We had a chance to spend some time with Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, chatting about what it's like to do battle every night in the wild and woolly Western Conference, the changing expectations for his Ducks squad and advice for new Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz.
Scott Burnside: Interesting offseason for the Ducks with the acquisition of center Ryan Kesler. It certainly changes things in terms of how you assemble your lineup.
Bruce Boudreau: I haven't been fortunate enough to have two No. 1 centers. My second year in Washington we got [Sergei] Fedorov, but he was at the end of his career. But to get two players the caliber of [Ryan] Getzlaf and Kesler in their prime, if they're playing to what their reputation says they're good at, then we're, I think, really special on the front two lines. As a coach, when I'm looking at matching, it makes it an awful lot easier situation, especially on the road ... you're playing against their top lines. Now everything that's said there is on paper. I'm a worrywart. I'm worried that players feel that way and when you feel that, "Oh, you're good," then you don't play as hard. It's just a natural thing. We want to make sure, starting the first day of camp, we're all grounded and realize we're not getting anywhere unless we work really hard.
SB: No doubt the addition of Kesler and the emergence of some of your young players changes the expectations around the team about being a Stanley Cup contender, especially after two straight trips to the playoffs and last season's advancement to the second round. But sometimes changing expectations will change a team itself.
BB: I agree with that. It's a far cry from when I got here, the expectations. We were in last place. So, there's no expectations. And it's easy to get up there, but like people have said, it's the hardest thing in the world to stay up there. And now with the expectations that we're now the hunted instead of the hunter, we're going to have to make sure that we're ready to play. If we think we can just throw our jerseys on the ice and we're the Anaheim Ducks, we're going to be in big trouble. I think that was one of the big problems after they won the Cup (in 2007) is that they let part of the beginnings of the next two or three years fly away because "Ah, we'll catch up, we'll win, we'll win." But the NHL is so tight now if you have those feelings and you get eight points back, it is so hard to make it up. Because everybody wins and everybody's good. So, it's really paramount in my mind on keeping them geared up and not thinking that they're better than they are.
SB: We spend a lot of time talking about how formidable the Western Conference is. You live it every day and especially in the playoffs the last two years, so what's it like to confront the road to the Stanley Cup through the West?
BB: I think it's, quite frankly, it's exciting, because every game -- and I'm not saying the East doesn't have the meaningful games that the West has -- but I think it's safe to say we play the California teams ... you know, it's a war, it's like playing for the Stanley Cup every night. Now if you've seen some of the L.A. games that we've played against them last year or the San Jose games that we've played and even take it further, Phoenix, the rivalries with Chicago and Colorado and St. Louis, they're all wars. They're all wars. It's not like, OK we're just going out there playing another game, one of 82 -- every game is its own little entity. It's a battle for foot space. ... If you go into a little skid in October or November, you're fighting the whole year just to gain four to six points back. So it's a war.
SB: We're having this conversation shortly after the announcement of the outdoor game next February in Levi's Stadium near San Jose, and you guys played the Kings last winter in Dodger Stadium. The Kings, of course, have won two Cups in three years. Is hockey in California different than you imagined when you came to Anaheim?
BB: Well, when I took the job with the Ducks, I had no clue what to expect. I didn't know anybody on the roster except the guys: Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry, [Francois] Beauchemin, [Teemu] Selanne and [Saku] Koivu, five guys. You know what? When I went, there were four high school teams playing. Now there's 45, and there's schools from out of state trying to get in their high school league. Our owners have bought up all the arenas, and youth hockey is crazy popular. The average person on the street knows about hockey. He's still not knowledgeable to the point that he recognizes everybody like here in Toronto or something. But in an arena, you go there, if you go to an arena, everybody that's involved in hockey knows who you are, asks questions, talks about it. And I don't think hockey's taking a backseat to much of anything during the winter months. Teams come from San Diego, they've got great programs in San Diego. And in northern California. Being the most populated state in the country, if this continues, especially with the new TV deals and the reachability of more households, I think the sky's the limit for California.
SB: There's been a number of coaching changes this offseason that will see a number of coaches who have waited a long time to get their first NHL head coaching opportunity: Willie Desjardins in Vancouver, Mike Johnston in Pittsburgh and Bill Peters in Carolina. That's a dynamic you're familiar with. Any words of advice, thoughts on those hires?
BB: I don't know if there's something special, but it's almost the same way I talk to our players: Never give up, never quit hoping, never quit believing in yourself. I was 53 when I got my first job. I think our team plays like that. We had 26 come-from-behind wins last year because we always believe that good things are going to happen if we do the right things. And I think if you're a coach and you're knowledgeable and you have success that people will come looking for you. I would never have thought it would have happened to me but it happens because you keep doing it and working at it. I've always believed and always dreamed and gotten lucky enough to follow my dream. I'm sure Willie Desjardins is going to be another one, I think he's 57 and taking his first crack at it. So I wish them the best on most nights.
SB: Another head coaching change sees Barry Trotz take over in Washington. I think there's always a special attachment between a coach and his first NHL team, and the Caps were yours. Any words of advice or thoughts on Barry Trotz taking over your old post?
BB: I would just tell Barry to coach the way he coaches. He's a great coach. He's one of the better ones in the NHL and has proven it over a long period of time. It's going to be probably very new to him, because when you're 15 years in one place, the one thing I know is that every team does everything different. I mean, there's certain idiosyncrasies that every team does that they've been doing for their own amount of time, so he'll find that a little different at first. And Barry's treated me truly very well for a guy who was for the most part just a minor league guy. But I think he will have a great communication and a great rapport with those players in Washington, and I look for Washington to be right back on top.