The new Anaheim Ducks new head coach Bruce Boudreau, center, conducts his first practice with the NHL team on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, at the Anaheim Rinks facility in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Leonard Ortiz) LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT; MAGAZINES OUT
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Bruce Boudreau never even got comfortable in his beloved recliner. Three days after the Washington Capitals fired him, the fast-talking coach was in another rink on the other side of the continent, back at work on another NHL salvage job.
Boudreau took charge of the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, running his first practice with new orange-and-black gear and the same contagious enthusiasm that endeared him to Washington fans. The coach known as "Gabby" is already talking big about the Ducks' chances to save their dismal season.
"If I didn't believe that this was a team that had the possibilities, the makings of something special, I think I would have sat home and waited," Boudreau said after practice. "But I don't think opportunities like this come around every day with the talent that we have here."
While Boudreau delivered an opening speech emphasizing his faith in their talent, the struggling Ducks were still getting over the shock from the departure of Randy Carlyle, the only NHL coach for which MVP Corey Perry, captain Ryan Getzlaf, high-scoring wing Bobby Ryan and goalie Jonas Hiller have played.
General manager Bob Murray fired Carlyle late Wednesday night after Anaheim snapped a seven-game skid with a 4-1 win over Montreal. The Ducks are off to a perplexing 7-13-4 start, stuck in 14th place in the Western Conference with their team confidence completely shot.
"I was shocked," said Teemu Selanne, who formed a close bond with Carlyle during the team's 2007 Stanley Cup run. "I thought some guys were going to go before the coaches. It's a tough business. I'm really disappointed we didn't do better."
Boudreau has never been unemployed for more than a few weeks in his adult life, and he wasn't eager to start. The 2008 NHL coach of the year reached 200 victories faster than any coach in league history, leading the Capitals to four straight Southeast Division titles and the 2010 Presidents' Trophy, but a big slump and the Caps' overall lack of playoff success doomed him.
He spent just enough time at home to annoy his wife, unable to sit still even in his favourite chair. He was contemplating a trip to Toronto to do some Canadian television until he got a call Tuesday from Murray, who had decided to fire Carlyle, Boudreau's former teammate with Toronto and a CHL club in Dallas during the 1970s.
"I talked to my wife, and I said, 'I think we should jump at this,'" Boudreau said. "I know it's only been a day, but I thought it's a chance that I wouldn't get again. I jumped at it and got on the plane yesterday, and here I am."
Less than five years after winning the franchise's only Stanley Cup title, the Ducks have sunk to the bottom of the NHL with three wins in 19 games despite a wealth of skill and experience. Murray acknowledges fielding offers from multiple teams eager to acquire Ryan or the other big names on the Ducks' roster, but the GM made the gut-wrenching decision to fire a close friend.
"I still believe strongly in the group," Murray said. "If I didn't believe they could do it, I would have gone in a totally different direction and blown things up and started all over. I believe we have the people here that can do this."
The Ducks' struggles have been exacerbated by the injury absence of Lubomir Visnovsky, the NHL's top-scoring defenceman last season, and top-six forward Jason Blake. But injuries can't explain the inconsistent, tentative effort in the club's recent games, featuring a raft of blowout losses characterized by turnovers, defensive-zone mistakes and a general confusion.
"It was just the way we were losing, the body language," Murray said. "I just don't think they believe in themselves anymore, and I hadn't seen that in the six years we've been here."
Anaheim's stars can't argue. Murray informed the club's leaders about his decision after the game, but others heard about it on the way home—including Ryan, who got a text message from his girlfriend.
"I thought it might be a fire sale, so I looked to see if there were any other missed calls or missed texts," said Ryan, who has struggled with just seven goals in 24 games this season. "There was relief, but you also feel like you let down the coaches."
Anaheim also fired assistant coaches Dave Farrish and Mike Foligno. New assistant coach Brad Lauer joined Boudreau at practice, and the Ducks will add another assistant soon.
Boudreau thinks his greatest task is restoring the Ducks' confidence in their abilities. He immediately put Ryan back on a line with Getzlaf and Perry in his first practice, reuniting the once-powerful trio that scuffled through parts of this season before Carlyle broke up the combo.
"They all listened really well," Boudreau said. "When they went on the ice, they looked like they had a jump. This is a really good team. They've just lost their way a little bit. I want them to believe in themselves."