By Rodger M. Wood
After a debacle 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night, GM George McPhee announced 200 NHL-game winner Coach Boudreau had been fired and named former Capital forward Dale Hunter to take over the team.
McPhee was quoted as saying, “The players weren’t responding to Bruce, and when that happens, you have to make a change.”
Translated, his statement, “not responding” means star player Alex Ovechkin, who was -4 in the Sabre game, a -7 for the first 20 games of the season, and other star players have been “shaving effort,” just like basketball players who shave points to let the opposition win games.
And Ovechkin sets the tone for his buddy Alexander Semin, who was in Coach Boudreau’s dog house all season for taking foolish penalties and benched one game recently for lackadaisical play, and line mates Niklaus Backstrom, who was also a – 4 culprit against the Sabres and is a -6 for the season, and Troy Brouwer, a -3 for the game and even on the season .
His influence may also extend to defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who was a -3 for the game and a miserable -10 for the season, Dennis Wideman, -3 and -6, and goalie Tomas Vokoun, who saved only 23 of 28 shots in the Sabres game.
The +/- stats and save % indicate these players are either underperforming or aren’t the big stars they are said to be.
Boudreau made the mistake of trying to make a $9 million “super star” and a few other highly paid prima donnas accountable for their performance.
By firing Boudreau, Caps management abdicated the throne and gave Ovechkin the crown.
You have to believe in the fairy godmother if you think these players unleashed from Boudreau will ever play the kind of hockey needed to bring home a Stanley Cup now.
But maybe new coach Dale Hunter will be the Caps new fairy godmother.
He played 1,407 games in 19 seasons with Quebec, Washington, and Colorado and never once, even in bad times, took a shift off.
I can remember how he built up game intensity an hour before the game under the stands at the old Capital Center sitting outside the dressing room on a bench by himself. You wouldn’t dare make a peep or distract him in any way.
I will never forget seeing him hit Pierre Turgeon from behind when he scored a decisive goal in game six of the 1993 Patrick Division Semi Finals between the Capitals and Islanders.
The game meant a lot to him and he paid the price for the Turgeon hit with a 21-game suspension.
With 3, 565 penalties minutes, he ranks second highest in NHL history.
He was tough on himself, but was always the first player to come to practice, was gentle to his teammates and gave all of himself in every game. His coaches called him “the perfect player.”
Judging by his own standards, Dale Hunter will not put up with an under-performing player and is tough enough to back up his value system.
Ovechkin and his sidekicks had better be aware that what they wished for may not be what they have gotten. Hunter will not put players on the ice if they don’t perform.
It’s not too late for Capitals management to resolve the real problem. They can bite the bullet and trade Ovechkin now before he decides to get back at Hunter for trying to coach him.