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.
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.