Randy Carlyle didn’t know it, but when he told reporters the Ducks’ 4-1 victory over Montreal Wednesday might be "a steppingstone for us in the right direction," he was already their former coach, no longer a part of "us" or the direction they’ll take.
Carlyle was fired and replaced by former Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau about 40 minutes after the Ducks ended a seven-game losing streak and won for only the third time in 19 games. Carlyle’s voice had become too familiar, his barked threats empty and his motivational tactics flat. Boudreau was fired by the Capitals on Monday for similar reasons, to a degree an occupational hazard.
Carlyle, hired in 2005, guided a powerful team to the Stanley Cup in 2007 but the Ducks’ talent level has plummeted and they haven’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs since. It’s worth noting that of the last 10 Cup-winning coaches, only one — a guy by the name of Scotty Bowman — was with that team more than four seasons when he won.
Players tune coaches out after a while. Carlyle, gruff and old-school and able to get a lot out of not much raw material for a while, ultimately was tuned out too.
General Manager Bob Murray resisted firing Carlyle for as long as possible — maybe too long, though the timing enabled Murray to hire the sometimes profane but never boring Boudreau, who is scheduled to run his first practice Thursdays at Anaheim Ice.
Murray and Carlyle are close, and Murray last summer gave him an extension through 2013-14, but Murray had to be feeling pressure to dismiss Carlyle or lose his own job. Club owners Henry and Susan Samueli aren’t meddlesome but they aren’t stupid. The team was going nowhere with Carlyle behind the bench.
The Ducks are 10 points behind the eighth-seeded Kings, a huge gap even for a team known for second-half surges. They’re too thin to be a Stanley Cup contender but they were fourth in the West last season with much the same group and should be better than 29th.
Other general managers have been calling Murray and offering to “help” by taking underachieving forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan off his hands. Murray has listened, as he should, while hoping teams force each other to up the ante.
In the meantime, Getzlaf has shown signs of life — he scored a goal Wednesday for the first time in 14 games and has points in seven straight games — so Murray might decide the coaching change was enough of a jolt. For now, anyway.
The transition from Carlyle to Boudreau can be summed up as going from Grumpy to Gabby, from the crotchety Carlyle to the personable Boudreau, the rumpled breakout star of last season’s HBO 24/7 series.
Formerly a coach in the Kings’ minor-league system, Boudreau earned a cult following for his bit part in the iconic movie "Slap Shot." He’s No. 7 on the Hyannisport Presidents in a couple of scenes, and the apartment he lived in while playing for the Johnstown Jets — the model for the movie’s Charlestown Chiefs — was used as Coach Reggie Dunlop’s apartment.
He coached in the minor leagues for 15 seasons before he arrived in Washington and had immediate success, winning the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 2007-08. He won four straight Southeast division titles and the Presidents’ Trophy for the best overall record in 2009-10. He also won 200 games faster than any other modern NHL coach.
But there’s also that matter of not getting past the second round of the playoffs four times with a high-payroll team and his rocky relationship with superstar Alexander Ovechkin, whose production declined as Boudreau boomeranged from a run-and-gun style to defensive diligence. Ovechkin won that battle, not surprisingly. Boudreau shouldn’t have to fight that battle in Anaheim with low-key stars Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry.
Carlyle exited with a win, appropriate for the coach who won California’s first — and only — Stanley Cup title. It might be the steppingstone he hoped for, but it’s up to Boudreau to guide them toward the success that Carlyle could no longer achieve.
Ducks win, then fire Carlyle.
NBA can learn some things from the NHL.
Video: Ducks discuss their win over Canadiens.
Photo: Randy Carlyle. Credit: Chris Carlson / Associated Press