EXCLUSIVE: Boughner Talks Sharks’ Tenure, Controversial Firing, Coaching Kane
Bob Boughner bears no grudge against the San Jose Sharks.
Boughner, who became Sharks head coach in Dec. 2019, was let go under some controversy in Jul. 2022, mainly because of the timing of it.
The San Jose Sharks’ season had ended in April, but Boughner, assistant coaches John Madden and John MacLean, and video coach Dan Darrow had to watch many an NHL job go by until they were officially let go on Jul. 1, on the eve of the hiring of new GM Mike Grier.
“In our world, in our scope of job, you’d like to have that opportunity to be able to talk to other teams, and it was too late in the game for that,” Boughner told San Jose Hockey Now. “But at the end of the day, I hold no grudges.”
Boughner, however, was able to land a position on Derek Lalonde’s new Detroit Red Wings staff as associate coach. He returns to SAP Center tomorrow night, as the 7-5-4 Wings are in town to take on his old team.
Boughner spoke exclusively with SJHN, in his first interview about his time as San Jose Sharks bench boss. He was also an assistant coach under Peter DeBoer during the Sharks’ Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016.
Boughner shared his thoughts about how he and his staff were let go by the Sharks, what he’s proudest of during his tenure as Sharks head coach, what it was like to coach Evander Kane, the challenge of integrating so many young players into the San Jose line-up over the last three years, and if he still wants to be an NHL head coach.
This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.
Sheng Peng: Tell us about Detroit, it’s got to be a lot of fun to get your hands on a future star defenseman like Moritz Seider.
Bob Boughner: It’s been a great sort of reset for me. One of the things that did interest me is working with these up-and-coming players, obviously Mo Seider.
But it’s just an opportunity for me to be in a place where I’m close to my kids, close to my family and friends. And really work for a great organization. And for a good man.
Newsy, Derek Lalonde, Newsy is his nickname, he’s put a good staff together. It’s been a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. Learning from a guy that’s been part of two Stanley Cup staffs, that’s important.
SP: Let’s cut to the heart of it, the timing of when the San Jose Sharks let you and your staff go. The season ended in April, they didn’t officially let you go until July. What’s your take on that, and were you surprised when you were finally, officially let go?
BB: I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I think there was just so much [change] going on within the organization, the hunt for a new GM. Obviously, when a new GM comes in, I mean, things change. I was prepared for that.
But in our world, in our scope of job, you’d like to have that opportunity to be able to talk to other teams, and it was too late in the game for that.
But at the end of the day, I hold no grudges. I mean, San Jose has been a special place in my heart as an assistant coach, as a head coach, and it always will be.
It’s just unfortunate that everything was in that stage. But that’s the business we’re in. You understand that at the end of the day.
SP: Were you at least kept in the loop from April to July, when they were searching for a new GM?
BB: I was in conversations. Sometimes, it went silent for a while. But I was kept updated.
I think it was just frustrating. Not just for me, but for my staff, obviously. You bring guys in. They’re away from their families, and they’re trying to get settled for the next season. You have a lot of uncertainty. For your staff, you worry about them as well.
At the end of the day, I look at all of us, we all landed in a good spot. It’s just the nature of the beast, it really is, and absolutely no hard feelings.
SP: Speaking of that, you’re in Detroit, John Madden is in Arizona, John MacLean is with the New York Islanders, but what about video coach Dan Darrow?
BB: Dan Darrow has moved back to Michigan, his hometown. And he is taking the year and working on a volunteer basis with USDP.
I know Dan is interested in being [a bench] coach, and I think it’s amazing that he’s done that [transition from video coach to being on the bench]. He has a year to figure things out. I think that’s really admirable of him, wanting to dig in, and undertake that.
SP: Ideally though, it would have been good to know your exact status as early as possible after the end of the season?
BB: In a perfect world, of course yes. In fairness, I don’t think they could have done that. At that time, I think they wanted to, I’m not sure if they wanted to leave it [to] the new GM to decide.
I understood that part of it, I knew there was a lot of changeover and a lot of uncertainty at the time. I think [the coaching staff] just got caught up in that.
Of course, there were seven head job openings this summer. You can’t reach out to anybody and express interest if you’re still employed by someone else. So that ship sort of sailed.
But sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to take a step backwards, just reset, and I think that’s really where I’m at.
I owe San Jose a lot. They entrusted me to be the head coach there for a few years. Obviously, as an assistant too.
I’d be remiss not to [mention] the fan support that we’ve had over the years.
And the relationships I’ve made with some of those players, and the staff, it’s a good, it’s a great memory for me, even the way it ended, I think it’s a great memory, and I think we all move on.
SP: Did you ever talk to, interview with Mike Grier?
SP: Looking back at your three years as head coach of the San Jose Sharks, what are your initial thoughts?
BB: The only regret I would probably have, you know the story of my three-year tenure there, the first year, getting a team in December and the season being canceled in March. And then the next year was the Scottsdale fiasco. Then the third year coming back, you start the season without a GM and without your best player.
And hey, that’s the business, shit happens, and, and you move on.
But I like to think that I was a guy that was fair and transparent. Worked hard. I think during my time, I gave a lot of young players a lot of opportunity. That’s sort of the way it went.
SP: How tough was it? There always seemed to be something going on behind the scenes.
BB: You look back on that, those are things that were out of your control. But at the end of the day, you get judged as a coach, is your team, do they compete for each other? Do they work hard? Are they still listening? Are they responding? I think that was the one good thing that we could take away from that, we’re a team that for the most part stuck together and battled and competed every night for one another. And that was important to me.
Sometimes, you’re up against a better opponent, but it was a lot of things that we laid the foundation for there. We tried to change the culture, tried to improve those kinds of things. I leave with the head held high and wish everybody the best.
SP: There seemed to be a clear direction to go young – 29 San Jose Sharks made their NHL debut from 2019 to last year, and frankly, not a lot of established NHL’ers have emerged from that group. Was it tough to pay the price for, in my opinion, predictable results?
BB: There was definitely a [direction] that we wanted to play our young guys. And that was fine by me. You knew that going in. Some nights would be a struggle, depending on how many young guys you had in your line-up. But that’s the phase that we were in.
They still wanted to be competitive, and they had some good veteran players, but also, bringing those young guys along.
We tried to give a lot of opportunity there. Some nights, you may not win on the scoreboard, but you’re trying to accomplish different things.
One of our jobs was to develop.
I would say it was tough, but we knew what we were into and what the organization was trying to do.
SP: Speaking of that, Radim Simek came out over the summer, talking about how upset he was with how he was used last year. He said he felt lied to, you, the coaching staff told him that management wanted to go young, then he goes to management, and they say it’s the coach’s decision. What’s your perspective on that?
BB: Well, I was always completely honest with the players. I don’t know the other side of it. I’ve heard the [Simek] quote.
Everybody’s moved past that.
Of course, there was conversations or certain players that either ownership or management wanted to see play, especially at the end of the season, when we’re out of it. And someone’s got to, you know, you only have six [defenseman] spots every night, someone’s got to sit.
That’s what happened, really. There’s no other big story or controversy or conspiracy behind it. There were certain guys that they wanted to see play. And we won’t mention names, but they’re no longer there anymore. They’re in the minors.
It’s no different than what happens in a lot of organizations, teams that are out of it at the end of the year, they call up young guys, they want to see what the young guys are all about, give them an opportunity. And again, there’s decisions to be made there.
When I talk to the players, I will not lie to them. I will tell them the truth. Listen, someone’s got to come out. And they want to see certain young guys play. It is what it is.
SP: What was Evander Kane like to coach?
BB: I had no problem with Evander.
No. 1, he was a good player. And obviously, we missed his offense in the line-up. He had a great year, the year before. I thought he played excellent for us.
Evander is one of those guys, every night, you really didn’t have to worry about him playing up to his abilities.
There’s nothing negative I would say about him, I think he marches to the beat of his own drum. Maybe some guys have issues with that.
But you look around all great sports teams. You don’t always have 20 of the same people. There’s a lot of different personalities in the locker room.
SP: What were some of the issues that the guys might have had with Evander?
BB: If I had to say anything, he’s a big personality. That didn’t always sit right with some guys.
I just wanted to make sure that we had a good locker room.
The card, the vaccination thing? That was obviously an issue that we had to deal with.
I think at that point, it was just the right time for both parties to separate. It just wasn’t the right fit. I think Evander would say the same thing. I think the team would say the same thing. It was just time to part ways.
SP: What are you proudest of in your time behind the Sharks’ bench?
BB: If anything, it’s just making sure the team was ready to play every night.
I am proud of the fact that, things weren’t always smooth there over the three years, and we talked about all the reasons why, but never once did we waver and quit on each other. We always had the best intentions.
I think we brought some guys on and made them better players, a lot of players had career years under our staff, Timo, guys like Ferraro, Middleton became a player under us.
Knyzhov, poor guy. I thought, if he stayed healthy, he was going to bloom into a great player.
Just keeping that team together during a lot of turmoil, having them compete together, there was a lot of stuff going on out of our control. I thought for the most part, we put our heads down, and we just continued to do our jobs and work hard.
SP: What was your way of keeping guys consistently motivated and playing hard even if there were injuries and/or they were outgunned?
BB: The one thing we did, we were always trying to make sure not just that we held the players accountable, but they held each other accountable. That was one thing that we sort of built there. We were very open. When we had our meetings, we weren’t afraid to call each other out a little bit and demand more from each other.
My philosophy, everybody pushes each other, and I think we did that for the most part, even during the times where we had a lot of injuries and call-ups, whether it was being on the road for 46 days in Scottsdale, those kinds of things.
SP: Thanks for the time, Bob. Looking forward, would you still like to be an NHL head coach?
BB: For sure.
I want to be able to get in the situation where you can even run your own team.
But I don’t regret where I’m at now. I’m actually really, really enjoying it more than I thought. Taking that step back again and working with good people. Detroit is one of the Original Six organizations, it’s close to home for me. So there’s a lot of good that came out of this.
But I definitely say, looking forward to one day, hopefully, getting back in a position to be a head coach.
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