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Monday, October 10, 2011
Guy Boucher still evolving as an NHL coach

By Pierre LeBrun

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- So what does Guy Boucher do for an encore?

The NHL's youngest head coach led a non-playoff team to the Eastern Conference finals last season. Many believe the Tampa Bay Lightning overachieved and did so in large part because of a bright rookie coach who squeezed everything out of his lineup.

Boucher's evolution as a coach continues at age 40, but it all starts with his work ethic.

Guy Boucher
The Lightning went from non-playoff team to Eastern Conference finalist during coach Guy Boucher's rookie season in 2010-11.

"He's really a hard worker," Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com on Monday morning while watching Boucher run his players through the morning skate. "He really spends a lot of time thinking about every situation. Over the course of time, he's just going to get better and better. He's going to learn from the things that have worked well for him, and I know he's willing to look at things a different way and adjust accordingly."

This season, the challenge for Boucher is to make sure his message doesn't get stale. He has to keep a captive audience in the dressing room.

"I can teach the same thing, but I don't want to teach it the same way," Boucher said after Monday's skate at Verizon Center before the clash against the Washington Capitals. "I hate doing things twice the same way. I try to make it different in the approach."

Part of the message to his players early this season is they can't rest on last season's laurels. Last season is done with. They have to prove themselves all over again.

"Right now, we don't want to make the mistake that I've seen in the past, including myself doing it, thinking that we're the same team as we were at the end of last year. We're not," Boucher said. "That's the end of a process. ... We haven't done anything because of last year. We just know that we can believe, but now we have to do it. We have to start at zero again."

He delivered those words to a handful of reporters Monday morning with his trademark intensity and piercing eyes. As a player, it seems you wouldn't want to disappoint this coach. His competitive edge rubs off on you. It reminds us of a player in the Lightning dressing room whose ultra-competitive spirit is unmatched in most NHL circles. If Martin St. Louis were a coach, he'd be Guy Boucher, without the verbal arsenal.

"I think we're both extremely competitive," St. Louis told ESPN.com on Monday morning. "What I see of him is that he wants to win. He does everything he can to prepare us so that we're in the best position to win. He works extremely hard."

Boucher also communicates his plan well with players.

"He's very good with feedback. He likes to hear where guys are at with things," Tampa veteran blueliner Eric Brewer, a former captain in St. Louis, told ESPN.com. "But at the end of the day, he knows what he wants; he's a very thorough and educated guy. [He has] lots of energy and comes to the rink expecting the same [from players]. I think it's a good mix."

Boucher won't pull punches if he thinks a player didn't perform. The players know exactly where they stand.

"He's hard, but fair," St. Louis said.

"He's very honest, but very fair," Brewer agreed. "You had a good game, or you did not have a good game. He puts it out there. ... We may not always like it, but you respect it."

Tampa Bay's talented rookie

Brett Connolly isn't assured of sticking around the whole season (Tampa Bay will need to make a decision at the nine-game mark whether to send him back to Canadian junior), but so far, the 19-year-old rookie winger has impressed his coach.

"I figured his play might lower down a little bit [after preseason], but it hasn't," Boucher said. "He played a good game against Carolina and he was one of our top players against Boston, in a place that's extremely hard to play and against a team that's very physical. He was looking like a vet.

"Obviously, he's got to keep it up, but right now, he's showing me that he's not afraid to be first on the puck in this league against big boys. He's showed me that he's got the speed to do it. He's just making the small defensive mistakes that a young guy does, which is normal."

We like the way the Bolts have integrated Connolly into the lineup. He's playing on the third line to begin the season, which helps lower the offensive expectations for the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft. If he were playing with Steven Stamkos and St. Louis out of the gates, he would feel the burden of putting up numbers. The other benefit of starting on a lower line is he isn't facing the top defense pairings from opposing clubs, which gives him a little more freedom out there.