In 2011, a young coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning shocked the NHL by implementing an interesting system of hockey that brought his team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Since that year, Guy Boucher has kind of dropped off the radar, producing some sub-par results that ultimately got him relieved of his NHL duties in 2013. Regardless, Boucher was fairly intriguing in Tampa, and as the Philadelphia Flyers continue their search for a new head coach, could the his style be what the Flyers need to succeed?
Age: 43 (August 31, 1971)
Playing Career: 1 season in France, all the way back in 1996.
Three total seasons as head coach of the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs from 2006-09: 105-87-16 (W-L-OTL) in the regular season; league champions in 2009.
One seasons as head coach of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2008-10:52-17-11 in the regular season; lost in round 3 of Calder Cup playoffs.
Three seasons (two total, one partial) as head coach of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning: 97-78-20 (W-L-OTL) in the regular season; lost in round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010-2011 rookie campaign.
Two seasons (one partial) with SC-Bern. 34-17-5 (W-L-OTL) in the regular season; lost in semifinals in 2014-2015.
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This profile is part of our "So You Want To Coach The Flyera" series, where we'll look at a bunch of different candidates for the Flyers head coaching gig. Ron Hextall says there will "be a hell of a lot" of guys considered for this job this offseason, so we're going to profile a hell of a lot of people. Let's have some fun.
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What has he accomplished as a coach?
Guy Boucher's coaching career is a pretty interesting story.
He was praised for his system and coaching philosophy while in the QMJHL and AHL, and used that to parlay himself into a head coaching position at the NHL level. In his rookie season (equipped with garbage goaltending and a fairly beat up Tampa Bay defense) he was able to take the Lightning all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, eventually losing to the Boston Bruins.
That season was pretty remarkable to watch. To have a rookie coach get his players to buy into his system well enough to get them close to sniffing a Stanley Cup Final appearance is pretty damn impressive.
Boucher has also had some successes in the past serving as an assistant coach to Canada's U18 and U20 teams, but since that one season in Tampa Bay, he's been largely unsuccessful or uhh ... not in the NHL.
Tampa missed the playoffs the next year, and the following season, Boucher was sent packing. Since then, he's been off in Switzerland coaching SC Bern, where there has been some success in a short period of time.
Why is he available to be hired?
Well, see above. There don't seem to be any indications that Boucher is looking for another head coaching gig in the NHL, but you have to imagine that he would certainly answer if the Flyers called.
Then again, he could totally be happy to remain in Switzerland, but having spent his entire coaching career in North America, I don't think that's too likely a scenario.
What do we know about him tactically as a coach?
Flyers fans should know this well. Boucher was infamous for deploying a 1-3-1 scheme (a modified "trap") that produced some pretty boring hockey. The general gist of the system was to force the opposing team to try and enter the offensive zone along the boards (or dump the puck in), where either a forward or defenseman would be waiting to take a risky move to try and force the puck off the opponent's stick. Rather than getting into a full discussion here, this video provides an excellent explanation.
Now, that system did produce some interesting counter moves by opponents. This is perhaps best displayed in this super exciting game against the Flyers back in 2011:
Boucher was also known for having his players go in hard on the puck, often leaving the team open to risk if they didn't emerge victorious in battles. His system pretty much relied on having a stock players that would aggressively pursue the puck on the forecheck, along with enough defensively-minded forwards who could cover for potential lapses.
How does he fit with the Flyers' roster, both now and in the future?
One thing that was very interesting about Boucher's time in Tampa Bay is that he was able to deliver results despite having some pretty bad defensemen. Here's Eyes on The Prize's Andrew Berkshire on Boucher's dismissal:
Boucher completely turned around the Lightning's fortunes, creating a dominant possession team that finished third in the league Fenwick while the score was close, behind only Chicago and San Jose. Boucher's Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals and came within a game of a Cup Final appearance.
It didn't last into the next season, but the initial impact of Boucher was pretty incredible, especially considering the weak defense he was given.
And here's our own Travis Hughes after that infamous Flyers-Lightning game from 2011:
Hm, Boucher doesn't always use the trap. But what better time to implement a defensive system that relies more on positioning and less on actual skill than when you're missing two of your top defensive talents?
So the point here is that Boucher was able to put together a solid possession team despite having a sub-par defense. Given the blue line situation in Philadelphia, I wouldn't mind seeing exactly what Travis described above.
For a more in depth look at what Boucher's coaching style necessitates, take a look here. I won't copy and paste it all, but basically Cam Charron asked Kyle Alexander of Raw Charge what kind of personnel are key to getting the most out of Boucher's coaching style. The two key components described by Kyle are forward depth to log tough minutes, and mobile defensemen to take care of any defensive lapses.
Now on the forward depth front, I think the Flyers are in a decent enough situation right now -- it's entirely possible to arrange a line of guys to take the tough minutes so that Giroux and company can break out. As for the mobile defensemen thing ... yeah. However, with the stock of defensemen in the Flyers' system, you have to think that will change. Hopefully soon.
One of the more interesting things I've seen when researching Boucher is that he seems to be a "great motivator" who urges skaters to play to their strengths. Given the rift between the coaching staff and the players this year, I wouldn't mind seeing some of that. Furthermore, it could probably help some of the younger guys if and when they make the jump.
Hell, Boucher seemed to do a good enough job encouraging Sean Couturier to be more defensively-minded, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for the Flyers.
What are the key reservations here?
As intriguing as Boucher's first season in Tampa was, he was unable to keep up that same success. Now, a lot of that may have been due to his being told to change his system. Here's Cam Charron on what happened after that infamous Flyers game:
Well, according to Jeff Marek, Steve Yzerman was so angry that the Lightning's system was embarrassed on national television and went to the Flyers management group to apologize. The room began to tune out Boucher.
Regardless of the whole "losing the room" narrative, I think this raises an important point of Boucher's ability to adapt. Imagine a scenario in which Boucher is brought in, tries to implement his system, but personnel makes it completely ineffective. Will he be able to adapt his coaching style to the Flyers roster?
I don't really think that is too much of a worry, to be honest. By all indications, his current job coaching in Europe should be a decent enough indication of his willingness to adapt. Regardless, it remains a concern, albeit a small one.
The other issue is that Boucher has been out of the NHL for two full seasons now, and has had to necessarily adapt his game to fit the European ice. But it's not like coaches who have had a season off can't come back and deliver results (see: Peter Laviolette).
Is he someone that is likely to be high on the Flyers' wish list?
Honestly, I doubt it. I really do wish that Boucher still had a job in the NHL. He was interesting, if nothing else (guy looks like a damn Bond villain). However, with the high number of quality coaching candidates on the market, I suspect Ron Hextall might not even put Boucher into consideration.
Maybe he should, though, because there's a possibility that Boucher could right the ship.