As he introduced Joel Bouchard as the next coach of the San Diego Gulls, Bob Murray said he had been planning this move for over a year.
The Anaheim Ducks executive vice president and general manager began scouring contracts of coaches around the AHL, the developmental league to the NHL, upwards of a year and half ago. The Ducks, he said, were looking to find a head coach for their top developmental affiliate with a track record of putting players in the NHL and who had the right contractual situation.
So while most were surprised as Kevin Dineen was abruptly let go last week after two winning seasons with the Gulls, Murray said it long in the making.
“I made the choice,” Murrary said, who noted Dineen did not opt out of his contract. “(We were) watching this over the last year or so, as we made the focus on development. We were aware (Bouchard’s) contract was expiring on June 30. We were very aware … of a couple of other guys (contracts), too.”
“Kevin did a good job with that hockey team, but this is more about Joel. This is more about where we’re going and the timeline. I was talking to Kevin and said, ‘I’m looking into a couple of things. … It’s what I feel we have to do as an organization.’”
It was not the winning, according to Murray. Dineen went 56-36-7-2 in two seasons as coach. Instead, Murray routinely referenced the Ducks wish to have a more streamlined process of players coming up from the Gulls and performing right away. It’s something the Ducks, a team without a winning season in the last three years, have struggled with.
Bouchard, who has spent the last three years leading the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in Laval, has more of a proven track record in this department. In the past two seasons, Laval rotated in 92 players on its roster as many players were called up to the NHL. For the Gulls, that number has been closer to 60.
“You never coach in the AHL like the NHL,” Bouchard said. “It’s a fun challenge (of development).”
Before his job with Laval, Bouchard spent seven seasons as the general manager of Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His record with Laval was 83-67-24, including winning the Canadian Division last year.
“(Bouchard’s) players are all over the league,” Murray said. “The players come from Laval and go to the (Canadiens) and contribute immediately.”
In the backdrop of all of this is the current status of Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins, who led the Gulls before heading north. Going into his third season, Eakins is 46-63-19 and has not made the playoffs. Is it possible Bouchard was hired to potentially take over for Eakins if things go poorly for the Ducks next year?
Bouchard was noncommittal on this aspect of the hiring. He has never held an NHL job, although he played 11 seasons in the league across eight organizations.
“My aspiration is to be the best Joel Bouchard I can be,” the new hire said when asked about his own career. “I’m excited to get down to San Diego and meet the players.”