By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 23, 2007
The Washington Capitals fired Coach Glen Hanlon yesterday morning, hours after being routed at home by the Atlanta Thrashers and 21 games into a season in which the team has fallen well short of expectations.
Hanlon, who had been behind the bench since December 2003, will be replaced on an interim basis by Bruce Boudreau, former coach of the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. He'll make his NHL coaching debut this afternoon in Philadelphia.
General Manager George McPhee said he first became concerned about Hanlon's ability to lead the Capitals out of their tailspin during the second period of Monday's 4-3 home loss to the Florida Panthers. Those concerns were confirmed during Wednesday night's dismal performance, a 5-1 throttling at hands of the Thrashers that elicited boos and chants of "Fire Hanlon" from the fans at Verizon Center. The defeat was Washington's fifth in a row and ninth in 10 games, and dealt crushing blows to the players' confidence and the team's playoff hopes. Washington has the NHL's worst record at 6-14-1.
"For the most part this year, I thought we were a team that played hard but wasn't getting rewarded," McPhee said. "But the last few games, it looked like we had lost the team, and you can't ignore that."
"He knew as soon as he saw me this morning," McPhee added, referring to Hanlon. "He said, 'I wouldn't have known what to do today.' "
Veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig said Hanlon paid the price for his players' failures.
"We had a meeting about all the mistakes we made against Florida the other day," Kolzig said. "It was pretty evident what we were doing wrong, and we went right back out in the second period [Wednesday] and did the exact the same thing. That has nothing to do with coaching, and has everything to do with individuals not listening and being on their own program."
McPhee called Boudreau around 7 a.m., and within a few minutes he was in his car, en route to Arlington from his home in Hershey. He was on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for practice a few hours later.
"It's a new voice," said Boudreau, a 52-year-old Toronto native. "I'm fairly demanding. I may smile and joke with them, but if they don't do what's needed and what's necessary, they are going to have to pay the price. From the top player to the bottom player, you've got to be accountable."
Boudreau led the Bears to back-to-back championship-round appearances in the AHL, winning the Calder Cup in 2005-06 and falling in the finals last season. He coached nine seasons in the AHL and played parts of eight NHL seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, recording 70 points in 141 games as a forward.
McPhee said no timetable has been set for naming a permanent replacement for Hanlon.
Hanlon, meantime, leaves after eight-plus seasons in the organization and with a record of 78-123-9-29, accumulated during parts of four seasons as the Capitals' head coach. His assistants, Jay Leach and Dean Evason, have been retained.
Hanlon, who declined all interview requests yesterday, came to Washington as an assistant coach in 2002-03 after three seasons as the coach of the AHL's Portland Pirates. He replaced Bruce Cassidy as the Capitals' head coach 28 games into the 2003-04 season, which, after a salary purge gutted the roster, ended with a last-place finish in the Southeast Division and 59 points in the standings.
Hanlon was brought back after the 2004-05 lockout and faced a daunting challenge: Shepherd the league's most inexperienced (and inexpensive) team through a painful rebuilding process. Although the Capitals finished in 27th place (70 points) in the NHL in each of the past two seasons and were overmatched on many nights, Hanlon received praise from around the league for getting his teams to work hard and for his handling of a difficult situation.
This season, however, was supposed to be different. Ownership spent millions of dollars on free agents Michael Nylander, Tom Poti and Viktor Kozlov, who joined a core that already included Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Kolzig. Majority owner Ted Leonsis said the rebuilding was complete, and players spoke openly about their playoff aspirations.
But instead of taking a step forward, the Capitals, after a 3-0 start and injuries to key players, have regressed.
"It's hard for him, hard for the team," Ovechkin said. "If we win, nobody talking about coach. If we lose, everyone talks about coach."
Team captain Chris Clark said: "I'm disappointed. I take a lot of the responsibility on myself as one of the older guys on the team to come through for a great guy like Glennie. I'm taking this really hard."
Though Boudreau has been with the Capitals for only one practice, the contrast between his style and Hanlon's was obvious. The most noticeable difference was Boudreau's constant barking during drills. Known as a players' coach, Hanlon was more reserved.
Boudreau also demanded that everyone race over to him when he blew his whistle. The last one to the huddle had to skate a lap.
More importantly, he places a greater emphasis on generating offense, one of the Capitals' biggest problems. As of last night, they ranked 28th in the league in goals per game (2.24).
"He's more offensive coach," Ovechkin said. "He tell us shoot the puck more, move quickly."
Boudreau will make his debut against one of the NHL's hottest teams in the Flyers, who are coming off a 6-3 win at Carolina. Ironically, the Bears, Boudreau's former team, will play the Philadelphia Phantoms at Wachovia Center following the Capitals-Flyers game.
"The guys will get over it," Boudreau said. "They feel sorry, but in the end, they are concerned about their jobs. Because that's next. They've got to play to their capabilities. Hopefully the players get that message."