A day after the Washington Capitals were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, General Manager George McPhee said he expects Bruce Boudreau to return as head coach.
“I expect him to be back,” McPhee said. “He’s a good coach. Someone said he’s not a playoff coach, there’s no difference between a playoff coach and a regular season coach. You’re either a good coach or you’re not. He’s a good coach.”
But as the Capitals returned to Arlington on Thursday to clean out their lockers and conduct final interviews before dispersing for the summer, there were plenty questions about what changes might happen within the organization that has been unable to advance beyond the second round since 1998. On his personal blog, owner Ted Leonsis said there would not be any rash reaction to yet another stunning playoff exit.
“The best course of action for us though is to let a few days pass;” Leonsis wrote. “Be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it.”
The Capitals’ plan moving forward could include an alteration of the roster through trades or free agent signings, but Boudreau’s future has been at the center of discussion.
The Capitals have made four consecutive trips to the playoffs under Boudreau but are 17-20 in those games. Conversely, since he took over on Thanksgiving Day in 2007, Boudreau has gone 189-79-39 in the regular season for a winning percentage of .679, the highest of any coach in NHL history who has worked 250 games. On Thursday, McPhee reiterated that he believes Boudreau is a solid coach and went so far as to ask reporters if coaching changes “really change things in most cases.”
For his part, Boudreau wouldn’t speculate.
“It’s not up to me to think . . . Those questions — how can I answer them?” Boudreau said. “And I can’t. And I leave it up to somebody else or I’d go nuts.”
Most players, including Alex Ovechkin, declined to comment on the possibility of a coaching change. But Brooks Laich, who has played for Boudreau both in Washington and in Hershey with the minor league Bears, stood up for the coach once more.
“Bruce, I think is just a wizard. The guy just walks, talks, breathes hockey,” said Laich, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. “And I’ll guarantee he cares more about this team, about his team, than any other coach in the league. I’ll say that till the day it’s over. That man truly believes in every one of his players and his coaching staff and I think we’re fortunate, lucky to play for those guys.”
Over the next several days, McPhee said he will meet with players and coaches in exit interviews, then the Capitals’ pro scouts and ownership to formulate a strategy for how to approach the offseason.
While McPhee typically keeps his plans close to the vest, he admitted that during the playoff run, he was already writing prospective lineups for the 2011-12 campaign.
“There’s a certain place I want to get to with the team, and I think we have it within our organization to get there,” McPhee said. “I don’t think we have to go outside the organization, which is nice. So I want to spend more time talking to our scouts about that and what they’ve seen in our young players this year. But we’ve really got some good ones, real difference makers. And that’s something we’ll sort through in the next few months.”
There is still a possibility McPhee will trade away pieces of the team to address those needs. One certainty, though, is that he will have to make decisions on whether some, or any, of the nine players set to become free agents will remain Capitals.
Of the players on Washington’s active roster in the playoffs, seven will become unrestricted free agents on July 1: Jason Arnott, Laich, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm and Sean Collins. Karl Alzner and goaltender Semyon Varlamov, meantime, are set to become restricted free agents.
Varlamov is a particularly interesting case because the 23-year-old Russian, who stole the job in each of the past two postseasons, has not played since April 6 and did not make a single start in the playoffs. McPhee said the Capitals are “in no rush to change things” when it comes to their goaltending depth, but with Michal Neuvirth having emerged as the starter and Braden Holtby making himself part of the equation faster than anticipated, it’s becoming a crowded position on the depth chart.