Report: Maple Leafs believed to have reached out to Guy Boucher

When Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and assistant general manager Kyle Dubas had finished building their hockey analytics and research department this summer, those efforts were thoughtfully dubbed by Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce as an effort to construct ‘Los Alamos by the Lake’.

If you’re building a high tech testing facility on the lakefront equivalent of a dusty mesa, you best be in the market for a suitable Bond villain. And as it turns out the Maple Leafs might be, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger:

Guy Boucher is a name we haven’t heard in a while. Does he make sense for the Maple Leafs?

Boucher has been out of the league since he was fired by the Tampa Bay Lightning late in the 2011-12 season. Hailed as a visionary early on in his Lightning tenure, Boucher’s vaunted 1-3-1 system fell out of favour following a controversial game against the Philadelphia Flyers, and his Lightning teams were betrayed by weak goaltending. 

Still his performance was solid enough that it earned the praise of a certain blogger who now happens to be employed by the Maple Leafs in the hockey operations department. From an old Cam Charron post:

The 1-3-1 wasn’t a boring, Jacques Lemaire-esque defensive system. The 1-3-1 was a counter attack formation, the middle guy not there to shadow the puck carrier but to prevent East-West movement. If you made a mistake carrying the puck, the high forward was quick on the puck to create a rush. Skaters were allowed to skate. The point of the system was to minimize the amount of times the opponent got through the neutral zone with control.

Sure, it’s not free-wheeling hockey, but if you don’t want a coach and want to leave everything up to the talent on the ice, you’re probably going to lose hockey games…

I like Boucher not necessarily because he had a good counter-attacking system, but mostly because he was able to get his players to stick to that system. If he ends up with an NHL team again, I don’t think we’ll see as extreme of a 1-3-1 or a repeat of the ‘stall tactic’ on national TV again, but Boucher has the right idea trying to corner puck carriers to the boards. The 1-3-1 is a means to an end.

One additional thing worth noting about Boucher and the 1-3-1 formation, is that it really relies on the presence of mobile defenseman. In Hamilton, Boucher’s system took full advantage of the abilities of defenders like P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber and Andre Benoit. During his tenure with the Lightning, Boucher’s defense corps was composed of players like Pavel Kubina, Eric Brewer, Mike Lundin, Victor Hedman, Matthias Ohlund and Brett Clark. Not exactly a group of speedsters…

In contrast the Maple Leafs’ current defensive group – and Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner in particular – would seem to be very well suited to the old 1-3-1 system. And in Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, Boucher would have a much better tandem than he had to rely on in Tampa Bay.

It’ll be interesting to find out whether or not Boucher is a serious coaching candidate for the Maple Leafs. On the surface, at least, he seems like he could be an intriguing fit. 

And we know he has at least one fan in the Hockey Ops. Department…