When looking for a new head coach, there are a ton of qualities the Avs' front office should consider. Three of those qualities have been missing behind the Avalanche bench for far too long. Guy Boucher can bring them back.
Unlike Tony Granato and Joe Sacco (who collectively had 4 years and three months coaching experience), Boucher comes to the table with a long resume filled with success. He started his coaching career in 1996 when he was the assistant coach for McGill University. In 1997, he transitioned into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he was the assistant coach for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
Three years later, he got his first head coaching job with the Lac-Saint-Louis Lions of the AAA Midget Hockey League. He returned to the QMJHL as an assistant coach for the Rimouski Oceanic in 2003. In 2005, Boucher helped to lead Oceanic to a 28-game win streak to end the season. The streak continued into the playoffs with 7 more wins, which eventually brought Rimouski the Jean-Rogeau Trophy as regular season champions and the President's Cup.
His winning ways landed him his first head coaching job with the Drummondville Voltiguers of the QMJHL in 2006. In the 2008-2009 season, Boucher guided his team to the best record in franchise history in both wins (54) and points (112), capturing the President's Cup once again.
At that point, he grabbed the attention of the big boys. He was hired as the head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. Again, he saw success as he guided the Bulldogs to a 52–17–11 record for 115 points, a feat which landed him the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as coach of the year.
Then in 2010, at only 38, Boucher was offered not one, but two head coaching positions in the NHL. He turned the Columbus Blue Jackets down in favor of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which had just missed the playoffs for the third straight year. Boucher hit the ground running. In his first season as head coach, he brought the Lightning back to life, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, losing to Boston by one goal.
14 years of coaching success. 14 years of growing responsibility. Boucher knows what it takes to win. But what about those losing records that led to his firing in March of 2013? They are just as important as the winning seasons. Losing gave him perspective, and as we've seen in guys like Matt Duchene, losing also motivates. Whoever hires Guy Boucher next will get a successful team. It's in his nature to push himself to get better, to not settle for mediocrity. Case in point...
Boucher is an overachiever. By the time he was 25, he had earned three college degrees: two bachelor's (history and biosystems engineering) and a master's (sports psychology). He earned his second bachelor's degree while coaching the McGill Redmen. Anyone who has worked full time while going to school knows that wasn't an easy task, especially when he earned the degree in one year.
Boucher is a player's coach. Earning an advanced degree in sports psychology gives him insight other coaches lack. He understands what makes athletes tick, and he can figure out the best way to approach them, not as a cog in the machine, but as a person. From Raw Charge:
"My approach is based on the individual," Boucher said. "So whether you're talking about 17 or 18-year-olds or 30 or 35-year-olds, players want to improve, they want to win and ultimately you find the same problems and strengths in each individual. It's the same starting point, so I didn't need to adapt my approach too much."
A big part of his approach is based on communication.
"He listens to all his players, regardless of their status," said Canadiens prospect Gabriel Dumont, who played under Boucher in both junior and briefly . . . in Hamilton. "He knows each player and knows how he needs to manage each player."
"One leg is the physical part. Everybody is great at that because they all have personal trainers now. You've got the technical part, shooting this way or skating that way. You've got the tactical part, the team tactics and systems. Coaches spend all their time on that," he said.
"Then the other leg that's missing is the mental part of the game. We all say it's the most important part of the game, but what are the tools?"
At every level, people have said Boucher knows how to get the most out of his players. This was certainly true of the Lightning in the 2010-2011 season. Boucher found a way to get his players to perform and to use what he had the best way he could. He recognized that the team had less-than-stellar goaltending and made adjustments to the way he ran the team. In particular...
Few people in hockey have not heard about Boucher's 1-3-1 forecheck. It came to everyone's attention when the Philadelphia Flyers chose to combat the system by refusing to play the puck. Some people criticized Boucher for his insistence on playing the modified trap, but the Flyers' reaction spoke to its success. Philly couldn't beat the system, so they took their
ball puck and went home.
You can find descriptions of the 1-3-1 system all over (this one being the best I've seen), but here are some short versions of it.
Boucher runs a 1-3-1 forecheck - which is rare in its own right - but it includes a highly unusual wrinkle. While the first skater into the zone steers the puck toward the outside, the left-side defenseman skates along the left wall with two forwards to his right and the right-side defenseman trailing the play.
and the St. Pete Times:
The coach wants the puck on the sticks of his top six forwards. That means immediately moving the puck forward and eschewing, for the most part, the passes between defensemen that so many teams use to start clearing the defensive zone.
The defense will pick its spots to join the rush but will not hang back, either, coming forward enough toward the opposing blue line to oppose counter-attacks while being in position to jump into the offense.
Defensive zone coverages will include a somewhat unique technique in which two defensemen converge on opponents in corners to force turnovers. If the defensemen get beat, forwards are expected to play stout defense.
The Avalanche have the personnel to make this successful: centermen who are as solid defensively as they are offensively, forwards with speed, defensemen with offensive instincts, and goaltending that has the potential to be elite. (That is, if we get a full time goalie coach, but that's another article.) The team is also full of young players who would be open to learning something new and out of the box.
The one knock people had about Boucher and his 1-3-1 forecheck is that it creates boring hockey. Here's the wrinkle: Boucher didn't rely on this 100% of the time. It was one part of his arsenal.
Guy Boucher would bring to the Avalanche a tremendous background of success, intelligence, and creativity. Many thought firing him was a mistake and that Steve Yzerman just needed a fall guy. The Avs should take advantage of that error and hire Boucher before they lose him to someone else.