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RULE THE ROOST

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The facts: Guy Boucher was not successful in Bern; he even got fired. Lars Leuenberger took over and led the SC Bern to the NLA championship with an astonishing  playoff run .

Photo  Thomas Roost

A few weeks later, Guy Boucher got hired as the new head coach for NHL’s Ottawa Senators. Lars Leuenberger, on the contrary, did not receive a coaching job in Switzerland or in another minor-league. Why’s that? Is it illogical? Unfair? All because of stupid decision-makers?

Not so fast… of course, from this point onward, I will leave the facts and start speculating and will also add some personal opinion to this content.

When we dig a bit deeper, we find some logic behind the most recent changes in the career paths of Guy Boucher and Lars Leuenberger. Very few hockey people know more about hockey-strategies, tactics, and technical details than Guy Boucher. He is well known for this, even in North America and in the inner circle of NHL decision-makers. Success or ill success in Switzerland means close to nothing in the overly proud NHL-discussions. They might say things like “the players probably were too stupid to understand his clever strategies.”

Guy Boucher, the (overly) deep thinker about hockey systems and strategies implemented some sort of a 1-3-1 trap with the Tampa Bay Lightning when he last coached in the NHL. This trap-system might be boring to watch but, digging a bit deeper, I found out that, with this “boring defensive Boucher system,” the Lightning finished 7th and 9th in goal-scoring in the two seasons he coached them! I agree that this passive hockey-style is frustrating for opponents and fans alike, but as I showed before, the Lightning scored a lot of goals with this style! I easily can imagine that Guy Boucher wanted to play with a similar system in Bern– but we all know it didn’t work out. So, the result in Bern was a catastrophe. A passive, boring system without a lot of goals scored and the overall game results were quite below expectations.

Why did this system not work out in Bern but did so with the Lightning? With this system, you create a lot of turnovers for your team and if you then manage to execute precise and high-speed transition plays out of these turnovers, you produce a lot of scoring opportunities. But for this high-speed and precise transition, you need highly skilled players. In Tampa, he had Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, and Vinnie Lecavalier in his prime – all of them highly skilled players. These guys benefited from the system, which is based on a big number of turnovers and then executed high-speed, high-precision creative plays just split-seconds after gaining puck-possession.

Boucher didn’t have these players in Bern. Their best players don’t have the skill-level of Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier; their plays were not quick and precise enough to benefit this system. For not so skilled teams, such a system is not really fun to watch from the outside, but it’s effective for keeping games close when playing against better teams. Hence, lesser skilled teams stay competitive but lose attractiveness. But in Bern, they have other expectations than just stay in the game…

I suppose that Boucher can be successful in Ottawa with his ideas because he will find a better overall skill-level than in Bern. There he has at least a handful of really talented players with Hoffman, Brassard, Turris, Stone, and Erik Karlsson. They are not amongst the most skilled teams in the NHL but still…

So what about Lars Leuenberger? I’ve just been writing about Guy Boucher so far... I’m 100 percent sure that Lars Leuenberger learned a lot from Guy Boucher who has a brilliant hockey-brain but maybe needs to work a bit with his personal aura.

He gives the impression of a “no-nonsense coach” and should try to be a bit more relaxed sometimes. Maybe put on a smile and show some self-irony here and there. He would win a lot in terms of a positive radiance. But because of his brilliant hockey-brain, there is some logic behind his head-coaching job in the NHL.

Once again, I’m talking about Guy Boucher and not about Lars Leuenberger… hmmm… As I told you before: In my eyes, Lars Leuenberger certainly benefited from Guy Boucher and from the cooperation with motivational “guru” Saul Miller. He is now a much better coach than he was just twelve months ago; I’m pretty sure about this. I also notice quite a steep learning curve in his appearance. From a young “cry-baby” with a mind full of conspiracy theories (“The referees always discriminate against us young coaches compared to big name coaches”) to a clever, analytical, fair and realistic approach, which he showed in interviews later in the playoffs.

This transition really impressed me. How good is Lars Leuenberger? He is definitely not as bad as many might have thought after Bern named him the head coach and as his first couple of weeks might have indicated. On the other hand, he is also not the super-hero and “miracle man” as some media outlets presented him after winning the championship. In my eyes, he is still a young, rather inexperienced but very talented coach with an obviously good ability to learn. So it would be stupid to offer him “star-level-contracts” right now. But it’s also not smart not to give him the opportunity to be a head coach in the National League.

Why does he still not have a job as a head coach? Two reasons: Decision makers are still not too convinced about his abilities. The somewhat bitter comments towards the SCB at the end of the season might have contributed to this. Second reason: He might have been a bit too picky so far and still seems to prefer a job in his home-area and with the opportunity to live a not too complicated family life. So, there is some logic behind Lars Leuenberger’s unemployment. Maybe he is speculating for a future job in Langnau, Biel, or Fribourg.

Coming back to Guy Boucher: I still believe that Guy Boucher left his trademark. We do need influences and knowledge from highly respected educators from world-class hockey countries like Canada, Sweden, and Finland. But, on the other hand, we could definitely live with more Swiss head-coaches. World-class educators should be considered to support the development of our very young hockey talents. This means we need world-class hockey-educators who don’t need the spotlight of a head coaching job… easier said than done, I know ;-)

Coming to an end and back to strategy and systems: I desperately hope that hockey-brains such as Guy Boucher or trendy analytic guys will never find the ultimate system, the ultimate way to play successful hockey… it would be the end of our beloved game. The hockey game should always be like this: a controlled chaos sometimes followed by precision (like a Swiss watch) just split seconds later. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Thomas Roost (@thomasroost) was born in 1960 and lives in Horgen, Zurich. Since 1995 he has been working as NHL-scout for Central-Scouting Europe, since 2010 also as scout for EHC Biel in the National League A.

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