Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Veering Towards Firewagon

Canadiens Targeting Voltigeurs PP Whiz Guy Boucher

Rumour has it that the Canadiens are studying the option of signing current Drummondville Voltigeurs coach, Guy Boucher, to the post of head coach in Hamilton.

This could present a very interesting follow-on strategy to Don Lever. Don was a forward as a player, but a defensive proponent as a coach. Guy, for his part seems to favour an offensive game plan, as his season in the QMJHL would attest. What makes Guy even more interesting is his education and his non-NHL background (courtesy of McGill):

Boucher, 37, possesses a master's degree in sports psychology from the Université de Montréal, plus arts and engineering degrees from McGill, where he played four seasons for the Redmen, from 1991 to 1995.

He could be just the breath of fresh air the Canadiens and, indeed, the NHL need.

The Drummondville turnaround

"The Voltigeurs held the league's worst record last season, finishing with just 14 wins and 33 points. Drummondville actually had a longer winning streak this season than 14 wins as they finished with the top record with 112 points, a league record 79-point turnaround."

Guy Boucher oversaw this remarkable turnaround with the Voltigeurs. To go from last to first is impressive enough. To go from utterly pathetic to first, as he and his team did, is another.

Some of the credit for the turnaround must go to the GM (who ditched an astounding 33 unproductive pieces in just over a year and also brought in a league leading scorer and a dynamic Russian defender). Some of the credit must also go to the players like Yannick Riendeau (126 pts) and Danny Masse (110 pts, and signed recently by the Habs) who added punch and speed to a team whose second scorer was a 37-point man the year before.

The remaining credit can go to the coach, though. The system he implemented with obvious success is described by Sportsnet:
"Drummondville plays a very strong puck pursuit game. The Voltigeurs are strong in pressuring the puck-carrier and eliminating his outlet lanes through strong positioning. They make it very hard to enter their zone and don't give up many second-chance opportunities in front of their goal. Their cohesive team play might just be the best in the CHL."

Adjectives like strong and cohesive are just what one would hope for. If only the Canadiens could be described that way even half of the time.

Special teams make it interesting

It seems that Guy is a pretty creative guy. This is not someone who will drag out a line change every time something goes wrong.

He shocked the hockey world, apparently, with his deployment of PK Subban on the Canadian Junior team this past tournament by placing the big shot in the high slot. He used it again in Drummondville (Their PP was a rampaging 35.7% in the playoffs at the time that article was written). Reviews also rave about his PK – saying that he changes his penalty killing tactics (gasp) on the go to surprise his opponents.

This kind of experimentation is what led to dynasties in the past. Innovation and risk taking will be critical in getting a Cup to Montreal, as prospects don't tend to fall into the laps of teams unprepared to spend 5 years at the bottom.

Can he make the jump?

There is a big difference between winning in junior and at the NHL level, so I am glad this article deals with the possibility of Guy making the jump to the AHL first. The jump from AHL to NHL is still significant, but a coach has the advantage of already having coached some of the younger players before and to play in a league with much better defensive coverage.

I don't think there's any reason to believe that Guy couldn't jump from Q to AHL level. The question about a future in the NHL can be resolved then in Hamilton.

If the Canadiens want to have French Canadian coaches in the NHL, this is a step in the right direction. Developing and testing coaches at the lower echelon is as sensible for coaches as it is for players (and would have been for goalie prospects...).

I hope Guy does sign when the Memorial Cup wraps up. It would be a sign of good things to come.

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