The Washington Capitals finally pulled the plug on coach Glen Hanlon, a solid hockey man who was the fall guy for an underperforming offense and a club that committed mistake after mistake at the most inopportune times.
So nice of the club to make the move on Thanksgiving, following another dismantling by the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center (insert your own turkey-related joke here). Yes, the same Thrashers who started the season 0-5, looking anything like defending Southeast Division champs, and turned around their season by firing Bob Hartley and replacing him with Don Waddel.Think there’s a lesson to be learned there?
But why did the Caps wait so long to make the move, when Hanlon had clearly lost the team? Majority owner Ted Leonsis is loyal to his people, and he truly believed Hanlon was the right guy to help the Caps take the next step, from also-ran to playoff contender. Too bad the boys in those fancy new uniforms let Hanlon — and Leonsis — down.
This isn’t one of those cases where Xs and Os are going to change things a lot. It was a move based on motivation, or lack thereof. Hanlon had lost his ability to effectively control his dressing room. And the panicking that has resulted in a dismal start — leading to less and less continuity in line combinations and unsurity of roles — was getting a bit much.
So the leader — and the message — will change. Bruce Boudreau, who hs experienced success with the Caps’ AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa., has been named interim coach and will be behind the bench Friday at Philadelphia. Boudreau is another solid tactician, whose no-nonsense approach with the Bears has helped groom prospects for the ride from Chocolatetown to the nation’s capital. Boudreau won’t stand for mental and physical errors being repeated night after night. He’s tough on youngsters — think a father who never attended college preaching to a son about the importance of education — and doesn’t pamper veterans. The Caps are an interesting mix for Boudreau, who has 141 NHL games and 30 WHA contests on his playing resume.
I covered Boudreau as a player during his AHL days with the Baltimore Skipjacks. He was a creative skater, someone who was always thinking, trying to stay a move or two ahead of the opposition. This chess-game approach wasn’t something usually seen on the ice, and it helped make Boudreau an elite scorer. When he entered coaching (as a player/assistant coach) in 1990 with the Fort Wayne Komets, I made a mental note, because he was always one of those guys who I thought had the smarts and make-up to be a decent professional coach. He’s traveled through the IHL, Colonial Hockey League, ECHL and made several AHL stops. Now he gets the big stage — and a bigger challenge.
Will he make a difference with the Caps? That remains to be seen. Right now, the club has taken great pains to make sure everyone knows he has the "interim" tag on him for the rest of the season. Then comes re-evaluation. And who knows what that will entail. Simply put, the Caps can’t really do much worse, can they?
But changing the messenger — and, I assume, the message — is the first step in reversing what began as a disappointing season and has quickly spiraled out of control.