Here in Southern California, Boudreau has found an opportunity to take what he learned from his first stint as an NHL coach and apply it. He was able to return to trusting his own instincts, which the 57-year-old acknowledged he questioned toward the end of his tenure with the Capitals.
“You’ve got to be true to yourself,” Boudreau said this month. “I found that I was getting away from that this year. People were saying, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that.’ I wasn’t doing what I believed was the right thing.”
Boudreau had guided the Capitals to the Presidents’ Trophy and a pair of top seeds in the Eastern Conference and managed an in-season switch from a high-flying offense to a trap system since his arrival on Thanksgiving day, 2007. But those accomplishments ultimately were overshadowed by disappointment in the postseason, where the team failed to advance past the second round during his tenure.
In training camp it was apparent that Boudreau, who had developed a strong reputation as a plucky players’ coach, was trying to evolve into more of a disciplinarian to hold the Capitals’ stars accountable. But through 22 games and a 12-9-1 start to the 2011-12 season, it was clear that the players were no longer responding to his direction.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee fired Boudreau on Nov. 28 and hours later replaced him with former Capitals captain Dale Hunter, who is 13-9-1 in Washington heading into Friday’s game at Carolina.
From his office in Anaheim, Boudreau reiterated how grateful he was for the opportunity he received from the Capitals but expressed some regret that toward the end of his time in Washington, his decisions were based on the advice of others.
“A head coach needs to be doing what he believes is right,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know why I got away from it, because everything I had done was right — or it worked.”
Boudreau said he would leave the rink second-guessing his day-to-day decisions, from alignments to deciding the best roles for players. He declined to elaborate further on what caused him to question his convictions.
When Ducks General Manager Bob Murray hired him to replace Randy Carlyle, Boudreau went straight back to his instincts.
Boudreau once said he needed to pinch himself when he arrived in Washington and saw Alex Ovechkin and the cadre of other all-stars on the bench. He wasn’t awestruck in Anaheim. Boudreau set to work getting to know each of the players on the roster, from budding offensive-defenseman Cam Fowler, to the big three of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, and the elder statesmen of the group, such as future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne.