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Tampa Bay Lightning goes with another first-time coach, but this time the GM has his back



Back in the Tampa Bay area after a vacation week took me away just as the Tampa Bay Lightning named Guy Boucher as its new head coach.  While watching the fun from afar, the first thing I thought of was that the team was replacing one first-time coach with another. But it also struck me how the circumstances are completely different. In this scenario, general manager Steve Yzerman will have Boucher's back.

It cannot be easy being a first-time NHL coach. Relating to players set in their ways, earning their respect, getting them to buy into systems with which they may not be familiar or are unconventional all adds to the normal stresses of a season. Imagine how it must be when the coach and the general manager can't stand each other.

That was the well-documented scenario last season between coach Rick Tocchet and GM Brian Lawton, and it did not start with the dust-up about the assistant coaches. The two were well along in their adversarial relationship before then. Lawton was not confiding in Tocchet on player moves. Tocchet felt alienated enough that after Lawton unilaterally fired assistant Wes Walz and elevated AHL Norfolk coach Jimmy Johnson, Tocchet went public with his disgust.

If the relationship was bad before, it went downhill from there. And don't think that doesn't affect the coach's relationship with the players, who saw that Tocchet did not have support from a general manager who did not have the support of new owner Jeff Vinik, who was appalled at how the assistant-coach saga was handled by both men. 

That brings us to Boucher and Yzerman. Boucher is going to have the same challenges as Tocchet, who had never been a head coach when he took over in November 2008 for the fired Barry Melrose. In fact, Boucher may have more work to do. At least Tocchet was an assistant for several years around the league before getting his first chance as a bench boss. Boucher, 38, the league's youngest coach, has had one year of pro coaching experience, and that was in the AHL, so suffice it to say he is going to have to show he belongs.

That will be a lot easier with the players knowing Boucher's word is law, and they will know that because Yzerman will back him up.

Look, the situation last season was difficult. Tocchet was brought into the organization by Len Barrie. Lawton was loyal to Oren Koules. The team went into free-fall after the Olympic break and Tocchet and Lawton openly feuded. What do we always hear? That stability starts at the top? Compare the previous scenario to this: Vinik hired Yzerman, who hired Boucher. They're all starting on the same page, and Vinik has vowed he will not be involved in the day-to-day running of the team. We can't say that about the top-down dysfunction that plagued the past two seasons.

Bottom line: Boucher's challenges will not be easy, but at least he has an ally.   

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 12:15am]


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