Bruce Boudreau watches the Washington Capitals warm up for a game against… (John E. Sokolowski / US Presswire )
The Ducks had gone through many slumps under Coach Randy Carlyle but he had always steered them through a screeching U-turn and back into playoff position. So when they slipped into a funk after a 4-1 start, General Manager Bob Murray wasn't initially alarmed.
But when Murray saw players lose hope as often as they lost games, when slumped shoulders and bowed heads became their natural posture, he knew Carlyle could no longer lead them.
"It was just the way we were losing, the body language and how we were losing," Murray said. "I just don't think they believed in themselves anymore and I had never seen that before in six years we've been here."
He first thought of making a change Sunday after the Ducks coughed up several leads against Chicago and fell flat against Toronto, and the idea solidified Monday after the Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau as their coach. Granted permission by Washington to contact Boudreau, Murray heard an unmistakable enthusiasm the Ducks needed.
"It was time for this group to have a new voice in the locker room," said Murray, who insisted he acted on his own and not under pressure from owners Henry and Susan Samueli.
Minutes after the Ducks defeated Montreal on Wednesday, Murray fired Carlyle and signed Boudreau to a two-year deal. Orange ballcap jammed on his head, the 56-year-old Toronto native presided over his first practice Thursday at Anaheim Ice with a positive voice that had been missing for too long.
"They've been a really good team. They've just sort of lost their way a little bit," Boudreau said at a news conference. "I told them this morning that I believe in them. I think they're a really good team.
"I wouldn't have done this if I didn't believe they have a really good shot at doing a lot of good things this year. I want them to believe in themselves and if they do, then good things can happen."
He instantly won their approval by reuniting the big line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a significant move because Murray had said he was listening to trade offers for Ryan. Murray said the coaching switch might be change enough and that he'd "like to settle things down right now," rather than deal the winger who has scored 100 goals the last three seasons.
Boudreau, who will make his debut Friday when the Ducks face the Philadelphia Flyers at Honda Center, also sketched plans to cycle the puck less and score off the rush more. The promise of more offensive freedom appealed to players who felt constrained by Carlyle's system.
"I think the guys are excited to have him here and you could just tell in practice everybody was ready to go, even in the dressing room," Perry said. "The dressing room just feels a little livelier right now."
Carlyle hasn't commented publicly since his dismissal, and a Ducks spokesman said the former coach requested a few days to retrench. Murray said Carlyle is "a terrific coach and will be a terrific coach again," but he wasn't the right coach for the Ducks anymore.
That's partly an occupational hazard. It's worth noting that of the last 10 Stanley Cup-winning coaches — a list that includes Carlyle in 2007 — only Scotty Bowman was with that team more than four seasons at the time he won. Carlyle was the fourth NHL coach fired this season and third this week.
Winger Teemu Selanne, who credited Carlyle with reviving his career in 2005, said he was shocked that Carlyle and assistants Dave Farrish and Mike Foligno were dismissed. "I thought some players were going to go before the coaches," Selanne said. "It has been a great, long road together so I really felt sorry for those guys. They had to pay the price for what we did on the ice."
Carlyle, gruff and old-school, got a lot out of not much raw material for a while, including a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference last spring. But his words became background noise, his bark ignored.
"I think that over time it's a natural progression for some guys to tune out certain things and maybe not buy in quite as much as they should be," Getzlaf said. "That's on us as players, not on the coach. …
"Nobody could really put their finger on why everything was going on and why we couldn't put things together. I thought that Randy was trying different things and trying to get through to us and it just didn't work."
Now, Boudreau gets his chance to fix what's broken.
"This is a team that before the season started, if you read a lot of the clippings, should really contend for the West and Pacific crown and I think they're very capable of doing it," he said. "I want them to believe in themselves. That's the message for today, believing in themselves."
But never forgetting that the clock starts Friday for him, and for them.