Oh, Gabby. Poor, poor Gabby. I always liked you better when you smiled.
But smiles are hard to come by now for the generally beloved Bruce Boudreau, whose Anaheim Ducks fell last night in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals to the Nashville Predators. Inconceivably, this was the fourth consecutive year the Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead and lost a Game 7 at home. The Washington Capitals have long been the standard-bearer for playoff underachievement but the Ducks are giving them a run for their money, and Boudreau, for better or worse, is the architect of both of those perennial also-rans.
To be clear, this chronic ineptitude is not entirely Boudreau’s fault. He’s not the one shooting the puck and manning the blue line. If anything, Boudreau should be praised. When he arrived from Hershey to take over the Capitals job, he immediately – immediately! – took them from perpetual last place finishers to the playoffs in a span of months. The Ducks were losers in their own right when they hired him and after a trying first season, he orchestrated a brilliant turnaround and won four straight division titles. This man can coach, goddammit. He’s one of the finest coaches in the entire league. He’s got a career record of 409-192-80 (!) with eight division titles, two improbable and sudden turnarounds, and he’s widely respected throughout the league.
But no coach in hockey is linked to underachievement quite like Gabby. And it’s sad to watch, because he’s a truly great coach who is both fiery and boundlessly fun and energetic. During his time in Washington, his round face, rosy cheeks, infectious smile, and slight lisp made him one of my favorite figures in D.C. for years. I love this guy! I just want to see him succeed. His teams, on the other hand, seem to think otherwise.
The situation in Anaheim is particularly sobering because it seemed like this was the year. The Ducks made the playoffs in 2012, went to the semifinals in 2013, appeared in the conference finals in 2014, and it stood to reason that they might take the next step in 2015. Not so, unfortunately.
Losing the way Boudreau has will inevitably take its toll on his reputation. These aren’t quiet playoff exits, they’re eye-gouging, nails-on-the-chalkboard disasters without rational explanation. Four Game 7s at home in four years with nothing to show? Nobody will care that Cory Perry refused to show up for an entire series, or that Mike Green played defense like Swiss cheese, or that Jose Theodor tended goal like Swisser cheese, or that Jaroslav Halak impersonated a brick wall. Boudreau’s resume is a case study in Murphy’s Law, and he’ll be forever remembered unfairly for that ineptitude.
Is it unfair, though? That’s the key here. While his players have constantly failed him and the opposition seems to step up their level when he’s behind the bench, he is not free of blame. Perhaps his coaching formula does not translate well to the playoffs. He’s an offensive mastermind and it’s well-known that defense wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Maybe the philosophy simply doesn’t mesh with the ultimate goal. Maybe it’s a strategy that builds teams to a peak they can’t quite clear.
All I know is that I’ll be rooting for Gabby. No one deserves a Cup more than him, other than maybe Alexander Ovechkin. He’s been a stellar coach for years and for whatever reason, he can’t figure out that next step. Here’s to hoping he does, because I want to see that smile again.