TAMPA — When new Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman outlined the main criteria he had for the ideal coach, he didn't include NHL experience as a must.
"I'm looking for a strong leader," he said recently, "a guy who has been a head coach who has had success at some levels."
Yzerman seemingly has found that guy.
Guy Boucher, 38, who spent last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, the Canadiens' top minor-league affiliate, is expected to be named the Lightning's coach, according to multiple reports. Media reports say he turned down the coaching job in Columbus on Monday to accept a four-year deal with the Lightning.
This would be Boucher's first NHL job, once he and the team iron out the final details. He would also be the youngest head coach in the league.
The Lightning had no comment Tuesday.
Outside the Lightning, Yzerman's decision to eschew the safety of going with an NHL graybeard to help him revive the franchise was trumpeted.
"As a young GM, it's always tempting to go get a veteran coach," said former Lightning coach Jacques Demers, who was a television analyst for the Canadiens and is well aware of Boucher's abilities after seeing the coach's players excel with the parent club this season. "The move Steve Yzerman has made will change that franchise around in a huge, huge positive way. … He's just a perfect fit. … This is a match made in heaven."
Boucher's resume is impressive. He was head coach of Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 2006-09, and in his final year, the team had a franchise-best 54 wins (112 points), a marked improvement from the year before, when it mustered just 14 (33 points). He received the Paul Dumont Trophy as the league's Personality of the Year, an award that can be won by anyone connected to the league, including players and staff.
This season, despite a steady stream of key players getting the call to join Montreal, his Bulldogs won 52 regular-season games, claimed their division and advanced to the Calder Cup Western Conference final, where it lost to Texas. The team broke 31 franchise records, and Boucher was named AHL coach of the year.
"He is a very methodical teacher, hard-nosed, fair and a good communicator," Demers said. "When I was doing the (Canadiens) games on TV, I ran into a lot of the players who were coached by Boucher in Hamilton that were brought up, (defenseman) P.K. Subban and (forwards) Mathieu Darche (a former Lightning player), (Max) Pacioretty, (Ben) Maxwell, and they had nothing but great, great things to say about this young coach."
Players do seem to love Boucher's unorthodox offensive style, which demands constant attacking, even to the point of having the defensemen lead the charge into the opponent's zone at any given time.
Hamilton scored 271 goals in 80 games, third in the AHL. It allowed 182 goals, the stingiest in the AHL.
So, it's little wonder that Pat Quinn had Boucher work with the offense (and the power play) when he had the coach on his Team Canada staff for the 2008 under-18 world championship in Russia and the 2009 under-20 world junior championship in Ottawa. Canada won the gold medal at both.
"What I was impressed with was not only his knowledge, he has a good, strong, understanding of the game, the technical side of it, but more importantly he has a teaching background and can communicate with people," said Quinn, the Oilers' coach.
For the 2008 championship Quinn didn't pick his staff; the assistants were appointed. A year later, he had a choice, and he wanted Boucher.
"I actually advised Edmonton that they should look at this young man, but Montreal beat us to the punch and signed him to Hamilton," he said.
"He has experience. He knows what winning's about. He's got all the tools that good coaches have, and he knows how to use them. So (age) 38 doesn't mean a darn thing."