the regular season and became the fastest coach in modern day NHL history to win 200 games.
Not long after the firing by the Caps, the Ducks asked Washington permission to contact Boudreau, who would have soon been highly coveted by other NHL teams looking to make their own changes at the helm. Soon after being let go by the Caps, Boudreau told the Washington Times he was ready to coach again immediately. "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. I love going to work in the morning, and I feel comfortable when I'm behind my desk or behind the bench or talking to guys or being on the ice. It's something that I would relish doing."
That Ducks granted that wish, and in a hurry. Boudreau's last game coached with Washington was last Saturday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the six-day span between games coached with two teams is the fastest in NHL history. (Meanwhile, all I keep thinking is, if you had told me a year ago that the colorful guy on the HBO 24/7 series would be the Ducks' coach in less than a year, I'd have asked for some of whatever you were drinking.)
Boudreau will be meeting a lot of Ducks for the first time today, but he does have connections to a couple of them already. He coached Andrew Gordon during the winger's four years in the Washington organization, and he coached George Parros when they were both with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs.
Boudreau brings with him former Syracuse Crunch (Anaheim's AHL affiliate) assistant coach Brad Lauer and at least one other assistant to be named, as Carlyle's termination also brought the dismissals of Assistant Coaches Dave Farrish, Mike Foligno and Video Coordinator Joe Trotta. Boudreau and his staff take over a Ducks team that, despite that gratifying victory last night, wakes up this morning with a 7-13-4 record, 14th in the Western Conference and 10 points out of a playoff spot.
But the dawn of December represents a fresh start for the Ducks in so many ways. It's a new (and crucial) month in the NHL calendar, a new coaching staff and -- with all due respect to the admirable cause that is Movember -- the welcomed disappearance of the mustaches and Jonas Hiller's goalie mask that represented a horrific month in which the Ducks won just twice.
Boudreau and Murray will both be part of a press conference later today following Boudreau's first Ducks practice at The Rinks - Anaheim ICE. We'll have complete coverage this afternoon.