TAMPA, Fla. Time is valuable in the NHL, and Guy Bouchers Tampa Bay Lightning career ended Sunday because it was hard to justify giving him more after failing to meet a standard of his making.
His fall was swift, but his firing by vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman revealed the urgency of a lockout-shortened season. Since its start, this has been a 48-game pressure environment, the returns amplified both to the benefit and detriment of all involved.
On one hand, thats why the Chicago Blackhawks 24-game point streak became an intrigue and rivaled the Miami Heat for headlines in this region and beyond. Even for those with only a casual hockey interest, we can appreciate consistency in any arena, especially when stakes are high and the margin for error small. We respect a prolonged effort to become great.
Part of Bouchers problem was that he peaked early. He showed hints of building a power in a place known more for sun than ice, but it all proved to be a tease. The Lightning earned 103 points his first season in 2010-11, the most since the 106 from their Stanley Cup campaign of 2003-04. They finished within one game of their second Eastern Conference title.
But last season ended with 84 points, eight behind the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for the final playoff spots. At the time of his firing, the Lightning had 27, tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for second-to-last in the conference and five behind the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers for the final playoff berth.
Simply, Bouchers high-risk, high-reward strategy became too much for Yzerman. The coachs early shine disappeared. Change was inevitable, despite Boucher having another year left on a four-year deal.
The reason: The Lightnings performance this winter has failed to translate to more points, more gains, more results similar to the coachs initial season with Tampa Bay. He was always in a race against the Eastern Conference, yes, but he also was in a competition against himself.
Boucher showed promise. But consistency is coachings true currency. He struggled to find it with the Lightning, and thats why hes no longer part of the franchises vision.
Im not satisfied with the direction our hockey club is going, Yzerman told reporters in Winnipeg on Sunday. This isnt a reaction, a desperate act to try to make the playoffs, although that is still our hope, regardless of where we sit in the standings. It is done with not only the short term (in mind), but more importantly, the long term of our organizationwhere were going and where we want to get to.
After a 3-2 loss to the Jets on Sundaytheir first game with assistants Dan Lacroix, Steve Thomas and Marty Raymond sharing Bouchers duties the Lightning trail the Rangers for the No. 8 seed by six points with 16 games left.
After a 6-1 start, the Lightning are 7-17-1 since. They have the leagues leading goal scorer (Steven Stamkos with 22) and two of the top points leaders (Stamkos is tied for second in the category with 41 and Martin St. Louis is third with 40), but they labor to stop anyone. They rank 25th in goals allowed, giving up an average of 3.03 per game. This all but neutralizes their greatest threattheir aggressive offensive attackand a goals-per-game average that ranks third in the league at 3.22.
As players, its tough, Stamkos told reporters Sunday. But you just wish Guy the best of luck. We had respect for him for how hard he works, but its the nature of the game, and we have to find a way to push through it.
True, this is the nature of Bouchers line of work. Stamkos understands the situation better than most. He said a high bar was set after the coachs first season, and it was the teams task to show growth each year. It was their job to become consistent.
Certainly, Boucher isnt the lone person to blame for the Lightnings slide. But his tale is a common one in the NHL and elsewhere: A coach becomes the face of a direction, and if the approach proves stale or ineffective, he or she is pushed out the door. The role can be unforgiving.
We all share in the responsibility of where we sit today, Yzerman said. But I expect our players to be professional. I expect them to play hard and play their best and do everything we can to climb back in the playoff race.
There will be plenty of climbing ahead: For Yzerman, as he attempts to find a replacement (former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and Jon Cooper, coach of the Lightnings American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., have been mentioned as possibilities); for the players, as they attempt to correct their course; for Lacroix, Thomas and Raymond, as they attempt to lead through adversity. No task will be simple.
Guys are professionals, Lacroix said in Winnipeg on Sunday, after a third consecutive defeat. We know theyre doing this. Its looking forward.
Its looking aheadwith no time to glance back. After all, each second holds worth.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.