Bruce Boudreau

Dean Evason named full-time head coach of Wild

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As the Wild enters training camp, the players will know Dean Evason isn’t an interim head coach anymore.

The team announced on Monday that they are dropping the interim tag and making the 55-year-old their full-time coach. Evason also gets an extension out of the deal, with his contract running through the end of the 2021-22 NHL season.

“Dean has done a fantastic job as our interim head coach and deserves this opportunity,” said Wild general manager Bill Guerin in a statement. “I look forward to watching our team under his leadership going forward.”

[Full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

Evason took over coaching duties on Feb. 14 following Bruce Boudreau’s dismissal. In 12 games he led the Wild to an 8-4-0 record. He was part of Boudreau’s staff after joining the team for the start of the 2018-19 season following six years in charge of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Wild are set to face the Canucks in their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series beginning on Aug. 2.

MORE:
Hockey is back: NHL, NHLPA ratify CBA, return to play agreement
Salary cap to stay flat at $81.5 million

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

An NHL team should give Bruce Boudreau another shot as head coach

Bruce Boudreau another NHL coaching job COVID-19
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Many of us believe that Bruce Boudreau should get another NHL head coaching job simply because he’s very good at his job. But there’s also another factor: Boudreau is a delight.

If you needed a reminder of Boudreau’s wonderful personality — and his enduring love for hockey — then read this story by The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required). Honestly? It’s a fabulous read if you merely want to smile. (It made me smile and laugh … a lot.)

Boudreau wants to coach in the NHL again, clearly still loves hockey (and his wife Crystal)

Boudreau told Russo that he hopes to coach in the NHL again, even with uncertainty in the air. In the meantime, Boudreau might also do some TV studio work during a return to play. Either way, it sounds like the last few months haven’t sapped his passion for the sport.

“I’m going to be watching either way, whether it’s from my couch or a TV studio, but behind the bench is where I’d want to be in the end,” Boudreau said. “I’ve been really fortunate in my life to never go two weeks without having another job. So this running on three, four months and it’s driving my wife a little crazier than me. But, I mean, you just want to know where it’s going. When you’ve done something your whole life and still believe you’re fully capable of doing the job, you never want to stop doing it. And when you love it as much as I do, you just want to continue to do it.

That quote summarizes Russo’s great piece in a nutshell. Even so, the best part really didn’t have much to do with hockey. Russo’s right in comparing the banter between Bruce and his wife Crystal as an “Abbott and Costello routine.” One can almost imagine a sitcom episode regarding the couple engaging in an air conditioning cold water. I can practically hear the laugh track:

“I secretly get up in the middle of the night and turn off the air conditioner,” Boudreau said. “But then she’ll wake up and punch me in the head when she realizes I turned the thing off and I go somewhere else.”

Observations on potential NHL playoff matchups, coaching under unique circumstances

It’s a delight to read Boudreau break down different teams and matchups. Russo even convinced Boudreau to discuss his former team, the Minnesota Wild. (Like us at PHT, Boudreau is fascinated to see how the Wild handle their goaltending situation.)

Some of the best insight revolves around how Boudreau imagines an empty arena setting working out.

He points out that microphones are more likely to catch coaches screaming at players, or using colorful language toward refs. (Naturally, Boudreau has some funny quips, including blaming assistants for profanities if coaches wear masks.) Even amid the humor, you get an idea of how Boudreau tries to manage “tough love” with not trying to insult or embarrass players.

Which opens the door to briefly discuss a logical landing spot or two for Boudreau …

Which NHL teams should give Boudreau a shot?

Again, we’re going briefly here. But consider a few spur-of-the-moment observations and suggestions:

  • A “rebuilding” team probably wouldn’t make sense.

Boudreau is 65. While Boudreau seems like a “hockey lifer,” and might have the right demeanor to work with younger players, his age shouldn’t be ignored. You probably want your team to at least be … partially built if you’re hiring Boudreau.

  • On the other hand, the San Jose Sharks make serious sense.

From a narrative standpoint, this almost feels like a “soul mate” situation. Both the Sharks and Boudreau have been mocked for falling short in the postseason, especially when expectations were highest. (Not always fairly, mind you.)

The team and coach also share an impatience. Boudreau’s found ways to succeed with a variety of franchises and rosters. If Erik Karlsson is correct that 2019-20 was a hiccup rather than the beginning of the end, then Boudreau could be the perfect person to get the Sharks swimming again.

  • Could Boudreau put a halo on the New Jersey Devils?

OK, the Devils qualify as a “rebuilding” team from a results perspective. That said, they might be getting a little impatient. (Perhaps they fired Ray Shero as GM in part because of this antsy feeling? Maybe?)

Reports indicate that the Devils are considering Lindy Ruff. Yet, if they value experience, why not go with a coach who’s had more recent success? Even after trading Taylor Hall, the Devils have some talent on their roster. Especially if they’re underachieving after suffering through some (possible) bad coaching.

It’s not the perfect situation for Boudreau, but sometimes coaches have to make the best of things. Boudreau is no stranger to that.

  • Dare I wonder: a team like the Predators?

OK, this would mean an about-face with John Hynes. Here’s the thing, though. The Predators might believe that their window to compete is closing. If so, and you realize Hynes was the wrong hire — not a guarantee, but possible — why not pull off the Band-Aid sooner rather than later?

Such a scenario seems unlikely, but I couldn’t help but mention it. Consider it a sweeping statement for other teams sort of in limbo. Is Rick Tocchet really the best choice for a Coyotes team more aggressively pursuing contention? Would the Flames and/or Stars view Boudreau a better option that their interim choices?

It’s unclear if Boudreau will receive another coaching offer anytime soon — or ever again. I’d argue quite a few NHL teams would be wise to do so, at least once it’s safe for, you know, a 65-year-old coach to get back behind the bench.

(Now go read that Russo story, it’s a lot of fun.)

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.

Dubnyk, Stalock, or Kahkonen? Gauging potential Wild goalie competition

Can the Minnesota Wild make the most of an unexpected Qualifying Round opportunity against the Vancouver Canucks? For all we know, that might boil down to the right goalie winning a competition to start for the Wild.

Heading into 2019-20, Devan Dubnyk carried the top job. To put things mildly, things didn’t go as planned for Dubnyk. The veteran goalie lost the No. 1 job to Alex Stalock, while Bruce Boudreau lost his job altogether.

Not great for Dubnyk, but a few forces give him a chance to wrestle that job back.

To start, Dean Evason is still fairly freshly new as interim Wild head coach. But most obviously, the pandemic pause opens the door for competition. Stalock acknowledged as much to NHL.com’s Pete Jensen.

“I think whoever is looking the sharpest you got to go with the first night,” Stalock said last week. “You roll right into a [qualifying] series. It’s probably the first time for a lot of people to go through a training camp, and then all of a sudden you’re playing some of the most meaningful games of your lives.”

Evason reinforced the notion of the Wild having some goalie competition, too.

“We expect our goaltenders both to be ready and have that opportunity to make that choice as a staff — and hopefully a very difficult one because they’ll both be ready to go,” Evason told Sarah McLellan of the Star-Tribune in early June.

In that case, Evason was discussing a Wild goalie competition of Dubnyk vs. Stalock. For the purposes of this post, we’re also making an argument for Kaapo Kahkonen.

Breaking down the potential Wild goalie competition

Stalock currently leads Wild goalie competition

Heading into the All-Star break, Stalock (25 games played) and Dubnyk (24 GP) shared a pretty even workload overall. Afterward, Stalock played 13 games vs. just six for Dubnyk.

Such a transition cannot be solely pinned on Dubnyk’s struggles. Stalock caught fire after the break, managing an impressive .924 save percentage to go with a promising 9-3-1 record. The 32-year-old really only marginally outplayed Dubnyk earlier in the season, but that changed in a big way down the stretch.

Stalock had been a career backup before 2019-20. While he set a career-high with 38 games played before the pandemic pause, Stalock previously peaked with 28 GP in 2017-18.

His career .909 save percentage qualifies as “pretty strong for a backup, but maybe a little off the mark for a starter.”

Dubnyk has been there before, plenty of times.

Stalock is no stranger to NHL play with 151 career regular-season appearances. Even so, I must admit that I made a double-take at Dubnyk’s sheer experience. Dubnyk, 34, has already appeared in 520 regular-season games.

During unsteady times, the Wild may prefer to lean on Dubnyk’s experience. Maybe Dubnyk can rebound to somewhere close to his career work (.915 save percentage), or maybe most greedily, his larger Wild resume (.918 save percentage in 328 games over six seasons)?

You could argue that Dubnyk possesses the largest ceiling, at least for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then again, the Wild have seen so much of his floor in 2019-20. This Evolving Hockey chart captures Dubnyk’s struggles, even behind a strong Wild defense, quite well:

Dubnyk Evolving Hockey Wild goalie competition

Kahkonen a wild card for the Wild

Perhaps you could argue that the Wild would choose the past if they went with Dubnyk, the present if they chose Stalock, and the future if they tabbed Kahkonen.

That’s probably an oversimplification, but the Wild should probably give Kahkonen more than a token shot in a goalie competition.

For one thing, Kahkonen looked sharp at multiple levels. While you can only take so much from five games at the NHL level (3-1-1, solid .913 save percentage), Kahkonen dominated in the AHL (25-6-3, .927 save percentage). Aside from a bumpy first AHL season in 2018-19, Kahkonen’s recent numbers look pretty promising across the board.

There’s also something to be said for mystery.

Sure, the Wild might not know everything about Kahkonen. That could make it tougher for defenders to, say, get a feel for his rebound control.

But the same could be said for the competition. The Canucks would have less “tape” on Kahkonen, while they’ve seen plenty of both Dubnyk and Stalock over the years.

Whether it’s by skill, that lack of tape, coincidence, or some combination, we’ve seen brand-new goalies dominate. Go back from the likes of Ken Dryden to Cam Ward all the way to Matt Murray and you’ll see some serious runs behind goalies who weren’t particularly well known to friends or foes.

Does that make Kahkonen the best option over Dubnyk or Stalock in a Wild goalie competition? Not necessarily, but the Wild would be foolish not to at least explore the option.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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With the NHL just announcing how Phase 2 will work — but not even exactly when it will start — the NHL has a long way to go before a 24-team playoff format might actually happen. That “long way to go” part gives us a lot of time to mull over different possibilities, though. So let’s mull, then.

A lot must still be determined, but if everything holds, there will be eight “play-in” series (four per conference, featuring the 5th through 12th seeds). Each series would include a best-of-five format.

So which of those current, play-in series would be the best? Which would brim with drama, even with fans relegated to watch at home? Let’s rank them. You can also see the proposed 24-team NHL playoff format at the bottom of this post.

1. Penguins vs. Canadiens

Look, it’s true that there’s a lot of evidence that the Carey Price players imagine has not been the Carey Price players actually face most nights over the past, say, three years.

But in your heart of hearts, can you truly dismiss how fun it could be to see “Carey Price vs. Sidney Crosby” in headlines? Especially when you can throw Evgeni Malkin in the mix? Then maybe Brendan Gallagher to add some humorous wrinkles on TikTok?

The actual, not just imagined, hockey would really sell it. Even with a more defensive bent at times in 2019-20, the Penguins remain one of the league’s most electric teams. Sometimes that electricity stems from the static energy of making mistakes. For all of the Canadiens’ flaws, they are the sort of smaller, speedy, skilled team that might carry upset potential during these uncertain times. Montreal boasts the possession numbers of a viable team, too.

Maybe Shea Weber can shoot a puck through a net and make us forget about the state of the world for at least a few moments?

Bonus points if this would set the stage for the Penguins facing the Flyers, who currently stand as the East’s fourth seed.

2. Oilers vs. Blackhawks

When in doubt, go with star power. You could do a lot worse than Connor McDavid vs. Patrick Kane. Heck, you could do worse than Leon Draisaitl vs. Jonathan Toews, too.

In a macro sense, there are some parallels between the way the teams are built, too. McDavid and Draisaitl often feel the burden of carrying not-so-balanced Oilers teams. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are a very top-heavy, deeply flawed team. But their top players are dangerous.

Corey Crawford‘s quietly strong finish to 2019-20 sprinkles in some extra intrigue as well.

If nothing else, this could be messy-but-fun.

3. Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Sometimes you stick to star power. Other times, you subsist on the potential for soap opera drama.

On one side, you have the explosive Maple Leafs, whose explosiveness can backfire. The media will seize on any of their stumbles, and this talented team nonetheless gives critics plenty to chew on.

On the other, you have John Tortorella, who basically has a quota for dramatic press conferences. The NHL basically owes us some controversial calls to leave Torts fuming. It’s basically an unwritten right for us hockey fans. Don’t let us down during this play-in series, then, NHL.

The contrast between a defensive-minded team and an explosive offense can let us olds rattle off “irresistible force vs. immovable object” references if we really feel saucy.

Speaking of saucy, it’s possible the Maple Leafs would go on to face the (gulp) Bruins.

4. Flames vs. Jets

If this happened a year earlier, it might take the top spot. Both teams have fallen quite a bit, though, making this a series where you wonder if they can reclaim past magic.

Even with tempered expectations, the Jets and Flames bring a lot to the table. Matthew Tkachuk has all of that pent-up pest energy from the pandemic pause. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine can fill up highlight reels. Mark Giordano vs. Blake Wheeler would be fun.

From an actual hockey standpoint, this series might deserve a better spot on the list.

5. Hurricanes vs. Rangers

You have to assume that the Hurricanes will come up with some sort of viral sensation, right? They’ll stumble upon something.

Luckily, the Hurricanes can back up that sizzle with the steak of good hockey. Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho also give Carolina more star power than most might realize.

All of that aside, it will be tough to resist this becoming “The Artemi Panarin Show.” He generated justified Hart Trophy hype, and the Rangers were finishing pretty strong this season.

(I’m admittedly artificially boosting this on the hope that we’ll get one last Rangers playoff run from Henrik Lundqvist, by the way.)

6. Canucks vs. Wild

I’m not sure the hockey world has totally clued in to how great Elias Pettersson is. The play-in for the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs seem like a great opportunity to see the light.

7. Predators vs. Coyotes

There’s no way we can sneak P.K. Subban back onto the Predators for entertaining purposes, is there? (*Puts hand to imaginary earpiece*) It appears there is no way.

These two teams can play some high-quality hockey when they’re on. For all of Nashville’s headaches, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were incredible this season. Maybe Pekka Rinne can get back on track, and create a memorable goalie duel with Darcy Kuemper? (Kuemper deserves more credit for his elite work from the past two seasons.)

Even with no Subban, there are players to watch. How might Taylor Hall perform with a lot to prove, and his next contract hovering? Will Phil Kessel rebound, or at least amuse us?

8. Islanders vs. Panthers

As much as people might want to replay John Tavares‘ series-clinching goal (it ruled), that clip might honestly bother both Panthers and Islanders fans at this point.

*cough* And yet I must …

 

There’s not really much of a rivalry here, yet even as the eighth-ranked NHL play-in series, it’s not that hard to find reasons to get excited.

Can the Islanders contain an explosive Panthers offense starring Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov? Maybe Sergei Bobrovsky can get his mojo back after a wildly disappointing first Florida foray? Joel Quenneville vs. Barry Trotz is kind of fun. And, really, take any excuse you can to witness the splendor of Mathew Barzal.

However you rank the NHL’s potential play-in series, the odds are strong that you’ll get some fun hockey. Will it be strange to watch it without fans? Sure, but the talent and intrigue might just make it all work.

Brushing up on the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff format, including play-in series

As a reminder, here’s how it might look, and what we’re basing the play-in series upon.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Bruins
Lightning
Capitals
Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Blues
Avalanche
Golden Knights
Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Six best playoff series of the decade

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What things do you look for in choosing the best NHL playoff series of the past decade?

The nail-biting action of sudden-death overtime? Grudges that inspire handshake line death threats?

(Please don’t say “lots of neutral-zone trap.” Even Jacques Lemaire would probably rather go fishing or something than watch that.)

During the weekend, the NHL and NHLPA made some traction toward a possible return to play, according to Pierre LeBrun. Even so, it’s pretty clear that if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happen, it will require some juggling.

Would it all really be worth it? That’s an extremely fair question to ask. Even so, all of this free time and the possible resumption of play give us a chance to think about how great, baffling, and nerve-wracking playoff hockey can be.

Let’s look at the six best NHL playoff series of the decade. In no way am I combining certain ones and generally cheating, kind of making it more than six series. I would never do that.

6. Sharks, Golden Knights engage in one wild Game 7

Personally, I don’t think it’s out of place to put last year’s Golden Knights – Sharks series on this list. And, yes, it can make it on this list based on the strength of that bewildering Game 7 alone.

In a vacuum, that Game 7 already inspires wonder.

Cody Eakin got whistled for that controversial major penalty when he bloodied Joe Pavelski. In mere minutes, the Golden Knights’ 3-0 Game 7 lead vanished as the Sharks scored a ridiculous four power-play goals. Almost as remarkably, Jonathan Marchessault showed that Vegas wouldn’t just quit, sending it to overtime. Then barely-used Barclay Goodrow scored a tremendous series-winner:

Sprinkle in added context and that Game 7 gets spicier.

Both Eakin and Pavelski are now on other teams. The Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant this season, replacing him with DeBoer, who Gallant called a “clown” during that series. Heck, even Goodrow is out of San Jose now.

5. Flyers complete “reverse” sweep against Bruins, Round 2 in 2009-10

It’s hard to believe it, but Pro Hockey Talk came into existence during the 2009-10 season, forming around the 2009-10 trade deadline. Let me tell you: the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs served as a playoff run that’s tough to top.

Beyond Patrick Kane‘s funky overtime goal becoming the first Stanley Cup-clincher for PHT, Jaroslav Halak and the Habs served up two stunning upsets to the Capitals and Penguins in respective seven-game series.

(The baffled face of Bruce Boudreau became quite the gift for meme enthusiasts.)

But the sheer chaos of the second-round series between the Bruins and Flyers takes the cake.

The Flyers became what was then the third (and now the fourth) NHL team to rage back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even according to those standards, Philly poured in extra drama.

It was almost a little too on-the-nose. Just like in the series, the Bruins took a jarring 3-0 lead in Game 7. Also like the series, the Flyers refused to roll over, eventually winning Game 7 4-3 in overtime thanks to a Simon Gagne goal.

4. Bruins torment Maple Leafs in Game 7’s, especially in 2012-13

Aside from a respectable first-round series loss to the Capitals in 2016-17, every Maple Leafs season since 2005-06 ended in one of two ways:

  • Missing the playoffs.
  • Or losing to the Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

We didn’t know it yet, but the “it was 4-1” nightmare ended up being the most horrific part of a terrifying trilogy. After serving as the slasher movie villain who wouldn’t die in 2012-13, the Bruins kept hunting down the Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(Nazem Kadri definitely served as the horror movie character who investigates that strange noise. Or maybe he was the person who did something last summer? I can’t decide.)

That Game 7 on May 13, 2013 remains dizzying. The Maple Leafs were up 4-1 5:29 into the third period, yet that lead unraveled during a series of events that remains hard to believe. Ultimately, Patrice Bergeron ended the series at 5-4 with an overtime-winner.

Again, repeated Game 7 letdowns open up these old wounds, and create new ones for Maple Leafs fans. Ouch.

3. Another seven-game series between the Capitals and Penguins (2016-17)

How about we just cobble together all of the great series the Capitals and/or Penguins were in during the decade? When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

After all, they both faced the Lightning in seven-game series. For sheer brutality and inanity, you could absolutely argue that the Flyers beating the Penguins in six games in 2011-12 should be a top-five series. And, of course, it was epic when the Capitals finally slayed the Penguins dragon in 2017-18.

But in boiling down this list to a manageable size, let’s go with another series that went seven between these two teams.

A truly fantastic Capitals team seemed to “choke,” falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s easy forget that they defiantly forced a Game 7, though, because the Penguins ended up winning 2-0. Some rare tough moments for Braden Holtby set the stage for that redemptive run to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

2. A riotous 2011 Stanley Cup Final series between the Canucks and Bruins

For a long time, I thought this series should be number one. It tops the list if you weigh memorable moments most heavily.

No doubt, the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 were ugly. It was also hard to look away.

The messiness started before all of the property damage, though. Tim Thomas didn’t want to “pump Roberto Luongo’s tires.” Brad Marchand was, well, Brad Marchand to the Sedin twins. An Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton backfired for the Canucks.

There was just so much going on. And, going by my tiebreaker standards, the Canucks also finally beat the Blackhawks earlier in that postseason.

But the actual hockey was hit-or-miss, at least compared to the best-of-the-best. Just look at the anticlimactic Game 7 itself, which the Bruins won 4-0.

Still, that was some wild stuff.

1. Kings beat Blackhawks in best NHL playoff series of the decade (2013-14)

As tempted as I was to go with riots and deflated tires, the epic back-and-forth between two of the best teams of the decade ultimately swayed me.

From 2009-10 through 2014-15, the Blackhawks and Kings won five of the six Stanley Cups. That 2014 Western Conference Final ended up being the peak of that rivalry.

From a Game 5 that required double overtime, to a Game 7 that also stretched beyond regulation, the hockey was truly sublime.

No doubt, the Kings pulling off the fourth-ever “reverse sweep” helped sway me, too. Los Angeles didn’t just come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks. They absolutely roared back, winning those last four games by a combined score of 19-5.

Drew Doughty claimed he saw fear in the eyes of his Sharks opponents. Can you blame him for saying that after such a rally?

It turned out that the Kings would not be denied that postseason, and I cannot deny that their battle with the Blackhawks was the best of a strong decade of playoff series for the NHL.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters
How to spice up a possible virtual 2020 NHL Draft

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.