Darren Dreger is reporting the team who contacted Guy Boucher about a possible return to the NHL (news Boucher broke himself yesterday on TSN Drive) is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Leafs still looking at gm + coaching options. It's believed Tor contacted Guy Boucher. Boucher told TSN 1050 an NHL team had made contact.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 6, 2015
Everyone remembers this infamous sequence against Philadelphia and Boucher’s memorable response from the bench in that series:
(Jeff Marek has since claimed part of the reason Boucher was fired was because Steve Yzerman was embarrassed by this sequence; seems unlikely getting to overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals was seen as embarrassing, but who knows).
Patrick Roy also claimed when coaching against him in the Q that Boucher was killing junior hockey with his passive 1-3-1 system (essentially, forcing dump ins with three wide stacked between the defensive blueline and redline, with one defenceman as a sweeper, back to retrieve).
While undoubtedly a counterattacking system, those specific memories may lead to some misconceptions of how Guy Boucher’s teams actually won games. In 2010-11, the year the Lightning made the Conference Finals, the team was bottom 10 in goals against and top 10 in goals for. The same pattern held for the season following, when the Lightning finished top 10 in goals for and missed the playoffs because they finished dead last in goals against that season.
In the Q, when asked about the effect his system might have had on junior hockey and if it was being mimicked across the league, Boucher said:
“I wouldn’t be pretentious enough to say I had that much impact, either positive or negative on an entire league,” he said. “His comments were about the fact that some teams were playing the same defensive style that we had. The funny thing is my teams were always the No. 1 offensive teams. We were first in the league in junior in offense, the same last year in the American League (at Hamilton). This year we are the top team in the NHL. We spend 80 percent of our time working on offense. If you watch our practices you’ll see, so that’s all I’m focusing on.”
Boucher’s trajectory as a coach seemed to be skyrocketing until he ran into goaltending and roster turnover problems in the year after the Lightning Conference Finals appearance. He won the QMJHL championship with the Drummondville Voyageurs, who featured such players as Sean Couturier, Mike Hoffman and Dimitry Kulikov. He jumped into the AHL with the Bulldogs and went on a deep playoff run in his first year. Yzerman then hired him (along with Julien deBrisebois) in Tampa, where he went straight to the Conference Finals in his first year; at the time it seemed Boucher could do no wrong and most of what he touched was turning to gold.
But a bad season and a bit in Tampa saw him over in Switzerland in 2013-14, where he took over for half a season and then posted a great record (32-13) in 2014-15, winning the Swiss Cup. In 2013-14, Boucher agreed to a no-out clause if he was to coach the team, but that is no longer in effect; Boucher is free to opt out of his current contract if he so chooses and has expressed an interest in returning to the NHL.
Now working for the Leafs, Cam Charron had an interesting piece during the collapse of 2013-14 that detailed why Boucher may be a good fit for the Leafs. Kyle Alexander from Raw Charge postulated that a team with some mobile D and fast aggressive forwards (Leafs need some help in the aggression department), if they bought into Boucher’s system, could have a lot of success within it (granted, fast-aggressive forecheck with a mobile D core is the goal of most teams, and the general formula for success in the League now). Guy Boucher took his Lightning team from a 45.7% team at Corsi Tied and helped turn them into a 51.2% possession team in 2010-11. They nosedived the following season; there’s competing theories as to why.
The team could always score, and they couldn’t get goaltending, but their possession plummeted to below 46% in 2011-12. Some criticism surfaced suggesting that the 1-3-1 system had been figured out and Boucher’s jig was up. Maybe it was more about losing seven of his regular players after 2010-11, which he references below (“patch up”), in addition to terrible netminding. The Lightning had a whack of good young players just entering their organization but were not ready yet, which Boucher just missed out on timing wise.
In general, Boucher does have a track record of successfully and immediately implementing some structure that has led to significant upticks in results. The Leafs haven’t played with structure since Paul Maurice was head coach, so it’s at the very least an interesting idea.
Of course, there’s nothing saying Boucher is married to his past systems; his success did, however, show he was a bright strategist and an innovative hockey mind.
Boucher’s answers below on the importance of development and where he sees the game today (and where it’s going) seem to align with a lot of what you hear out of the new management regime. Transcript below.
On his time in Tampa Bay:
“Before my first year, no, because we needed to build – actually, I still remember Steve Yzerman sitting in the summer and half our board was empty. Steve had a lot of guys to sign, a lot of free agents to fill the lineup. The first year we did terrific, but you know he told me before hand the second year we’d lose a lot of players; we lost seven guys, we had that second year we were trying to bring in new guys, but most of these kids either came after or when they were there they too young, they weren’t ready at all. We tried to patch up that second year to try to buy time for these guys to come in. We knew for sure that Conacher, back then, who later gave for Bishop who I didn’t coach, then Johnson, a free agent; a lot of these guys after, even by the draft, a lot of free agents signed – Sustr and all these guys – I saw them but I never coached them. The funny thing is, people ask me all the time, “my old team,” really there’s only two players I’ve coached on that team: Stamkos and Hedman. The 22 guys that have come in in the last two years, I think Steve and Julien and the rest of the organization there did a terrific job of either scouting or signing guys in free agency or developing them. We knew a lot of these guys were terrific guys, Palat included, but they needed time at that point. You can see now what that’s giving them – this is a terrific group of players.”
On his time in Hamilton with some of the now-Canadiens competing in the playoffs:
“There actually is, that’s the funny thing. Obviously Dehairnais and Pacioretty and Subban, three guys that were players that we knew were going to become good players. I’m quite fortunate to have been passed their way; they’ve done terrific since then, they’ve developed and become men and leaders, and yeah this is a great series for me to follow. There’s obviously close interest for me because I started with Montreal as a professional coach, and Steve Yzerman gave me my first professional job in the NHL. There’s good people in both organizations and it’s hard to wish everybody good luck, but I think this series for me is a perfect representation of what hockey is now – the new NHL. The rules that have changed, the speed of the game, what I call the “machine generation,” the kids are so in shape, so fast, so strong. Two teams that are built similarly I think, with big goaltenders, big mobile defencemen, speed and skill with the forwards; this is what the game is all about right now.”
Importance of the AHL and development:
“If you look at organizations like Detroit, for instance; they’re famous for getting their guys ready. I respect what Detroit does; they draft, and they take the time that it takes to build the players in the American League, and sometimes I see it too many times, whether it’s the NHL or the other leagues, is you try to hurry up your young guys in the lineup either because of money issue or because of cap, or because you just think you can accelerate the process. You really got to make the right decisions for not just the team but for the individual. I’ve seen it, we’ve made some mistakes in Tampa, and I’ve seen it before in junior, where you have guys and you try to hurry up their process.
Everybody’s got their own path, and you got to respect that. Yes, it’s extremely important to draft well, and it’s really important to develop, because then you don’t have to trade and give away assets. You build from within with your old values. It’s a lot easier to get the culture that you want. It’s clear the teams that have been able to do that, they have a tendency to have many years with consistency. Some other teams don’t. I certainly don’t want to talk about Toronto, but when you look at the teams that have done well with their draft it’s made a huge different. You look at Montreal and you look at Tampa, they’re two perfect examples. I know both head scouts, terrific people, knowledgeable guys, guys that work extremely hard, and they certainly as individuals made a big difference in the organization because now you can see what those organizations are looking like. They’re both at the top and that’s a great way of doing things. Having said that, you can’t escape the fact that at some point you have to make some trades and sign from free agents to back up the players that you have. Especially, I find, with leadership. I think it starts and end with leadership, so if you have that, then all the young guys that you have are going to be raised in the right way and you’re going to have the right culture.”
Degree of interest in returning to the NHL:
“I’ve never hid the fact that I definitely do want to go back. I have another year on my contract here, my family is happy, had a terrific year, it’s all good things – learned and grew – and I’ve got no problem staying here. But yes, last year I couldn’t accept it because I didn’t have an out clause. This year, I do have an out clause. It would certainly be in the right situation with the right people, and if I fit it would certainly interest me, but like I said, it has to be in the right situation because I have a very good situation now. I’ve been approached, so it’s a possibility. We’ll see what happens.”
Guy Boucher Coaching Record & Accolades