Ed Moran | Stevens deserves a little security

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Interim coach Bruce Boudreau directs the Capitals during Saturday's win against Carolina.

ONE WELL-KNOWN FACT of life among NHL coaches and executives is that you very rarely get a chance to resign or retire.

Have a bad start, and start counting the days.

Atlanta went first this year, replacing Bob Hartley on the bench with general manager Don Waddell on Oct. 17. Dallas was next, firing GM Doug Armstrong and replacing him with an interim tandem of Brett Hull and Les Jackson on Nov. 14.

That was followed by the Thanksgiving carving of the Capitals' Glen Hanlon, who was replaced by interim coach Bruce Boudreau, coach of their minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

Boudreau, who never had held an NHL coaching position, was rushed from Hershey and had 1 day to prepare before taking the bench and beating the Flyers in overtime Friday.

It's unlikely that he'll have the same effect as Waddell has had on Atlanta, which has gotten its act together, but Boudreau, who played 141 NHL games and one more in the movie "Slapshot," was not worried about that before the game.

"I don't know if it's fair or unfair," he said. "It's the nature of the beast. Every one of us knows that when we get into this business. I don't think there is a coach alive that, from the best, most successful coach in the world to the least successful, that hasn't had it happen to him once."

Flyers coach John Stevens certainly knows this. He got his shot when Ken Hitchcock was axed, and he knows that it will probably happen to him as well.

"It seems like if the team doesn't do well it's the easiest part to change," he said.

But Stevens is an unusual guy in the way he looks at situations. Even last season, when his team was just awful, he talked about how it was improving with each player move, how it had played better, did "good things," in losses.

"I think that's a real pessimistic way to go about your business," he said. "I look at it as the last job I'm ever going to have and hopefully we can continue to have success. When the team doesn't have success, you learn and move and change and evolve with whatever the situation calls for."

He was as sincere in that approach last year as he is now. It's interesting to have conversations with him about his everyday decisions.

Pressed last Thursday about his choice to play Antero Niittymaki against the Senators in Ottawa instead of starter Martin Biron, he was sure Niittymaki was deserving of the chance to play against the best team in the East instead of the struggling Capitals, or the easier game.

"It's suicide to even think like that," Stevens said. "I wanted to get [Niittymaki] in one of these back-to-back games and he wanted Ottawa. At some point you have to turn it over to your players."

Niittymaki certainly made him look like a genius Saturday, backstopping the Flyers to a 4-3 comeback win, especially with his play in the third period.

Now it's the Flyers' turn. Stevens is in the final year of his contract, and he needs an extension - but not because he can't coach without a locked-in job for next year. He has that never-look-past-today attitude, and management knows it.

"I have already been paid to coach this year and that's my job," he said.

Maybe. A coach's lot may be to be fired anyway, but Stevens has earned the security.

 

Hatcher back

 

Even with a right knee devoid of noticeable cartilage, Derian Hatcher probably will be back on the ice this week - if not tonight against the Bruins in the Wachovia Center, then Wednesday in Carolina.

 

Rookie snow job

 

What was all that talk before the entry draft that there was not a player available in the top five ready to step into the NHL?

Patrick Kane, the first overall pick by Chicago, leads all rookies with seven goals and 15 assists, and Sam Gagner, sixth overall with Edmonton, is ninth with two goals and seven assists.

Gagner scored the shootout winner Saturday against Kane's Blackhawks.

 

Congratulations

 

Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin worked his 1,000th NHL game Saturday.

 

Back to fired coaches

 

Anyone notice that Ken Hitchcock's Columbus Blue Jackets are fifth in the Western Conference with an 11-8-4 record? *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com