Guy Boucher fired: Who's really to blame in Tampa Bay?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

No one on the outside knows the full story, but there are plenty of theories to peg what went wrong in Tampa Bay.

When the Tampa Bay Lightning announced the firing of head coach Guy Boucher on the morning of a game day with just 17 games left in the season, there was plenty of shock to go around.

Soon after came the theories.

Granted, no one on the outside can truly know what's going on "in the room," but that didn't stop pundits from speculating on why the change was made. As always, the question is: Was it the coach ... or the roster?

Boucher was hailed as a tactical genius when he led the underdog Lightning to the conference finals in his first year. But last year was a disappointing follow-up, and this year has not erased last year's missed expectations.

But Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman clearly thought something was amiss, and he didn't find that something on the roster he compiled for Boucher. From Yzerman's press conference Sunday:

"Watching the entire situation after [the game Saturday]," Yzerman said, "it just felt that this needs to be addressed immediately.

"I noticed a difference in our play and a difference in the attitude. Just in observation of the players, it felt like the situation was worsening, and quickly worsening, and something needed to be done immediately."

TSN pundits Bob McKenzie and Ray Ferraro would back up that impression about Boucher "losing the room":

Not everyone on the outside buys that as the main culprit, however.

Sport Illustrated's Allan Muir puts the blame on the cards Yzerman dealt Boucher:

[Yzerman] left Boucher with no true No. 1 stopper, and forced him to play a game of "Guess the Hot Hand" with Lindback and aging veteran Mathieu Garon as his choices.

Is anyone surprised how that worked out? The Bolts rank 24th in goals-against (3.03) and 25th in five-on-five goals-against. That’s not good enough, especially measured up against the fact that they rank 21st in shots allowed. That’s a gap that accurately reflects too many games given away on soft goals.

The Lightning also had injury problems this year, forcing the team to rely heavily on minor leaguers to fill roles they weren’t quite ready to assume.

To Muir's point, just as goaltending failed the Lightning in 2011-12, it has been below average this year. Mathieu Garon has just a .904 save percentage (.911 at even strength), while Yzerman's summer acquisition Anders Lindback is even worse at .903 and .908, respectively.

At SB Nation's Lightning site Raw Charge, Cassie McClellan spreads the blame around:

A big reason why there were so many odd-man rushes against the Lightning were because at any given time, you had some veterans playing the game the way they've always played it, instead of playing it Boucher's way.

Now, you can blame coaching for that, if you'd like, but the fact of the matter is that the younger guys did what they were told and some of the older guys did not. I think it's more about not wanting to (or, perhaps, being able to) change their game than coaching.

And what is it that the Lightning need to sort out this mess? McKenzie, well connected to prevailing thought around the league, added this on Twitter:

Everyone I've spoken to this morning says Tampa situation cries out for an experienced hand. New guy has to get immediate buy-in from vets.

To McKenzie and others, that means Lindy Ruff, the former Sabres coach who is the only other head coach to be fired in this shortened NHL season.

But just because Ruff has been around the block, does that mean he'd be the cure? Matthew Coller at Hockey Prospectus took a look by the numbers:

Tampa Bay's biggest problem is pretty much the same as Buffalo's was when Ruff was fired: puck possession. The Lightning currently rank dead last in the NHL. When Ruff was let go, his team ranked 28th.

Can Ruff's system improve Tampa's brutal possession numbers? History says it's worth questioning. Since 2007-08, the Sabres only ranked in the top 10 once according to Behind the Net's Fenwick-close statistics.

No matter how good or bad the roster, if veterans truly are tuning out the coach, then it's time for a change. But whatever replacement Yzerman identifies -- whether it's Ruff or someone else -- he might quickly realize that the problem goes deeper than that, and lies in the composition of the roster he created.

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