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The three coaches that were fired this week all had a lot in common.
Yes, their teams were all playing pretty poorly overall, with the best record of the group by far being Bruce Boudreau's 12-9-1, but even that was lifted considerably by the team's 7-0 start.
But that's beside the point.
The real reason these coaches were fired — and perhaps the cause of the teams themselves performing so poorly — is that their star players were off to sluggish, puzzlingly poor starts. Much has obviously been made of the apparent rift between Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin and whatever beef was between them shows in Ovechkin's stat line of just eight goals and nine assists through 22 games with Boudreau calling the shots.
Alex Semin, meanwhile, was considerably deeper down the stat chart with just 10 points in 21 games, as well as a healthy scratch and $6.7 million cap hit to his name. The only reason anyone took the time to notice his game at all was to point out how terrible it had become.
And so Boudreau had to go. Whatever alchemy had won him 440 points in 329 games — an average of a little less than 110 points per 82 games season — and helped Ovechkin and Semin pile up a combined 300-plus goals and 600-plus points under him prior to this season, had escaped him, and he freely admitted it.
The Capitals now turn hopeful gazes to Dale Hunter, who himself has had a lot of success as a coach, though never with professionals. He certainly has a history of fostering top-end talent (Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, etc.), but the his success, and Washington's, will hinge on whether he can once again unlock high-level performances from struggling superstars.
The same problem was the case in Anaheim, where a troika of star players team were performing below their standard. And when your team is as top-heavy as the Ducks, that's going to pose a lot of problems.
Captain Ryan Getzlaf had been called out for not playing particularly well, Corey Perry wasn't exactly playing on anything like a Hart-winning level though he wasn't playing too badly either, and Bobby Ryan had just 12 points 24 games and was actively being shopped to anyone who had the cachet of picks and prospects and roster players (not to mention cap space and desire to make such a swap) needed to sidle up to the table.
Meanwhile, Jonas Hiller has looked more like Jonas Gustavsson in net, with an .899 save percentage and a 3.10 GAA.
Essentially, anything that could have gone wrong in Anaheim so far this season more or less has, which shouldn't be surprising considering the hot streak the Ducks (and Perry especially) went on at the end of last year. Are they as bad as all this? Has Carlyle lost his touch the way Boudreau says he did? Probably not, at least given the fact that the team has changed little since last year, when it won 99 points last year and averaged a little more than 98 in Carlyle's six full seasons behind the bench.
But again, if you can't get the big guys going, you can't get the rest of the team going. And that's when you have to go instead.
No one knows that better than Paul Maurice.
Eric Staal's struggles this season? Huge. Carolina's ability to win as a result? Nonexistent. It's one thing for the Hurricanes to be built in such a way that they're going to give up a lot of goals no matter how well Cam Ward plays (and for the record, that hasn't been very well this season either), but if your highly-paid offensive weapon isn't going either, well, it's going to add up to about eight wins in 25 games and a trip to the unemployment line.
Heck, the same was even true in St. Louis, though the Blues don't exactly have the marquee talent of any of the other fired coaches' teams. TJ Oshie had just eight points in Davis Payne's 13 games there. David Backes had seven. Patrik Berglund had four. Chris Stewart had three. In the 11 games since, they've picked up eight, nine, four and four, respectively. That's improvement, even if it's incremental.
The NHL is now structured in such a way that you really need a few superstars to survive, and your top-paid guys more or less have to play like it if you have designs on making the playoffs. There are exceptions here and there, of course; for the most part, a great player can't pull a bad team into the playoffs unless he's Chris Pronger.
But if your best players aren't working out as you'd hoped, it magically looks like the guy who's supposed to get the most out of those stars is doing a bad job, even if they might not be.
And since you can't fire the players, you fire the coach. It makes sense. Even if it's not necessarily fair.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on giving thanks: "Things I'm thankful for. 1-way contracts, yoga pants, the city of Las Vegas, press box hotdogs, twitter, DM'ing on twitter, and Tim Hortons."
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