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Innovative coach Guy Boucher deserves considerable credit for success of Tampa Bay Lightning

Being open to new ideas led the Lightning to Guy Boucher, 38, who had made a huge impression in his one season coaching in the AHL.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Being open to new ideas led the Lightning to Guy Boucher, 38, who had made a huge impression in his one season coaching in the AHL.

TAMPA — In years to come, they will talk of this victory as a turning point for a struggling franchise.

They will talk of how the Lightning had to come from behind. How the result was in doubt until the final frantic moments.

In the retelling of Lightning history, they will talk of the day Tampa Bay beat the Guy Boucher out of Columbus.

Forget the Lightning's 3-2 shootout victory against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night. Though it halted a mini-slump, by and large it will be forgotten a month or two down the road.

Turns out, the greater competition between these franchises took place months ago on a summer weekend minus ice or crowds. It was the weekend Columbus tried to hire Boucher as its head coach, and he chose Tampa Bay instead.

If it seemed significant at the time, it looks darn near revelatory today. After season upon season of mediocrity, the Lightning is leading the Southeast Division and challenging for the top record in the Eastern Conference.

Credit is due to the players, of course. And to the steadying hand of new owner Jeff Vinik and the wisdom of general manager Steve Yzerman, too. But 47 games into Boucher's career as an NHL head coach, you can not overstate the impact he has had in Tampa Bay.

Which makes you wonder what might have happened if things turned out differently in June.

For his part, Boucher has never even acknowledged the job could have been his in Columbus. He didn't talk about it last summer, and he maintains his silence today. Presumably, Boucher does not want his decision to be perceived as a slight to Columbus.

Still, the chain of events is not exactly a state secret. Columbus made the offer early in the weekend, Boucher asked for time to think it over, then he called general manager Scott Howson on Monday to respectfully decline. Twenty minutes later, Howson said he offered the position to Scott Arniel, who thought the GM was calling to say Boucher had accepted the job.

So why did Boucher turn down Columbus?

Since he won't even admit the job was offered, that's not a question Boucher is going to answer. But, since he was hired days later by the Lightning, you can draw your own conclusions about a last-minute play by Yzerman.

And Boucher is not reticent about the impact Yzerman had on his decision to accept an offer from Tampa Bay.

"Steve Yzerman and I worked with Team Canada quite a few times, so we had people in common that were both telling us, on either side, that we were right for each other. It was like a blind date kind of introduction," Boucher said. "When we met, after 10 minutes, I felt it. And it was the same for him. We didn't want to say it then, we were both kind of playing the game a little bit, but the reality was we see eye to eye on how we want to do things and where we feel the team should be heading. So I felt comfortable."

In retrospect, it is a pretty remarkable tale of two teams vying for the services of a 38-year-old who had never spent a minute in the NHL as either player or coach and who had only one season as a minor-league coach.

Boucher's work with Team Canada and his innovative 1-3-1 system had gotten him noticed in juniors, but his lone season with Hamilton in the American Hockey League put a spotlight on him like never before.

"It didn't take me long to find out he was special, but I had access to him every day. I was in the office and on the bus with him and saw what he was doing," said Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, who was Boucher's GM in Hamilton. "I don't know exactly when everyone else caught up to him and what he was doing.

"We started hearing things, word got in some papers, but you hear things about a lot of people. There are a lot of coaches who have their names out there, and some eventually get jobs and some don't. I'm not surprised that he found a place in the NHL. When you meet him and hear about his approach and see how all of the pieces fit the puzzle, you say, 'Okay, this is the guy. This is the guy I want running my team.' "

Five teams had openings for head coaches last summer. Three of them went the typical route.

Coaches in their 40s and 50s. Men who had played in the league. Coaches with NHL experience on their resumes. All three of those teams have lost more games than they've won this season, and one has already made another coaching change.

Only Columbus and Tampa Bay were open to new possibilities.

And both decided Boucher was the answer to their futures.

"I would have turned down any NHL job if I didn't feel that it was the right place, the right moment, the right people. I've been that way my whole life. I refused six times to be a head coach in juniors before I said yes," Boucher said. "It's never been about chasing a dream for me; it's never been about chasing money or whatever else comes with it. If I feel I can be at my best and bring everything I can bring in a certain setting — and it's good for my family — then it's good. If not, I still would have been happy if I had never been an NHL coach."

So, Guy, have you ever turned down an NHL job?

"I have accepted one," Boucher said. "And now I'm here."

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Innovative coach Guy Boucher deserves considerable credit for success of Tampa Bay Lightning 01/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 11:23pm]

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