Last NHL job: Tampa Bay Lightning head coach (2010-13)
Biggest accomplishments: 2009 QMJHL Champion, 2010 Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award (AHL Coach of the Year)
NHL head coaching record: 97-79-20 (.546 win%)
Connection to Tim Murray: None
Before the Maple Leafs were called by Mike Babcock on Wednesday, the team had flown Guy Boucher in to interview. By the end of the day Toronto no longer had a head coaching job to offer him. The Maple Leafs are reportedly interested in adding Boucher as one of Babcock's assistants, but he may get a serious look somewhere as as a head coach.
When the Lightning hired Boucher, he was considered one of the top up-and-coming coaches and the next great thing out of the AHL. Like Dan Bylsma, featured in yesterday's profile, Boucher enjoyed a very quick rise. His first head coaching gig came in 2000 with the Lac-Saint-Louis Lions of the AAA Midget Hockey League. In 2006 he was hired for his first major junior head coaching job by Drummondville of the QMJHL. He inherited a playoff team, and steered the team to nearly the same record that Dominic Ricard had the year before. The team took a step back the following season, winning only 14 games and missing the playoffs.
What catapolted him into the spotlight was the 2008-09 season. The Voltiguers finished first in the league in the regular season, as seasoned 20-year-olds Yannick Riendeau (the league's top scorer) and Dany Masse lead the way. The team also featured some younger players who were serious prospects and went on to become NHL players - guys like Sean Couturier, Dmitri Kulikov (voted Defenseman of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and the league's top prospect) and Mike Hoffman.
When it came time to the playoffs, Drummondville dominated. The team swept their first three opponents, Lewiston, Montreal and Rimouski. Their first real challenge came in the form of the Shawinigan Cataractes, their championship foe. The Cataractes came back from down 3-1 to force a game seven, but a 3-2 victory by the Voltiguers secured a QMJHL title.
Boucher won the Paul Dumont Trophy as the league's top personality, an award that uniquely can be awarded to a player, coach, executive or anyone else involved in the league. He was praised for his defensive-minded system, which he would carry to the AHL and NHL levels. He was beat out for Coach of the Year by Moncton's Danny Flynn, who was an assistant for the Sabres this season.
His success in Drummondville lead him to the professional ranks. Boucher was hired by the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2009. The Bulldogs finished second in the Western Conference despite 17 call-ups to the Canadiens. P.K. Subban had a very successful rookie year in the AHL, scoring 18 goals and 35 assists. Boucher was praised for moving Subban away from the typical point position on the power play. Instead he was placed in the high slot, a strategy that was incredibly successful. The team capitalized on half of it's extra-man opportunities. It's the out-of-the-box thinking that got teams so interested.
The Bulldogs lost in the Western Conference finals to the Texas Stars, but Boucher already had done enough to turn heads once again. Boucher was a hot name around the NHL after just one AHL season.
The Blue Jackets offered him a job. He respectfully declined. He opted instead to go to Tampa Bay later that week. Boucher was 38-years-old at the time, making him the youngest head coach in the league. Tampa Bay was a team with a budding star in Steven Stamkos and some still very effective veteran leaders in Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
That being said, the Tampa roster was not the stacked team that it is today. It was filled with plenty of journeymen. Past the three previously named forwards, the teams leading scorers were Teddy Purcell, Simon Gagne, Ryan Malone, Dominic Moore and Steve Downie. Their defensive unit included names like Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina, Randy Jones and Matt Lundin. He had Marc-Andre Bergeron, who at the time was still thought to be a capable scoring defenseman. He played only 23 games, scoring two goals.
Yet, this team made the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lightning went 46-25-11 in Boucher's first season, earning them the fifth spot in the playoffs. The Lightning squeaked by Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in seven games in the first round. Then came the incredibly surprising and impressive second round performance. The Lightning swept the Capitals, the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Like his time in junior, Boucher's team missed the playoffs his second season behind the bench. Tampa went 38-36-8, largely due to poor goaltending. Mathieu Garon played in 48 games with a .900 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average. Dwayne Roloson, who played in 40 games, had even worse numbers. His save percentage was .886 and his goals against average 3.66. The Lightning allowed 41 more goals than they had in Boucher's first season.
Things didn't improve as Boucher's final season behind the bench began. The Lightning season was irreversible by the time Boucher was fired. The team hovered in 14th in the East after 31 of the 48 games in the lockout shorted season. Not surprisingly, a team starting Anders Lindback in goal couldn't keep up to the competition. A former AHL coach himself, Boucher's ultimate downfall came at the hands of Jon Cooper, the head coach of the Norfolk Admirals at the time. Norfolk was 39-18-8, and rumblings of NHL interest in Cooper began. Tampa decided to cut Boucher loose on March 25th, promoting Cooper to their head coach on a full-time basis.
This season Boucher went overseas to coach, taking the helm for SC Bern of the Swiss National League. The team finished second in the league with a 26-13-2-3 record. There he coached former Sabre Marc-Andre Gragnani, as well as former NHLer Chuck Kobasew.
Now, he's back in the NHL conversation. Even removing the Toronto situation, Boucher is reportedly in preliminary discussions with the New Jersey Devils according to Sportsnet.
Q&A with a Lightning Expert
1. How would you describe Boucher's coach style?
Guy Boucher is a man with a plan. He has a very strict process he wants his players to buy into and stick with, even as the randomness of hockey makes you feel like sometimes what he wants is not the best way.
The 1-3-1 is just one piece of this, a piece he didn't even use all that much outside his first year in the NHL. He preaches "first on puck" aggression, shot suppression, and likes his defense to chase the puck to the boards (which sometimes leaves the front of the net open). It requires all five guys on the ice working in tandem with no mistakes or you're going to give up really good chances at will.
He's still a relatively young guy, charismatic, and at times very animated, so he can get through to guys when he needs to and he's definitely more of a screamer than Jon Cooper. Still, he's not a taskmaster by any stretch. He'll take the blame on himself for a bad loss and give the credit to the players for a good win.
2. What are his biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Tactically, he likes to play a counterattack system. Everything is keyed on the neutral zone, whether he is using the 1-3-1 or not. He wants to attack with speed through neutral ice and generate rush chances while limiting those same things for the opposition. The goal is to turn over the opposition as much as possible and attack with numbers while forcing your opponent to dump-and-chase.
The big knock on him, of course, was that his system is so demanding, players (especially NHL veterans) inevitably check out and do their own thing, which leads to big breakdowns. It's hard to say how accurate this is, but that's what folks say. Oddly, he's been quite successful everywhere else with pro players, including the past few seasons in the top Swiss league.
Another weakness was the special teams, but it's tough to say if that was Boucher's responsibility, as special teams are usually delegated to assistants. But Tampa Bay had, with Boucher's hand-picked assistants (Dan Lacroix and Martin Raymond), pretty atrocious special teams play. Their 5v5 play was what won them games more often than not.
3. Obviously the Lightning have really taken off since Cooper took over the reins, but this team seems clearly more talented and more experienced than the Boucher groups. Did he just suffer from a young team taking a bit to develop, or has Cooper simply been much better?
The roster today is miles better than it was when Boucher was here. Guy Boucher didn't get to coach Tyler Johnson, or Nikita Kucherov, or Ondrej Palat, or Anton Stralman. He had Nate Thompson and Tom Pyatt, Adam Hall and Pavel Kubina, Matt Gilroy and Brett Clark. You'll notice very few of those guys are still in the league. Boucher's TB rosters and Cooper's don't compare at all. It wasn't even that Boucher had a young team that was undeveloped; all of TB's youth was still in the AHL with Cooper at the time. Boucher had a ragtag band of holdovers and veteran free agents (in their last NHL destinations) that he took to within a goal of the Stanley Cup Final.
4. When Boucher was brought into Tampa he was considered the best AHL coach available, and one of the bright young minds in the sport. What happened that caused him to be out of the league and in Switzerland just three years later?
He flamed out pretty magnificently, didn't he? Tampa Bay went from 103 points in his first season to 84 in his second and had 13 wins through 31 games of the lockout-shortended season when he was fired. I think media and league opinion of him was pretty harsh following his exit in Tampa Bay; he wasn't a guy with a ton of NHL experience nor was he the hotshot AHL guy any more. He was sort of caught in between, no longer fitting the profile of the type of coach NHL teams tend to hire.
That said, Switzerland is not Siberia. He coached some pretty good hockey players over there and went 23-27 in his first year then 32-18 in year 2. SC Bern lost in the semi-finals in 2014-15.
5. What was the sentiment in Tampa Bay when he was fired?
"He's a good coach, but it was time." The players weren't playing his system anymore; not just the 1-3-1 specifically, which had all but been phased out by the end of 2011-12, but his system in general. It was time for a new voice in that locker room and Cooper was the easiest choice after a 28-game AHL winning streak and Calder Cup title. Plus, Tampa Bay risked losing Cooper to another team if they waited too long. Cooper interviewed with both Washington and Edmonton prior to being promoted in Tampa Bay.
6. How did Boucher work with Tampa's young players? Did he develop players or did he stick with veterans over young players?
One of his biggest strengths was player usage, particularly when it comes to youth; for the most part, he didn't mess around playing over-the-hill vets too many minutes. He lets the kids he did have on his roster play and make mistakes. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman played a ton when he was here. Teddy Purcell is probably Boucher's greatest success story. Purcell developed into a very good middle-6 scoring/possession/zone-entry winger under Boucher's tutelage and has all but disappeared since.
A lot of folks forget that Boucher's coaching background is almost extensively working with youth. He coached at McGill, was an assistant and a head coach in the QMJHL, and then in the AHL. He's had a ton of success developing NHLers and winning with young guys in his lineup.
7. Boucher's lasting legacy may be the 1-3-1 that was so humorously mocked by the Flyers a few years back. If the Sabres do hire him, is Buffalo in for some boring hockey?
It's odd to me how many folks think the Flyers won that exchange. What you call "the Flyers hilariosuly mocking" I call a Peter Laviolette temper tantrum that got amplified and justified by the buffoons at NBCSN (then Versus). Keith Jones is a Flyers employee, you know. Tampa Bay won that game and Laviolette revealed himself as a petulant child that couldn't crack Boucher's counterattack system and thus decided not to even try. (The onus of moving the puck is on the guy with the puck, wouldn't you say?)
I'd say Boucher's legacy is taking a team with a piss-poor blue line to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first season as a head coach in the league after dominating lower levels of hockey playing the same system. The wheels came off, eventually, but reports that some of the veterans (namely, Martin St. Louis) abandoned his system suggest there wasn't much he could do. He'd likely be more successful with a younger team that's more willing to adjust their style to what he likes to do and stick to it.
Tampa Bay scored 247 goals (7th in the NHL) in Boucher's first year, 235 the year after that (9th) so if you think goals are boring, yep, Buffalo is in for some boring hockey if they hire Boucher.