NHL on NBCSN: Should Wild’s future include Bruce Boudreau?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Wild are hanging on to a Western Conference wild-card spot following Monday’s defeat to Philadelphia and hoping to find a way into the postseason to better their efforts over the last two springs. Three straight first round exits meant bye-bye to general manager Chuck Fletcher. Will a playoff miss or another early postseason disappointment mean goodbye to head coach Bruce Boudreau? The PHT staff give their thoughts on whether he should remain behind the bench beyond this season.

SEAN: The most-needed, realistic change for the Wild happened in April when they decided to not bring back Fletcher and hired Paul Fenton as new GM. Fletcher was the one that built this Minnesota roster, one that had some good times, but mostly has been hindered and will continue to be hindered by the long-term contracts he handed out during his tenure.

All Boudreau has done is continue to do what he does best: make teams competitive. We know his post-season record isn’t pretty, but with three NHL teams over his career, he’s been able to turn them around and win eight division titles and record eight 100-point seasons.

During Boudreau’s two-and-a-half seasons with the Wild the team is 10th in wins (116), seventh in goals per game (3.06), seventh in goals against (2.69), seventh in power play success (21 percent), and third in penalty kill success (82.6 percent). Some of those categories have improved each season, but goal scoring is down this season to 2.82 per game. While Zach Parise (19) is bouncing back strong, Eric Staal (13) is coming back down to earth after a 42-goal campaign last season. Jordan Greenway looks to have a bright future, but where’s the rest of the secondary scoring?

The head coach can only do so much with the roster he’s given, and given that the Wild are in a playoff spot at the moment, it’s a testament to the job Boudreau has done.

This is an old Wild team and Fenton is going to need to be creative in reshaping the roster into his liking. Going forward, that roster should include Boudreau behind the bench.

JAMES: This is a remarkably tricky situation, actually. I’ll admit that it’s tough, in part, because I legit worry about Boudreau’s health in coaching middling teams. The dude’s face basically turns into a mood ring of reds and purples over, say, goals and penalties.

If the Wild want to grind out every possible win, then keeping Boudreau is the smart choice. He’s an exceptional coach. Honestly, I get the feeling he actually helped the Wild be misleadingly good for longer than virtually anyone could ask for, as the roster Fletcher left behind is a real mixed bag.

It really hinges on what Fenton can do.

Would Charlie Coyle and other decent trade chips actually turn out to be the sort of great trade chips that could actually jumpstart a respectable rebuild? Could Fenton trick someone into sending an enormous trade package for Ryan Suter? (I’m guessing the dream of moving Parise’s matching, problem contract is too far-fetched, although Peter Chiarelli is still employed …)

In summary: if the Wild think they can rebuild, then dismissing Boudreau would … well, help them tank. If they plan on staying the course – which is more reasonable than usual because they simply might be stuck – then keeping Boudreau would get the most out of what they have.

Personally, I’d go the rebuild plan, but again, it’s because I actually really like Boudreau and want him to go to a team where he can win, eat ice cream, and generally be merry.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

ADAM: My reasoning for arguing that Boudreau should continue to be a part of the future in Minnesota is very simple: I still think he is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and as long as you have one of the best coaches in the NHL I can’t see firing him unless you have a darn good reason to or have a definite upgrade waiting. Right now I do not see that being the case, unless the Wild do something totally outrageous like go all in on Joel Quenneville. I know the first half of the season has not gone according to plan, but this is still a team that coming into this season having won 94 games in his first two years behind the bench, tied for the fifth-most in the league.

I don’t think the problems so far this year are the result of coaching.

For one, I’ve always argued that the biggest coach-killers in the NHL aren’t the superstars at the top of the lineup, but goaltenders. The Wild’s starting goalie — Devan Dubnyk — had a pretty shocking run through November and early December that really put the team in a hole. He has been better since then and, not surprisingly, so have the Wild.

There is also the fact that the roster is kind of short on impact talent up front. It’s not that they’re bad players, but there really isn’t anyone that is a true game-breaker. Parise, Suter, Mikko Koivu and Staal are all age 34 or older. Players like Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker are good enough when they are on top of their game to be top-six players, but they’re not anybody that is going to strike fear into opponents. Mikael Granlund is probably the closest thing they have to such a player.

There is only so much a coach can do with that sort of roster up front. The roster needs some tweaks for sure, and it needs another impact player up front, but I do not see a reason to part ways with Boudreau at this point.

JOEY: I think it might be time for the Wild to go in a different direction. Don’t get me wrong, I think Boudreau is a good coach, but the on-ice results don’t lie. The Wild are clinging on to a wild card spot right now and they’ve been bounced in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back years.

Let’s be honest, this core is getting old and the window is closing. Four of this team’s five leading scorers are 33 or older. Parise, Suter, Staal, and Koivu are all still productive, but this simply isn’t a team built to make a long run in the playoffs. Boudreau’s tried to lead this team to a championship and he’s come up short. That’s not necessarily just his fault, but that’s the way this business works.

Fenton took over in the Wild’s front office last May, which means he hasn’t had the opportunity to bring on his own coach. If the Wild fail to make the playoffs, or if they get in and get bounced early, you have to believe that Fenton will hand Boudreau his walking papers.

I just can’t see this group getting over the hump this year, so I’m going to go ahead and say that the Wild need to go in a different direction behind the bench.

SCOTT: Truthfully, this is a tough question to answer.

If you’re looking for coaches with experience coaching young talent — and you’re thinking about possibly blowing it all up and getting younger or even re-tooling on the fly — then who would be better than Boudreau?

Look, I understand if you want to go in another direction. A new GM will sometimes (perhaps often) want to bring in who he thinks is the best coach for the job. Fenton might have a guy in mind. That’s fair. That’s hockey. But when it comes to coaching, and understanding the game and what it takes to win at all levels (ECHL, American Hockey League and National Hockey League), it’s Bruce. From unsure rookies to rugged veterans, Boudreau has coached them all.

Boudreau has found success at every level he’s coached and entering Monday, had a .654 win percentage as a bench boss (.631 in Minny). There’s a reason why Boudreau owns the record for being the fastest coach hired after being fired. A lot of teams would give their first-born for a coaching record like that.

If Fenton decides he wants to re-tool the roster on the fly, then again, unless you can woo Quenneville to town, there’s not a better coach out there.

Boudreau makes every team he coaches a competitive one, regardless of the talent he’s given. Unless there’s a better option, it would be best to give Boudreau ingredients.

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Xcel Energy Center.

The Buzzer: McDavid filets Flyers; Kane raises Sharks

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Look, this is Connor McDavid. He’s at the point where it’s tough to surprise us.

… Yet, I have to admit, he’s begun 2019-20 on an even hotter streak than I imagined, and for all that Edmonton might improve under Dave Tippett, it’s difficult not to chalk most of it up to McDavid, alongside Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid was outrageous on Wednesday, generating a very pretty goal and four assists for five points. Those four assists represent a career-high for McDavid.

Despite that great night, I was leaning toward giving the top star to Evander Kane until I saw this stat, which admittedly steps on the factoids section a bit:

Unless you get really obscure with a stat, it’s usually a great sign when you do something that hasn’t been done since Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were still lacing up their skates …

2. Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks

After sitting out the first three games of the 2019-20 season thanks to a suspension, Kane generated one goal and one assist in three contests. Wednesday represented an eruption for his fourth game, then, as Kane generated a hat trick during the first period of the Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Hurricanes.

Kane also assisted on a Tomas Hertl goal, giving him a hat trick plus a helper for a four-point night.

If you think Kane deserves the nod over McDavid, I understand.

That said, three stars aren’t just a great opportunity to spotlight one wonderful performance, but also a time where it’s that much more pressing to point out a hot streak and great season. Which is why we pivot to someone whose great start might slip under the radar.

3. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

When the Caps signed Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million contract, it felt like a necessary evil. We’ve seen plenty of players age poorly, and Carlson blew away his previous career totals when he generated 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18, helping Washington win that coveted Stanley Cup.

And then Carlson put together an even better 2018-19, scoring a resounding 70 points in 80 games.

At some point he has to slow down, right?

Maybe, but so far, it doesn’t feel like that time will be at age 29. Carlson produced three points (one goal, two assists) in Washington’s win against Toronto on Thursday, giving him an eyebrow-raising 14 points in eight games.

Those 14 points leave Carlson in third place behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — not just among defensemen. Suddenly, that $8M AAV starts to look like a bargain for the Capitals.

The runner-up to the runner-up for Highlight of the Night

Wednesdays aren’t usually the busiest NHL days, yet this one was ripe with great moments.

The moments have been great enough that Sidney Crosby‘s bedazzling backhander already got its own post, while Sonny Milano provided ample competition with his downright silly goal for the Blue Jackets.

The bronze medal provides gold of its own, though, as Connor McDavid reminded the world why it’s pretty easy to look like a dominant team when you can basically just lob the puck up blindly and assume that it might end up becoming a goal for 97:

Factoids

Scores

PIT 3 – COL 2 (OT)
WSH 4 – TOR 3
CBJ 3 – DAL 2
EDM 6 – PHI 3
ANA 5 – BUF 2
SJS 5 – CAR 2

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers keep on rolling with win over Flyers

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Talent has never been the question in Edmonton, it was always a matter of systems and execution.

Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock each saw glimpses in recent years, but Dave Tippett might have unlocked the secret formula for the Oilers to have long-lasting success.

With six wins in the team’s first seven games, including a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey, Edmonton is starting to believe that it has what it takes to become a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist for Philadelphia while Carter Hart was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first start near his hometown Sherwood Park, Alberta, as the Flyers concluded a three-game road trip through Western Canada where they went 0-2-1. Oskar Lindblom also scored.

Connor McDavid led the way offensively with five points (one goal and four assists), while Leon Draisaitl added two goals of his own as the Oilers bounced back after their first loss of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Mikko Koskinen stopped 49 shots and picked up his third victory of the season.

The Oilers recorded four consecutive goals, including three in the second that broke the game wide open. McDavid or Draisaitl’s ability to break a game open has rarely been an issue, but slowing down the opposition has been problematic. But through seven games this season, the team has allowed only 17 goals thanks to improved goaltending and more importantly, better team defense.

Last season the Oilers allowed 271 goals, good for seventh worst throughout the NHL. It’s the sole reason Tippett was brought in, to limit the damage in their own end of the ice, and allow their superstars to flourish offensively without ignoring their defensive responsibility.

Tippett has opted to play McDavid and Draisaitl together for most of the season, which has always been a delicate situation. Should a coach load up to form a powerful top line, or spread the wealth throughout the lineup so a high-end player is on the ice for the majority of the game?

The Avalanche have had great success keeping Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the ice as a pairing almost exclusively and the Oilers have been trending in that direction.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal provide options in the middle of the lineup but neither have the top-end talent equivalent to McDavid and Draisaitl.

However, if the Oilers are able to have a prolific first line, combined with strong structure throughout the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender, they will quickly become an elite team that could be a force to be reckoned with.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

McKenzie on Penguins injuries, Avs contracts … spider bites?

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When Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he likely breathed deep as he readied for a new coach, team, city, and system for the second straight season. Maybe there’s some fear about looking like a pale imitation of Phil Kessel, the other major part of that trade.

But did he factor in arachnophobia?

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN during the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, Bob McKenzie reported that Galchenyuk has been dealing with what could be a groin injury (or otherwise a soft tissue issue), which many surmised. What people didn’t realize is that Galchenyuk took a detour on his road to recovery because of a spider bite.

McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk had a significant allergic reaction to the bite, which seems a lot less fun than being able to climb on walls, swing on webs, and sense danger before it’s coming. (Theory: Brad Marchand may have “spider sense.” Although we’d probably need to brand it differently. “Pest-pathy?”)

Anyway, McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk is back on that road to recovery, although his precise window of recovery is unclear.

Via McKenzie, Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust are essentially week-to-week still, as their windows seem to be two or three weeks. McKenzie reports that Evgeni Malkin‘s injury remains fuzzier.

Speaking of fuzziness, it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche are keeping things opaque when it comes to players on expiring contracts. So, we might need to wait-and-see with Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov.

That’s … understandable, especially with Burakovsky, who’s still making early impressions. Colorado might be wise to pick and choose with this stuff in the future, though. Could the Avalanche have signed Mikko Rantanen for less than a $9.25M AAV if they were more proactive? We can only speculate …

But hey, at least no one got bit by a spider.

*shudders*

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.