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Boucher would bring 'new NHL' to Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA — He has yet to earn his first paycheck in the NHL, and already there is talk of taking the league by storm.

He is still three weeks shy of his first anniversary as a coach in professional hockey, and already NHL teams are trying to outmaneuver each other in order to hire him as their head coach.

His college transcripts are more impressive than his playing career, and his innovative system has probably generated more interest than his resume.

So just who is this Guy Boucher?

You better hope he's the future of the NHL.

The Lightning is expected to hire Boucher as its coach any day now in a move that could turn out to be a major coup or a tremendous risk. Or, I suppose, it could be both.

It is safe to say Boucher is not your typical candidate for an NHL head coaching job. Not when you consider that at this time a year ago he was just finishing up another season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and had never been in charge of a professional team.

Yet, 12 months later, a buzz is surrounding Boucher. A buzz that caught the attention of new Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

Boucher, 38, is said to be the model of the new NHL coach. He is young. He is open to new ideas. He has undergraduate degrees in history and biosystems engineering, and a master's in sports psychology. In a style reminiscent of a certain baseball team, he talks about the process being more important than the results.

Beyond all that, he has come up with a 1-3-1 system of hockey that is said to be unlike anything currently seen in the NHL. It involves overpursuit on defense. It demands constantly pushing the puck forward on offense. It has defensemen near the net in the offensive zone, and it requires forwards to absolutely buy into the idea of a two-way system.

People who watched his style in action with Hamilton of the American Hockey League this season say it could revolutionize the way teams attack in the NHL.

That is, if it works.

"I truly believe it will," said former Lightning forward Mathieu Darche, who played for Boucher in college and at Hamilton. "It is innovative and very effective. In a way, it is aggressive while being low risk."

Darche is a huge fan of Boucher's but did not want to talk at length because his hiring in Tampa Bay is not official. The same was true with folks in Hamilton and its NHL parent club, Montreal, on Tuesday.

But the whispers speak loudly enough. Boucher is beloved by players. And he is widely respected by those who have worked with him. He is very emotional, and extremely confident in his approach.

In one of his first days on the job in Hamilton, he stopped a lackluster practice and made the players drop down to do a set of pushups. There were snickers around the rink that this junior hockey stuff would never fly. Yet, at season's end, the players were still doing pushups. And Boucher was on his way to winning coach of the year honors.

The key, apparently, is that the players trust him. And they buy into what he is selling. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is said to be a huge fan and supposedly recommended him to Yzerman.

It almost seems, in retrospect, that Yzerman was focusing on Boucher from the moment he was hired as general manager. He made a point of saying NHL experience was not going to be a prerequisite for hiring a head coach but that success as one would be a necessity.

And Boucher has been a success everywhere he has coached.

He played professionally for a short time in France and in the International Hockey League before an illness ended his career prematurely. Boucher returned to his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, for one season as an assistant and then spent 11 seasons coaching in junior leagues in Canada.

As a head coach in the QMJHL, he won the first championship for Drummondville in its history. As a rookie head coach in the AHL, he guided Hamilton to its best record in franchise history.

That track record convinced Columbus to try to hire Boucher as its coach last week, but he turned down the offer. It's logical to assume he was talking to Yzerman at the same time and preferred the situation in Tampa Bay.

Even so, this will not be an overnight project. The Lightning probably does not have the personnel to run Boucher's system the way it is meant to be run. Victor Hedman may one day be the puck-moving defenseman needed, but he's not quite there yet.

So there will be no miracles in 2010-11. A playoff berth would be nice, but it is nowhere near a guarantee. Think of this move instead in a big picture sense.

As the first steps toward a greater destination.

Boucher would bring 'new NHL' to Tampa Bay Lightning 06/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 11:30am]
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