Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Out of blue, Bolts zap coach

Boucher looking for job, GM Yzerman looking around for replacement

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The shine can come off a guy's star in a hurry in the National Hockey League. As evidence, meet Guy Boucher, now the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and now unemployed.

From genius to gonzo in less than two years.

The Lightning arrived in Winnipeg after Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, a game in which they trailed four-zip before an attempted rally, then announced Sunday that Boucher, who had taken them to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, had been fired.

Assistants Dan Lacroix, Martin Raymond and Steve Thomas worked the bench against the Jets Sunday, and GM Steve Yzerman indicated it won't be long before he announces his new guy.

"I'm hopeful that I can get something in place as quickly as possible," Yzerman said Sunday afternoon, addressing news media at the Fairmont Hotel.

"I'm not looking to drag things out. I have an idea for what I want to do and a plan for what I want to do, and I'm trying to get that accomplished as soon as possible. I'm going to hire and name a head coach for the years to come."

Longtime Buffalo Sabres boss Lindy Ruff and Jon Cooper, who coaches the Lightning's AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch, appear to be the leading candidates, but other names tossed out include Jacques Martin, the former Senators boss, and Mike Haviland, an associate coach with the Norfolk Admirals.

Yzerman said the change wasn't made solely with an eye on this year's playoffs, but because he saw some signs recently that indicated Boucher's message was falling on deaf ears.

"I'm not satisfied with the direction our hockey club is going," he said. "This isn't a reaction, a desperate act to try and make the playoffs, although that is still our hope regardless of where we sit in the standings.

"It is done not only with the short term, but more importantly, the long term of our organization (in mind) of where we're going and where we want to get to.

"I've noticed a difference in our play and a difference in the attitude as an observation of our players and felt that the situation is worsening, and quickly worsening, and something needed to be done immediately."

Boucher was seen as a breath of fresh air during his first couple of years in Tampa.

He challenged his players to read and open their eyes more to gain a different perspective.

As Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos said Sunday, Boucher took the time to get to know each player individually.

Ultimately, all of that couldn't overcome a rash of injuries this season and the huge question mark that remains the Lightning's goaltending situation.

"Obviously you don't want to see anything like that happen.

"You don't want to see anyone lose their job, especially someone that has been part of this organization for a long time and who has worked extremely hard," Stamkos said.

"He's probably the hardest-working coach I've ever had with regards to how much he puts into preparation trying to help the guys get ready for games.

"A couple of years ago, we had that great run and there was the expectation we were set after that.

"We probably wouldn't have expected to go that far before the season, so when you go on a run like that the next year, the bar has been set and obviously our team, not just our coaching staff, didn't live up to those.

"It's another year of struggling right now and something had to be done. That's just the nature of the game, the business side of it. It's tough.

"I wish Guy the best of luck. I have a lot of respect for him." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2013 C2

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