To Guy or not to Guy? , that is the question
Senators GM Pierre Dorion has a plateful of issues to deal with while the playoffs are going on, and as I wrote on Saturday many of those issues are of the utmost importance, like what is going to happen with Erik Karlsson to identifying the prospects they would like to pick with their two first round picks this June. Obviously one of those decisions will be pretty easy if they manage to win the draft lottery and can add Rasmus Dahlin.
But a decision of almost of equal importance, and one that will ripple through the lineup and the organization, is whether or not to give Guy Boucher another chance at reversing the catastrophe that was the 2017-18 season.
The Senators have taken the adage of "a coach is just hired to get fired" to a new level. Since Jacques Martin ended his stint following the 2004 season, no Senators coach has lasted 3 full seasons. Since then...
Bryan Murray - 164 games before taking over the GM role
John Paddock - 64 games (Murray finished the last 18 games of the season behind the bench)
Craig Hartsburg - 48 games
Cory Clouston - 198 games
Paul MacLean - 238 games
Dave Cameron - 137 games
Guy Boucher - 164 games and counting
Add to that the awesome 25 game tenure of Dave Allison that came right before Martin, and the title of Head Coach of the Ottawa Senators is not one that comes with a lot of job security.
So, does Boucher add to that legacy, or does Pierre Dorion stake his job on the ability of Boucher to get the room back.
Dorion said at his wrap-up press conference last week that he won't rush the matter, and it will probably be May before a final decision is made. That being said, I am not sure the philosophies melded this season, and Dorion bluntly stated that if he is going to stay, things are going to change.
Boucher hasn't exactly been known to be open to suggestion and I wonder if he will accept the critiques and instill them or of he will stick to his guns.
Let's face it, Boucher hasn't had a long shelf life at any pro stop he has made. In Tampa, he went to the third round of the playoffs in year 1, missed in year 2 and was fired 31 games into year 3.
He went to Switzerland, coached the last 6 games of the 2013-14 season, made the second round the following season, and was fired 20 games into his second full season. He had stated his intention to return to North America after that season anyway, but at the time he was relieved of his duties his Bern club was in 9th place.
Boucher was a revelation, wowed Dorion in his interview and got the job, and instilled a system that, while not popular among those outside the team because it was perceived as boring, was effective enough once everyone bought in to get them to the third round of the playoffs.
That structure had everyone buying in, even to the point that the face of the franchise Erik Karlsson put his body on the line as a shot-blocker and finished second in the league with 201 shots blocked. He did pay the price and played the playoffs with a broken bone in his ankle, and off-season surgery removed half of the bone in his ankle and affected his preparation for this season.
It was a much different story this season as the structure wasn't there defensively, and the identity of the team was missing. Karlsson didn't have the same buy-in, didn't appear as willing to put his body on the line, and the team followed suit. I don't blame Karlsson, because even while he was in the midst of a Norris calibre season and his attention to his own end was earning rave reviews, I questioned the strategy of having an irreplaceable talent blocking so many shots because one puck in the wrong area would be devastating. It happened, and somehow Karlsson was still the best player in the playoffs on one leg to the point that he got some Conn Smythe consideration despite not even playing in the finals, which would have been unprecedented.
But I digress, back to Boucher.
The fact is,even if you take into account that you are only as good as your goaltending, and that was a big factor in the demise of the Senators, Boucher was brought in with the expectation that the special teams would be much better than when he took over.
That certainly hasn't happened, at least to any great degree. He inherited the 27th ranked power play from 2015-16, it was 24th in his first year and 27th in his second. The PK was 29th when he took over, improved it to 22nd in Year 1 but it fell to 26th in Year 2.
It got to the point that Marc Crawford and Martin Raymond swapped special teams roles in January in a full upheaval of the coaching staff and their responsibilities.
So, given the fact that he was brought in with the reputation of being a great special teams coach, that hasn't come to fruition.
Then there is the constant line juggling and shuffling to the point that nobody ever seemed comfortable with who they were playing with, not even game to game but shift to shift and the ridiculous total of too many men on the ice penalties was evidence of that confusion.
And then there is the curious case of Mike Hoffman, who consistently shuffled as low as third line, inexplicable for the player that is supposed to be the top goal scorer on the team. Even when he found some great chemistry with Matt Duchene later in the season (why it took so long to put them together is another question entirely), they were left together for a couple of weeks and then split up.
Injuries to key players played a factor, but not to the point where playing Alex Burrows higher in the lineup than Hoffman made any sense.
You can argue that he could only do so much with the roster his was given, but there are more questions about deployment and consistency than lack of talent. The Senators were the third worst team in terms of 5-on-5 possession numbers, which is as much a relection on system as it is on talent.
Boucher abandoned his system in an effort to get more offense, but they actually only improved by 13 goals (25th in offense to 22nd).
He is not the only one to blame, but most certainly a lot of the failures this season lands right on the feet of the head coach.
If not for the track record of the revolving door behind the bench, I think Boucher would already be gone. He looked like he lost the room, and for me the writing was on the wall when he lost a coaches challenege where it was very obvious that the correct call was made and he kept a bewildered look on his face for what seemed like 30 full seconds. There is a gif out there with that look, and it was actually an embarrassing moment (one of many of late) to be a supporter of the team at that point.
Dorion has a decision to make, because the rate at which this team goes through coaches is well known and finding a quality candidate to take a job with such little job security would be a tough task, and who do you replace him with? Do you give Crawford a shot at the head coaching job? Can you afford to bring Alain Vigneault, who was a Sens assistant in the early days under Rick Bowness and would bring his career full circle? That would be fitting because this year's Senators record was the worst that the franchise has posted (in terms of points %) since 1995-96, the year the coaching carousel started with the firing of Bowness and his assistants, and also Allison who was replaced by Martin all in the same season.
If it were my decision, I don't think I bring Boucher back for year 3, but I don't know who I would attempt to replace him with at this point. I just think he runs too hot, and although you could argue he has never been given the chance for a full third year, the likelihood that he gets the team back is pretty slim. I also think Erik Karlsson and his opinion matter, and it Dorion's decision will be affected by what the captain, along with the likes of Mark Stone, had to say at their exit interviews.