Capitals Need Right Connection with New Coach – Is Jon Cooper the Right Man for the Job?

(Photo: John Wright)

“If I have to teach them how to be tough, then I don’t know quite how to do that,” Bruce Boudreau told reporters following a 5 to 1 loss in Buffalo. Two days later, Boudreau was fired as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, a position that he held for four-plus seasons.

“The players were no longer responding to Bruce,” Caps General Manager George McPhee told reporters following the firing. “When the players aren’t responding you have to make a change.”

In the games leading up to the firing, it was obvious to everyone that the players were no longer connecting with their coach, a signal for failure. But just how bad had it gotten?

Earlier in the month, the Caps found themselves in a do-or-die situation against the Anaheim Ducks on home ice in DC. There was a minute left in the game and the Ducks led by a goal. The goalie was pulled and six attackers were on the ice…but none of them were named Ovechkin. Following Boudreau’s decision to bench Ovechkin in this must score situation, cameras caught Ovechkin muttering “fat f**k” under his breath after talking to his coach.

Boudreau’s decision to bench Ovechkin paid off this time and the Caps managed to win the game in overtime, but it proved to be costly in the long run. Ovechkin lost trust and faith in his coach and Boudreau lost control of his most important player and his team’s captain. The end result as stated above, was the firing of Boudreau.

To fix this lack of response and connection, Dale Hunter was hired.

It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, the entire Capitals team was buying into Hunter’s system, something they failed to ever do with Boudreau following his shift to a more defensive style of play. In return, they were having very positive results.

Ultimately, the Capitals fell short under Hunter’s system, but it was not a total failure when looking at the bigger picture. Due to the success they had when following Hunter’s system, the Caps were able to realize just how well things can work out when everyone buys into the system.

There’s only one problem though. Following their elimination, Dale Hunter resigned, putting the Caps back in the market for a new bench boss not even a year after hiring Hunter.

So where do the Caps go from here?

To me, there’s really only one logical path to take: hire Jon Cooper.

So who is this Jon Cooper guy? Well, he’s probably currently the hottest NHL coaching prospect on the market.

Everywhere that he has gone, Cooper has won. First, Cooper won coach of the year twice and won back-to-back championships in the NAHL with the St. Louis Bandits. Following this, Cooper was promoted to GM/Coach of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers were he turned a last place team into a first place team in his first season and then turned them into a championship winning team in his second season. In both of these two seasons in the USHL, Cooper won GM of the year and also won coach of the year the same season that he won the championship. Following these two years, Cooper would move onto the AHL to coach the Norfolk Admirals. Here he would turn a non-playoff team into one of the best teams the AHL has ever seen, all in just two seasons. Most recently this past season, Cooper lead the Admirals on a 28 game winning streak, the longest ever in the history of North American professional hockey. Oh, and he won a Calder Cup and coach of the year in the AHL. No big deal or anything.

In addition to Cooper’s great history of winning, Cooper also has a great reputation of being able to connect well with his players, a characteristic that is especially important for the Capitals if they want to have continued success.

Prior to becoming a hockey coach, Cooper was a lawyer, a career that many, including himself, believe helped him to become a better communicator and a better hockey coach.

In a feature that ran on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s website, Cooper was quoted as saying, “In hockey, you have to be able to convince your players to buy into your system. I find the communication aspect to be very similar to how I’d have to convince a jury to take my client’s side in a trial.”

“He’s a great communicator. He was a lawyer in the past and you obviously have to communicate pretty well to be a lawyer. It definitely shines through in his coaching style,” said Admirals defenseman Mark Barberio in the same feature.

The compliments don’t end here.

“You’re not dealing with kids here. You have guys on the team with wives, guys who have been playing the game for a long time. That can be hard to deal with. He’s done a great job of connecting with the players to help them be successful,” Admirals captain Mike Angelidis told PilotOnline.com.

So is a strong and positive connection between the coach and players what is most important to the Capitals in their search for a new coach? According to Mike Knuble in an interview he recently had with Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, a solid connection is a must:

“The next coach will be able to handle the stars. He’ll deal with Alex, keep him going in the right direction, but at the same time make sure that he has a great relationship with him,” Knuble said. “I think the young guys are getting older and they can be dealt with without kid gloves and I think that was established this year. You can ruffle some of the guy’s feathers, say things that they might not want to hear. They’re not kids anymore.”

It’s clear that Boudreau wasn’t a bad coach. He had all of the accolades to prove he was one of the best in the business. However, one thing he didn’t have (or really just one thing that he lost) was a connection with the players. However, a connection with the players, at least in terms of getting the team to buy into his system, was one thing that Hunter did have, and it proved to be positive.

Like Boudreau, Cooper has all of the accolades. Further, like Hunter, Cooper has the potential to connect well with the players to get them to buy into the system, and possibly even connect better the players than anyone ever has before.

So it looks like the next step is hiring Cooper, and according to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times, Cooper isn’t opposed to pursuing this idea:

“I’ve put myself in a position that if I could have an opportunity to go to an NHL team that was the right fit for me and for management, I’d be crazy not to look at that.”

Other teams such as the Edmonton Oilers have been thrown around as other possible landing places for Cooper, but something tells me Washington might be the best fit.

Unfortunately though, I wouldn’t expect to hear too much about hiring a coach anytime soon, especially if it’s Cooper. McPhee has made it known that he’s in no rush to find a new coach. Further, I expect most of McPhee’s current focus to be on the NHL draft that is scheduled for later this week. Finally, if Cooper is the Caps’ man, then I would expect McPhee to give him a bit of time to relax and enjoy his Calder Cup victory before he starts thinking about where his coaching career will take him next.

The Capitals need a new coach that will connect well with the players. Could Jon Cooper be that guy?

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Posted on June 20, 2012, in Banter from the Nosebleeds and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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