Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Ex-Lightning Boucher takes high road

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BRANDON

Pretty interesting that on the same day Guy Boucher spoke publicly for the first time since being fired as coach of the Lightning, the team traded for a hotshot young goalie.

If general manager Steve Yzerman had brought in a goalie a month ago, maybe Boucher would still have a job today.

When asked about the timing of such a trade, Boucher didn't say a word. He just smiled.

That's what you do when you're taking the high road. That's what Boucher took Wednesday inside the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.

He thanked Yzerman. He thanked owner Jeff Vinik. He thanked the entire front office. He thanked his coaches. He thanked the players. He thanked the fans. He thanked everyone but the Zamboni driver.

"No regrets," said Boucher, fired March 23 after 21/2 seasons. "I'm grateful for getting the chance to coach in the NHL and to be surrounded by quality people. It has truly been an incredible ride, one that I will truly cherish."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. On it went. Blah, blah, blah. Boucher saying nice things about Yzerman. Boucher complimenting the players. Boucher talking about the good times.

You just knew it was going to be like this. Boucher wants to work again in the NHL. The last thing he is going to do is get into a spitting match with a hockey legend such as Yzerman.

But for the record, no, Boucher said, there was nothing personal between he and Yzerman.

Yes, Boucher said, the players played hard for him.

No, Boucher said, no one on the team quit.

So, what then? If everything was hunky-dory with Yzerman and the players played hard, why was Boucher in Brandon while his former team was flying to Carolina with another coach in his seat?

"I think when we started the year, we had all the hopes possible," Boucher, 41, said. "But it's like every season. Once the season starts, different things come into play; whether it's at forward, defense or a goaltender. There's a growth process there. Sometimes, you're asking people to do things they can't do consistently yet. …Expectations have to go with the moment and the circumstances that you're in.

"I want to respect the process of the young goaltender. I don't want to point fingers. I don't want to do that."

You don't have to be Lord Stanley to figure out what Boucher meant. Anders Lindback, acquired to be the Lightning's No. 1 goalie, simply wasn't ready for that role.

There's more. Ryan Malone got hurt. Vinny Lecavalier got hurt. Third-line players weren't ready to be second-liners. Too many rookies were forced into the lineup. The defense wasn't nearly as good as everyone thought it would be. The shortened season heightened urgency. Losses piled up.

Those are facts.

But I also think the relationship between Yzerman and Boucher soured quickly. Boucher and Yzerman both admit to "philosophical differences," although neither has said anything more than that.

If I had to guess, Yzerman and Boucher differed on the style of play.

Now this is where the story gets complicated. Something clearly changed and caused a major difference of opinion between the first-time NHL coach and the first-time NHL GM. Yzerman or Boucher got stubborn. Maybe both did. There are always two sides to every divorce.

But either Yzerman urged Boucher to play a system Boucher didn't want to or Boucher ignored Yzerman's suggestions. Whatever the case, this was not the same system the team played during Boucher's successful rookie season. The results were no longer there, and a change was made, a change that Boucher said surprised and stung him. He has watched a lot of hockey on TV since his firing but has yet to watch a Lightning game because it remains too painful.

"I have nothing but respect for Steve Yzerman,'' Boucher said. "Like I said, I will not point fingers.''

Ultimately, a good goalie would've solved everything. Everyone, including Yzerman, agrees Lindback needs more time to develop into a reliable No. 1 goalie. And this is where you can't help but feel a bit for Boucher.

Yzerman cannot have it both ways. You can't preach patience with your young goalie then fire the coach when you lose too many games because, mostly, your young goalie isn't ready.

Which brings us back to Wednesday. Give Yzerman credit for acquiring goalie Ben Bishop from Ottawa. You have to give up something to get something, and Yzerman had to give up Cory Conacher, a nice young player. But don't get too worked up over losing Conacher. He's small and has cooled off after a fast start. Besides, the Lightning needs a goalie way more than another small forward.

The trade says the Lightning isn't convinced Lindback can be a No. 1 goalie. At worst, it now has two youngsters to fight it out for the top spot and, at best, they'll end up with two pretty good goalies.

It's a great move. Too bad it happened too late for Boucher.

Tom Jones can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

 
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