In five seasons and 387 games as head coach of the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks, Bruce Boudreau has won 228 games.
The 504 points his teams have generated factors out to a cool 106.7 points per 82 games, a pace bested by only San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan (107.8) and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma (107.4) among current NHL coaches.
After weathering through an expected transitional period following after replacing Randy Carlyle as Ducks coach on Dec. 1 of last year, the team under Boudreau took flight during a 17-3-4 24-game stretch in a second half that Anaheim fans hoped was more preview than peculiarity.
He was rewarded with a two-year contract extension through the 2014-15 season in May and looks fully ready to put his own stamp behind the home bench at Honda Center.
“It feels like we’re going to have success,” Boudreau said via phone Monday. “I just believe in that.”
He noted that independent of the labor strife, training camp this year appears no different when the upcoming season loomed on the horizon for any of his Washington teams.
In his first camp in Anaheim, he’ll oversee battles waged for second-, third- and fourth-line contributors. Players such as Matt Beleskey, Nick Bonino and Devante Smith-Pelly, all of whom made use of their opportunities last season, will be pushed by a handful of players already familiar with the organization and the role they’re expected to play. There’s also incoming center Daniel Winnik, and expected depth contributions from Andrew Cogliano, who has not missed a game in his five-year NHL career.
“I did get the sense that there’s going to be a lot of people pushing for jobs,” Boudreau said. “You throw in [Kyle] Palmieri and Peter Holland into that mix, and even guys like Patrick Maroon . . . those guys all had really good years. [Brandon] McMillan in Syracuse. There are guys that are going to be pushing other guys for a job. Competition makes players play better. I think with our depth and the minor leagues from last year, I think it’ll be a real bonus, and it’ll show well in camp this year. I was just putting down lines for camp, and we’re pretty deep on all the training camp teams.”
And then there’s Emerson Etem, who, after becoming the WHL’s first 60-goal scorer in 11 years, will be returning for his third training camp. “I try to fit in the top six as a scoring role,” Etem said in July.
Surely, at least one player will emerge from this impressive crop of young forwards. For Palmieri and Holland, both 21, and Maroon, 24, skaters who combined for 192 points as Syracuse’s top three scorers last season, there’s the added benefit of succeeding in an organization that has shown success in graduating players to the NHL. Whereas there was much of a revolving door in Anaheim’s depth early last season, Boudreau is hoping that players who have performed at high levels in the minor leagues, and who have experienced limited success in call-ups, continue their natural progression and maturation.
“I think that’s what you want through the organization, leadership, that the young guys coming up are going to be seeing that the other guys not only got a chance to play, or we gave them a chance to play, but that they’re pushing to stay here. That they’ll know that there’s opportunities for them. When you give them the carrot, usually they respond to that pretty well,” he said.
It certainly worked well for the burly Smith-Pelly, who in his second Anaheim training camp earned a spot on the team as a forechecking and net-crashing menace before emerging with three goals and three assists over his final 10 games. He could have headed back to junior hockey last year, instead he’ll enter his 20-year-old season with 49 NHL games under his belt.
“I think Bruce kind of gave me a little bit extra confidence, and I’m just hoping to continue that,” Smith-Pelly said.
As the younger players battle for ice time, the experienced star core of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne will once again be relied upon to do the heavy lifting. Perry, who scored 23 goals in his final 44 games, played the best hockey of his 2011-12 season under Boudreau. Getzlaf and his 5.9 percent shooting percentage are of concern following a year in which he did not come close to hitting his career marks. The captain’s improvement must occur if Anaheim is to reassert itself as one of the league’s premier offensive teams.
“We count on him,” Boudreau said of Getzlaf. “We need that kind of play from all three of those guys, and from Teemu. We’re a team that we rely heavily on a lot of players, our star players, and they have to be good.”
As for Ryan, and his mercurial relationship with Ducks upper management over hearing his name repeatedly leaked in trade discussions, Boudreau did not express concern.
“I haven’t spoken to him. I’m looking forward to having him come back here soon, but as far as I’m concerned, everything is status quo, and everything’s good. I’ve put all that stuff behind me,” he said.
Defensively, Boudreau favored his team’s current situation to the one presented when he took over the reins in December. Though Bryan Allen and Sheldon Souray arrived via free agency to toughen up and add size to the team’s blue line, he also hinted at the improvement in consistency he expects from two returning players who had limited success in finding their rhythm last season.
“We’re bigger and stronger back there, and Toni Lydman should be healthy this year. He wasn’t healthy at all last year. So I think that’s a big plus. And Cam Fowler is another year older and another year with experience under his belt. I just think with the addition of Souray and Allen, we’re a bigger, stronger team. The elite teams – most every NHL team now – their forwards are getting bigger and bigger, and you need some of those big, strong guys to be able to move them in front of the net. I think we’ll have that capability this year, more than we did in the past.”
That should bode well for the workhorse Jonas Hiller, who admirably carved out a successful second half in one of the better performances by a goaltender since the departure of former defensive stars Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer from Anaheim. Hiller did not always have the backing of an airtight defense in front of him, an element that occasionally frustrated the heavily-used netminder.
There’s still the unfortunate labor situation, of course, so training camp isn’t exactly right around the corner, as it normally would be this time of year. Perhaps that could be of benefit to the Ducks, who are a combined 19-24-7 through November over the last two seasons. Or, with a delayed start to the season and a compacted training camp, Anaheim’s early season struggles could be exacerbated.
In either case, it’s not something the coach is particularly worried about.
“The idea is to make sure that we’re ready for our first game of the season,” Boudreau said.