Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.
Bruce Boudreau knows all to well that success in the regular season only takes an NHL head coach so far.
Consider that, essentially, Boudreau’s coached his team to 100-point seasons in basically every situation where his team played a full 82 games. (Being hired mid-season, being fired during a season, and lockouts skew things, but Bruce brings the goods.)
His career coaching record of 503-243-99 is kind of absurd, and is the quickest way to explain that Boudreau probably deserves more credit. Yet, even so, it also underscores the sadness that is Boudreau’s existence as, essentially, the Andy Reid of the NHL.
Despite being one of the best coaches in hockey, it’s tough to be too optimistic about Boudreau’s situation heading into 2018-19.
One can see why new Wild GM Paul Fenton and Boudreau, incumbent head coach, might feel a bit like kindred spirits. After all, both needed to put in plenty of work to prove themselves and earn their current spots in the NHL.
Such thoughts were aired when Boudreau was asked about the Fenton hire, while they also acknowledged the elephant in the room: a little awkwardness is almost inevitable.
[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough]
“I’m usually the one that’s getting fired and going into (a team where) somebody is already there,” Boudreau said, via The Athletic’s Chad Graff (sub required). “We have mutual friends that say good things about each other, so I don’t think it’s going to be a difficult transition at all. We’re hockey guys and when we’re getting together, we’re going to be talking hockey all the time. That’s what we love to do. He spent a lot of years looking at the minors. I spent a lot of years in the minors. I think it should end up being a really good relationship.”
Both sides seem optimistic about the situation – for now – but let’s be honest. When you’re building a team – particularly when you’ve been waiting for your chance to run the show for so long, as Fenton had during his lengthy, acclaimed run as the Nashville Predators’ assistant GM – you’ll want to do it your way. Boudreau isn’t Fenton’s “guy.”
Could he become Fenton’s guy? Maybe.
It may help that would-be Fenton guys may already be employed in prominent jobs.
Looking back at his most recent Predators days, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette are both gainfully employed, and seemingly in pretty safe spots, at least by the “What have you done for me lately?” standards of coaching in professional sports. Phil Housley’s also running the show in Buffalo.
Fenton inherited one of the stickier situations in the NHL, as the Wild have been quite good, yet not good enough to get over the hump, and now they’re arguably at a fork in the road where they either need to contend or begin to clean house. It’s understandable that Fenton might want to bide his time with a good head coach while he figures out how to put his stamp on this team.
(Overall, the Wild didn’t really make a bunch of huge moves this off-season, with the biggest news coming in the form of new deals for Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker.)
Boudreau, then, finds himself in a tough spot. He’ll be asked to optimize this Wild roster once again, even with some key players seemingly on the decline, and facing brutal competition in the rugged Central Division.
You have to wonder that, while a smart NHL team would probably give Boudreau another shot, there’s also the fear that Boudreau would be viewed as yet another “retread.” After all, the Wild are already the third team he’s coached at this level.
It’s the sort of pressure that could really leave you red in the face, so hopefully Boudreau doesn’t get too overwhelmed by it all.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.