Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Bruce Boudreau moves on from Capitals with 'unfinished business'
By Scott Burnside
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If you are looking for anything approaching bitterness from former Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, you will be disappointed.
If you are looking for a little smackdown of erstwhile superstar Alex Ovechkin, whose disappointing offensive play was a contributing factor in Boudreau's dismissal Monday morning, again, you'll be disappointed.
But sadness? Sure there is sadness. For a guy who worked as hard as Boudreau did logging hundreds of thousands of miles coaching in the minors before getting his first crack at an NHL job, any ending, let alone one that comes just 22 games into this season, is bound to be fraught with disappointment.
"You feel sad because it's unfinished business," Boudreau told ESPN.com Tuesday afternoon a few hours before former Capitals captain Dale Hunter was set to replace Boudreau behind the bench in Hunter's first game as an NHL head coach.
"I don't have a problem and never once did I think I have a problem with Alex [Ovechkin] liking me or not liking me," Bruce Boudreau said.
Boudreau's teams could never quite get over the hump come playoff time in spite of tremendous regular-season success. They managed to win just two playoff rounds in four seasons, but the former coach said those disappointments don't necessarily tell the whole tale.
"I think we were really close," he said.
"Every summer we thought we could win the Stanley Cup [the following season]. When I was dreaming about winning the Cup, I thought it was a legitimate dream."
Much will be made of Boudreau's relationship with his captain.
Boudreau said Ovechkin called him Monday after the firing, and Boudreau returned his call on Tuesday.
"And I told him I loved him and blah, blah, blah, all the regular stuff," Boudreau said of the 15-minute conversation in which Ovechkin thanked the coach for his efforts.
Boudreau told Ovechkin that he hoped to see him smile again soon, something that hasn't happened much lately with the two-time Hart Trophy winner having just eight goals in 22 games this season and the team struggling after a 7-0 start.
The notion that the two were feuding is way off base, the former coach said.
"It's so far from the truth," Boudreau said.
"We got along, I think, famously."
Ovechkin would tell him stories about what he was up to away from the rink, and Boudreau would share stories from his time in the minors as a player and coach.
Much of the perceived friction stems from a game a month ago when Boudreau kept Ovechkin on the bench late in a one-goal contest against Anaheim. Cameras showed Ovechkin apparently upset over the benching when the Capitals tied the game with an extra attacker on the ice.
Ovechkin was still on the bench when overtime started, although he did provide the primary assist on the game winner.
That moment shouldn't define their relationship, the former coach said.
"People want to focus on the fact that I sat him out one shift," Boudreau said.
Parents all over the world discipline their children.
"It doesn't mean they don't love them," Boudreau said.
"I don't have a problem and never once did I think I have a problem with Alex liking me or not liking me. ... I hope he scores four tonight. But then again, I always hoped he'd score four."
Shortly after being hired to replace Glen Hanlon at Thanksgiving four years ago, Boudreau said he felt like he'd won the lottery when general manager George McPhee called to offer him the job.
The Capitals never realized the grand prize many had envisioned over the past few years -- the franchise's first Stanley Cup victory -- but the team did in fact win big under Boudreau.
When he arrived there were 5,000 people in the stands, he noted. Now there's a waiting list for season tickets and hockey is hot in the nation's capital.
"I really believe we really built something up here," he said.
Now, though, the team will pursue that grand grail without Boudreau.
And he begins the process of moving on and trying to fill his day.
"Well, today I woke up and I said, 'holy smokes, I've got to do something.'"
Instead of meeting with reporters at the team's practice facility, as he did every game day when the team was at home, Boudreau went to his optometrist to schedule a minor eye surgery that will be performed next week and will require a couple of weeks of recovery.
"It seemed like the perfect time to do that," he said.
He went to another doctor for a checkup and filled prescriptions, in part for his diabetes.
He answered dozens of phone calls and emails, among them opportunities to do some television work in Canada.
He also looked into other games he might be able to see if he ends up in the Toronto area, reprising a habit that he developed when he was coaching in the minors. After his season ended, Boudreau would travel around watching as many games as he could, making notes on players, building a book on potential opponents or players who might someday play for him.
"I would take off and go scouting on my own dime," he said.
Mostly it was an exercise in getting out of the house, something he again confronts at least until the phone rings again with another coaching opportunity.
"When I used to take a day off, I would be so sick of it at the end I couldn't wait to get back to work," Boudreau said.
Given his success -- Boudreau reached the 200-win plateau faster than any other coach in the modern era -- it seems a second NHL gig will present itself at some point. The only question is whether it's sooner or later.