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: Blues edge Flames in shootout; Eichel sets new career high

The St. Louis Blues celebrate their 5-4 shootout win over the Calgary Flames
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Three Stars

1) David Perron, St. Louis Blues

After making the All-Star Game for the first time in his NHL career, Perron started the second half of the season with a two-game point streak. He added a goal, an assist and a shootout tally as the Blues defeated the Flames 5-4 in a back-and-forth battle that ended in the skills competition. The 31-year-old forward notched his 22nd of the season when he hammered home a loose puck in front to knot the game at 2-2 late in the first period. Perron also made a nifty pass to help St. Louis exit the zone before Zach Sanford tied the game early in the final frame. Additionally, the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak.

2) Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

The Flames alternate captain is still a bit behind his 82-point total pace from last year after surpassing his previous career-high by 18 points set the season before. Monahan remains a critical piece in the Flames’ lineup as they prepare for a playoff push in the tightly contested Pacific Division. The 25-year-old recorded his 400th career point when he snapped off a wrist shot from the slot at 15:43 of the first period to give Calgary a 2-1 lead at the time. He would go on to record his second of the game, another wrister from the slot, early in the middle frame to even the score at 3-3.

3) Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators

It’s not often an empty-net goal helps an NHL player land on this list, but Borowiecki’s game-sealing tally late in the third period was quite the play in the Senators’ 5-2 win against the Sabres. Ottawa’s alternate captain willingly went down on one knee in order to block a one-timer from Marcus Johansson to help preserve a one-goal lead at the time. After the block, Borowiecki quickly gathered himself, collected a loose puck and fired it off the boards into the empty cage. The Senators lead the NHL with 11 shorthanded goals.

Highlights of the Night

Blues forward Robert Thomas feathered a beautiful cross-ice pass between a couple of Calgary Flames to set up Alexander Steen to open the scoring.

In his 500th NHL game, Jaden Schwartz recorded his 17th of the season when he redirected a pretty pass from Brayden Schenn.

[RELATED: Predators facing difficult road in playoff push | How the Canucks climbed to top of Pacific Division]

Blooper of the Night

Who should get credit for this empty-net goal?

Stat of the Night

Scores

Ottawa Senators 5, Buffalo Sabres 2

St. Louis Blues 5, Calgary Flames 4 (SO)

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.

Hall of Fame goalie Ed Belfour arrested on mischief, public intoxication charges

former Dallas Star and NHL alumnus Ed Belfour
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Hockey Hall of Famer Ed Belfour was arrested early Tuesday morning. The former NHL goaltender caused damage to a downtown Bowling Green hotel.

Police found the 54-year-old inside the Kentucky Grand Hotel and Spa around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Bowling Green Daily News said, citing the arrest report. He was arrested on charges of third-degree criminal mischief and alcohol intoxication in a public place, according to the citation. He was booked into the Warren County Regional Jail just before 3 a.m. Tuesday, according to the jail’s website.

According to report, he was “manifestly under the influence of alcohol to a point he was a danger to himself and others.”

Police responded to a complaint of an intoxicated person after Belfour tried to fight an employee and struck glass in anger. When cops arrived on the scene, they found Belfour on the second floor, kicking a spa door while “clutching a curtain rod that had been ripped out of the dry wall above a window next to him,” according to the report.

When detained, Belfour was not compliant with officers.

Belfour won the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars and captured an Olympic gold medal during the 2002 Winter Games as a member of Team Canada. He currently sits in fourth place on the NHL all-time wins list.

How the Canucks climbed to top of Pacific Division

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For the first time in five years Vancouver Canucks fans have reason to be excited about their team. They are the hottest team in the NHL right now, and with their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night are 12-3-0 over their past 15 games. That run has helped them climb to the top of the Pacific Division and put them in a position where they have a very good chance to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

While it is true that the Pacific Division is very watered down this season — especially with the struggles of Vegas and San Jose — the Canucks still have something building here. They are exciting, they can score, and as of Monday have the third-best goal differential in the Western Conference.

Let’s take a look at what is driving their success so far this season.

Quinn Hughes has been better than advertised

Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are the young cornerstones at forward, but Hughes is the player that’s really helped get this rebuild running in the right direction.

He may not win the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year, but he is almost certainly going to be Vancouver’s third straight finalist (following Boeser and Pettersson) as he competes with fellow rookie defenseman Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) for that crown. He’s already a 20-minute per night defenseman and fills one of the single biggest needs the Canucks have had the past couple of years — a young, impactful, top-pairing defenseman to lead their blue line. He’s the type of player that as soon as you watch him you know he’s going to be a star with the way he skates, moves the puck, and contributes to the offense.

But what’s really made him such a valuable piece is that he is able to do all of that while still being the team’s best defensive defenseman as a 20-year-old rookie. When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play this season the Canucks are allowing the following:

  • 52.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes
  • 28.2 shots on goal per 60 minutes
  • 2.24 expected goals against per 60 minutes
  • 27.4 scoring chances per 60 minutes
  • 2.24 goals against per 60 minutes

Those numbers not only place him first among all Canucks defenders in every category, he is first by a significant margin in all of them.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

J.T. Miller has been the perfect support player

It’s been no secret the past two years that Boeser and Pettersson were the two players driving the bus for the Canucks offensively, and they still are.

It’s also no secret that two players alone can not carry a team on their own. And while the Canucks still have some depth concerns, Miller has been everything the Canucks could have hoped for him to be and more.

They raised some eyebrows when they traded a future first-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for him, but it’s hard to argue with the results right now.

He is in the middle of a career year and currently on pace for more than 30 goals and 70 points, while also being one of the best possession-driving forwards in the entire league.

They paid a steep price, and the trade definitely carried some risk, but he is signed long-term, at a fair price, and has been a perfect fit within the core, while also being young enough to be a part of that core in future seasons. I was not a huge fan of the move at the time, but at some point you have to start adding talent to make your rebuild actually get somewhere. The Canucks have done that here.

Jacob Markstrom has been a rock in net

Markstrom hasn’t been one of the league’s elites in net, but he has been a rock solid starter since taking over that position in Vancouver. He may not steal a ton of games, but he’s not losing many games for them, either. He’s been a steady, and durable goalie that has consistently given them better-than-league average play the past few years. He has been even better this season.

While Hughes has been an immediate sensation on the blue line, this team still has its flaws defensively and gives up its share of shots and chances. They’re not yet a championship-level defensive team, and that makes quality goaltending even more vital for their chances. Markstrom is giving them that, and in the process is playing his way toward what could be a pretty significant raise this offseason.

MORE:
NHL Power Rankings: Looking at top Stanley Cup Contenders
The 6 coaches and general managers that can impact NHL playoff race
The 10 players that can impact NHL playoff race

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Headache-plagued Stephen Johns finally back on ice for Stars

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FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Stephen Johns sometimes wondered if he would play hockey again while missing nearly 22 months with headaches that may or may not have been related to concussions.

The Dallas Stars defenseman just didn’t appreciate it when doctors suggested as much.

“That just kind of pissed me off because it wasn’t their decision to make,” Johns said after a week-plus break for Dallas that came after his first game since March 29, 2018.

“Obviously there were times when I thought I would never play again, but that was probably when it was the lowest of my lows. Obviously I climbed out of it. In the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t done yet and I still had a lot to prove.”

The Stars didn’t have much to celebrate on the ice in a 7-0 loss to Minnesota in Johns’ return Jan 18. They liked the ending of his first home game a lot more, a 3-2 overtime win over Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Either way, there’s still an aspect to Johns being back that has little to do with scores and stats. Even the 27-year-old feels it.

“Trust me, it’s not frustrating,” he said. “Now I know where my game is. It’s a breath of fresh air almost to have something to work towards again.”

After sitting the final four games of the 2017-18 season, Johns missed all of 2018-19, which ended with Dallas’ Game 7 loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis in the second round of the playoffs.

When training camp opened, general manager Jim Nill declared Johns still wasn’t ready to return and wouldn’t discuss it further. For Nill, it was about protecting a player who had been dealing for more than a year with issues bigger than getting back on the ice.

Post-traumatic headaches — the official explanation — were part of the mystery, and Nill said doctors couldn’t know for sure whether Johns’ history of concussions played a role. Ultimately, Nill said, the cause paled compared to the recovery.

“In the end, we’re just happy he’s back playing and feeling good,” Nill said. “He can feel good about himself and he looks like himself again.”

Johns was a top prospect for Chicago when Nill got him in a trade, with Patrick Sharp the headliner when the Blackhawks were dumping salary in 2015.

Late in the first season after the swap, Johns made his NHL debut and ended up playing all 13 playoff games. Dallas lost a Game 7 in the second round to St. Louis that year as well. Johns had to watch when it happened again three years later.

“It’s hell. It’s very simple,” Johns said. “A couple of guys stood back and watched us lose 7-0 to Minnesota. I know exactly what they were thinking sitting on the couch watching. It sucks watching.”

Captain Jamie Benn tried to be mindful of Johns being stuck on the periphery of the team for the daily routine, “pretty much rub elbows with them on my way out and they’re on their way in,” as Johns put it.

For Benn, it was diversions such as playing golf, and other ways to try to keep the focus off his teammate’s injury.

“I’m sure the amount of times were endless that he got asked how he’s doing,” Benn said. “When I talked to him, I didn’t really ask him. We all knew he wasn’t doing very good. So the last thing he wants to hear is, ‘How you doing?’”

Much better now, after a two-game conditioning assignment with the AHL’s Texas Stars before joining Dallas. Johns is still looking for his first point after averaging about 16 minutes in two games.

Interim coach Rick Bowness said Johns was too eager to show his physical style against the Lightning, leaving himself and the team in some bad positions after delivering hits.

“We’ve got to give the kid a chance to play,” Bowness said. “We knew this going in that he’s going to be rusty and there’s going to be bad decisions and bad timing.”

Nill figures there’s plenty of time to work on the timing of a player who looked to be a key piece on the Dallas blue line before Miro Heiskanen emerged as a 19-year-old rising star as a rookie last season.

“I’m happy to see him around the dressing room, with his teammates, smile on his face, feeling good about himself,” Nill said. “We know he’s a good hockey player. He knows he brings a lot to this team. Now he can start working on that.”