NHL on NBCSN: Is Boudreau on the hot seat as wilting Wild face Lightning?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Even under better circumstances, where coaches aren’t dropping like flies, it would be fair to wonder about Bruce Boudreau.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d rank Boudreau among the very best bench bosses in the NHL. Yet, as we’ve seen with a strong coach like Gerard Gallant and a big name like Mike Babcock, few coaches are immune to this recent bug.

Let’s take a look at Boudreau’s situation, and that of the Wild, as they host the locomotive Lightning on NBCSN tonight.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Boudreau and the Wild suffering through more than just lineup card gaffes

Again, with Gallant and other coaches surprisingly on the market, this ranks as a tense time for any coach whose team is meandering. Boudreau and the Wild stand out even by those standards.

Most clearly, the team can point to an immediate mistake. Boudreau admitted that he made a “dumb mistake” that left the Wild with only five defensemen in a brutal 7-3 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday.

“It was a mistake I made,” said Boudreau after the game. “It was all my fault. I do the lineups first thing in the morning, and the first thing that goes down is the lowest number. I put Donato on and forgot Pateryn. When I looked and saw [the lineup card] was full, I figured I did it right. It was a dumb mistake. Never done that before. Just hard to do the game with five D. I take full blame for that.”

That embarrassing loss pushed Minnesota’s losing streak to four in a row. The bad times extend beyond that, as the Wild only won once in their last seven games (1-5-1) and find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot. What seemed like a season-turning December hot streak now feels like a faint memory.

Combine this dire standings situation with the Lightning playing at an incredible high level, and it seems like a disaster in the making.

Boudreau is no stranger to the hot seat

Then again, Boudreau’s been here before.

Almost exactly one year ago, PHT asked if the Wild’s future should include Boudreau. We selected Boudreau for the “Under Pressure” feature heading into 2018-19, and his mild playoff semi-guarantee didn’t work out. Remarkably, Boudreau has persisted, even remaining in place when the team changed GMs to Bill Guerin.

Honestly, it’s kind of shocking to see Boudreau still behind that Wild bench, his face turning troubling colors as the team struggles.

Some might even get a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” vibe from wondering if this is the time Boudreau might go. We’ve even seen players call Boudreau out before, like when Jason Zucker called him out, but then apologized. How many lives does this cat have left, though?

The Wild would probably be better off bottoming out, but they’re instead choosing the pass of Sissyphus. Boudreau is one of the best at push that boulder up hill, yet you have to wonder if it’s all kind of pointless. Especially when you consider the contender who might stand in stark contrast on Thursday.

Lightning aren’t exactly an easy draw

It’s almost cruel to send the Wild in against the Lightning right now. They’ve stood out as one of the best teams in the NHL lately, seemingly rekindling some of last (regular) season’s magic.

You don’t need to dig too deep into the numbers. Simply recall that they recently went on a 10-game winning streak, and won 11 of their last 12.

However hot Boudreau’s seat is, this tough game opens a crucial stretch. To start, this represents the beginning of a seven-game homestand, pretty much all against challenging opponents. Zoom out and the stakes grow: the Wild play 11 of their next 12 games at home.

Just check out this enormously important stretch:

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas
Jan. 20: vs. Florida
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

So, tonight’s game against the Lightning might not be make-or-break, but the next month sure seems that way. And that’s as close to “fair” as an opportunity you’ll see for coaches right now … assuming Boudreau gets a full swing at this.

John Walton will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on Thursday with Mike Milbury and Ben Lovejoy.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.