If anyone should be in favour of increasing the size of nets in the NHL, you’d think it might be Bruce Boudreau.
Desperation, after all, often breeds open-mindedness.
It’s not just that Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks are the NHL’s lowest scoring team. No, we’re talking about an individual who, during his playing career, was a prolific offensive player in the minor leagues, and used to the coach the Washington Capitals when they played more like the Harlem Globetrotters.
So bigger nets good, yes?
“When I played, the goalies were guys like Darren Pang and Mike Palmateer, guys who were 5-8 or even shorter. Now every goalie is 6-5,” said Boudreau.
“But they still have to make spectacular plays to keep the puck out of the net because the skill level of NHL players today is right off the charts.”
So no to bigger nets?
“Well, I’d be in favour of making the net at the other end bigger,” he quipped.
Ah yes, the competitive element that always becomes part of the discussion when rule changes are discussed mid-season. That’s why they were able to make so many alterations to the game a decade ago; the season was cancelled, and suddenly change wasn’t a threat.
These days, everything seems to be a threat to Boudreau. His team can’t score – the Ducks finally scored three Wednesday night but blew three leads to the Edmonton Oilers and lost 4-3 in overtime – and after a incredibly slow start for a team that many projected as a Stanley Cup finalist, he remains on the job but surrounded by former head coaches who could replace him.
Trent Yawney and Paul Maclean occupy the same bench. Dallas Eakins is with Anaheim’s minor league affiliate in San Diego.
“Aw, I’ve always thought that the better the coaches are around me, that’s gonna make me a better coach,” said Boudreau. “Nobody plans to get somebody else fired. We all want to be head coaches, but not that way.”
The loss to the Oilers was the second stunning OT defeat in three days this week for Anaheim. On Monday, Ryan Getzlaf continued his forgettable season by attempting a risky drop pass to Corey Perry at the red line. Perry, however, zigged when Getzlaf thought he was going to zag, and Mikkel Boedker grabbed the puck, raced in and potted the OT winner for the Arizona Coyotes.
“That was not one of (Getzlaf’s) shining moments,” said Boudreau. “I don’t know what Corey was doing either. But what am I gonna say? ‘Hey Getzy, that was a horrible play’? He knows.”
On Wednesday, it was Teddy Purcell swooping in behind the Anaheim defence – again, early in the OT session – to eventually backhand the puck high over Frederik Andersen, whose sparkling .924 save percentage this season has still only resulted in three wins because of his team’s scoring woes.
So the Ducks still have a big mountain to climb to get back into the thick of the Western Conference race, and Boudreau, who seems so close to losing his job early in the season, probably isn’t out of the woods yet.
“I definitely stopped reading papers and blogs and everything,” says Boudreau. “I’ve tried not to let it affect me. I can’t let the players think anything is wrong. As a staff, we’ve probably worked harder and done more than I ever have as a coach.
“We’re still not consistent. Sometimes when you think you’re good, you forget how hard you have to work in this league.”
Getzlaf, sidelined early in the season after an appendectomy, still doesn’t have a goal. Ryan Kesler has one and is minus-11. Carl Hagelin and Andrew Cogliano each have one goal, Jakob Silfverberg has none and the Ducks are scoring almost two goals a game less than the NHL’s highest scoring club, the Montreal Canadiens.
Ask Boudreau if, whether during the worst days of the season so far – how about a 5-1 loss to the Nashville Predators? – he tried to avoid GM Murray, and he has one of his customary quips.
“That’s a loaded question,” he said with a chuckle.
“Did I think I was going to get fired? Look, I believe I’m a good coach, I believed we were going to get better and we’re slowly getting out of it. All coaches know it’s gonna happen, know one day they’re gonna get fired. But my history told me things were going to get better.”
Boudreau can point to his team’s penalty killing – No. 2 in the league behind the Habs – and his goaltending as reasons to be pleased, and he’s got to believe the scoring will come around.
“The guys getting the big bucks have to perform,” he says. “And they expect more from themselves.”
With more than $7.3 million in available cap space, the Ducks have room to make a big move, and San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau listed Anaheim as one of three teams he’d accept a trade to in news that came out this week.
Is Murray willing to make that kind of move? Is Anaheim ownership, with Ducks attendance in the bottom third of NHL clubs over the past five years?
These weren’t questions anybody was contemplating a month ago. You know, back when nobody was talking about bigger nets, either.