Philadelphia, PA – The Washington Capitals and Carolina 12 campaign, but less than two months into the season the franchises find themselves in similar situations.
Both the Caps and Hurricanes fired their head coaches on Monday morning, making moves that have altered the Southeast Division landscape. The Capitals' firing of Bruce Boudreau was the more surprising decision, considering he led Washington to first-place finishes in each of the past four years. He was also the fastest head coach to reach 200 wins in modern NHL history, posting a record of 201-88-40 with the Caps.
Maurice, meanwhile, had failed to get Carolina to the postseason in each of the last two seasons and his Hurricanes were just 8-13-4 this year to put them at the bottom of the Southeast.
Boudreau's dismissal is a tale of lofty expectations that went unfulfilled as he was never able to get the Caps to translate their regular-season dominance into postseason success. The immensely talented club never advanced past the second round of the playoffs under Boudreau, posting a 17-20 mark in the postseason over the last four years.
Now, former Capitals star Dale Hunter will be tasked with the difficult job of taking Washington to the next level. Hunter, who is one of just four players to have his number retired by the Capitals, has never coached at the NHL level, but was in his 11th season as the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights.
Perhaps as a former NHL star himself, Hunter will have more success in dealing with Washington's egos than Boudreau.
Boudreau was known as a players' coach, but he tried to get tough with the Caps this season, stressing accountability for all of his players, including stars like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. The new strategy seemed to work at first when Washington won its first seven games of this season, but the Caps have posted a 5-9-1 mark since that excellent start.
One sign that Boudreau was desperate to change the culture in Washington came with the controversial benching of star winger Alex Ovechkin at the end of a game against Anaheim on Nov. 1. With the Capitals down by a goal in the closing minutes, Boudreau opted to sit possibly the most explosive offensive player in the world and the strategy worked as Washington rallied for the tying goal in regulation and then beat the Ducks in OT.
At the time, it seemed that Boudreau found a dramatic way to send an important message to his club, one that said no individual player is bigger than the team. In the end, however, Ovechkin and the Caps simply tuned out Boudreau and ultimately sealed their coach's fate.
Hunter's biggest task is to get the Capitals to play a complete game. When Boudreau inherited the Washington job during the 2007-08 season, the team was talented on offense but couldn't stop the opposition from scoring. The fact that Washington still has those same problems today tells you everything need to know about why Boudreau was canned.
Meanwhile, Maurice's second stint in Carolina came to an end simply because his club has failed to even be competitive this season. The Hurricanes have a very young team that wasn't picked by many folks to make the playoffs this year, but Carolina failed to eclipse even the lowest of expectations for its 2011-12 season.
By firing Maurice for a second time, Carolina parts with a significant portion of its history. Maurice was the first head coach of the Hurricanes after the team moved from Hartford for the 1997-98 season, having taken charge of the Whalers in November 1995 at the age of 28.
Maurice was fired 30 games into the 2003-04 season, then coached for two seasons with the Maple Leafs before returning to the Hurricanes in December 2008 when Peter Laviolette was fired. Laviolette, of course, led the Hartford/Carolina franchise to its only Stanley Cup title in the spring of 2006.
Like Boudreau, Maurice will be replaced by a former NHL star in Kirk Muller, who amassed 357 goals over nearly two decades in the league. Muller landed his first professional head coaching job just a few months ago when he took over as the bench boss for Milwaukee of the AHL.
Hunter has the tougher task for now because Washington is still expected to be a playoff team and the firing of Boudreau did nothing to make fans in D.C. less hungry for the franchise's first Stanley Cup title.
In Raleigh, however, Muller simply has to get the young Hurricanes to show signs of improvement. Any steps in the right direction will be appreciated by Carolina's fan base as well as the front office.
As for Boudreau and Maurice, neither man should have to worry about finding employment in the near future. Monday's events proved once again how tenuous a hold most NHL head coaches have on their jobs and it won't be long until the ex-coaches are in line for new posts.