Bruce Boudreau

Should Sharks keep Bob Boughner as head coach?
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Should Sharks stick with Boughner, who’s ‘planning on being back’ as head coach?

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The “pause” to the 2019-20 NHL season leaves a destroyed sweater’s worth of loose threads, and one of them involves whether the Sharks will keep Bob Boughner around as head coach.

One of the few obvious answers is that … yes, Boughner is hoping he can keep the gig. He told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz as much in a piece that’s absolutely worth your time (sub required).

“I feel good about it,” Boughner said. “I think that given a fair chance, that I’m the guy for this team. And I think Doug believes that, from what I know. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m planning on being back, I’m planning on putting a plan in place for next year, and trying to look forward.”

Grading Boughner as interim head coach

If you look at pure standings results, the impact has been negligible.

The Sharks languished with a 15-16-2 record over 33 games when they fired Peter DeBoer in December. In 37 games under Boughner, the Sharks remain mediocre (14-20-3), and actually saw their points percentage drop (.485 to .419).

Naturally, this is where it’s fair to repeat Boughner’s phrase of a “fair chance.”

For one thing, the Sharks had to feel bummed out that they played poorly enough to get DeBoer fired. Some might have believed that this season was over, which already stacks the deck a bit against an interim head coach.

Boughner also suffered through some personnel challenges. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl both suffered significant injuries in January, while the Sharks had to pull the plug on Erik Karlsson‘s season in February. Subtract more players from the mix during the trade deadline, and you could argue Boughner never had a “full deck.”

If you look at Natural Stat Trick, you can see improvements in advanced stats under Boughner. The Sharks look more formidable from expected goals standpoints, for example. Boughner mentioned that during his interview with Kurz, actually.

“We did a really good job of bringing the high-end scoring chances down, not giving up as much and creating more at the other end,” Boughner said. “I’m not saying that’s related to more goals scored or anything like that, but the chances that we were producing, our possession time, we were better defending off the rush. Things like that. So, analytically, I thought there were a lot of improvements made. Those are really your foundations of your system and what’s working and what’s not. There were some good things happening behind the scenes.”

Context counts

Still, not every sign was positive.

It’s understandable that Boughner would lean more on Brent Burns. After all, he was a) coaching for a job and b) dealing with injuries to the team’s defense.

Even so, it’s tough to stomach the Sharks handing a heavier burden to a 33-year-old who they were better off keeping fresh. That’s what happened with Burns, who averaged 24:31 TOI under DeBoer, and then 26:12 per night with Boughner.

My general takeaway is that Boughner getting another “fair” crack at an NHL head coaching job is understandable. The Sharks just don’t seem like that right opportunity, because their window is closing — and that’s assuming 2019-20 was a bump in the road, not the window already being shut.

If this is your last real shot, does Boughner have the steadiest aim? Maybe in a shallower pond than the Sharks will be swimming in.

Sharks have rich group of coaches to choose from

For all we know, Boughner is the best option for the Sharks. That said, the job market presents Wilson with a wealth of unusually strong alternatives.

  • Bruce Boudreau strikes me as the best choice of all.

To start, it would just be thematic fun. Boudreau is the “coach who couldn’t win the big one” who would take on a team that’s been a regular contender but couldn’t get over the hump. C’mon, that’s already pretty fun.

He’s also versatile. Boudreau went from the high-flying Capitals to adjusting on the fly in Anaheim to clamping down to helping the Wild suffocate opponents on defense. The Sharks’ roster presents a challenge between risk and reserve in a defense-focused league, but if anyone can find the balance, it’s Boudreau.

  • Gerard Gallant would obviously be fun, too.

How surreal and yet hockey would it be if the two coaches in that wild Game 7 ended up swapping teams? Peter DeBoer is already on the Golden Knights’ bench, so what about Gallant in San Jose?

  • Peter Laviolette might be a decent fit.
  • Wilson is bold enough to hire Mike Babcock, too.

The more you look at that list, the more you wonder if Boughner … well, has a “fair chance” to keep his gig as Sharks head coach.

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 on NBCSN: Blues looking to keep rolling, Wild aim to keep hopes alive

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues and Wild are in very different situations, yet both teams have dealt with tumultuous times heading into their Sunday game on NBCSN.

Blues starting to heat up again?

Things were starting to look a little dicey for St. Louis. The Blues lost five in a row from Feb. 6-16, with a game against the Ducks postponed following Jay Bouwmeester’s health scare. Pulling back further, the Blues managed just two wins from Jan. 15 – Feb. 16 (2-7-3).

For some time, it looked like the Blues would cruise to a Central Division title despite Vladimir Tarasenko‘s absence.

Now the Blues are on an upward trend again. In dispatching the Stars 5-1 in Dallas, St. Louis is now on a three-game winning streak.

“The way the guys in front of me and [Jordan Binnington] have played the last four games has been pretty remarkable,” Jake Allen said, via the Blues’ website. “Scoring chances created, back-checking and blocked shots. It’s great to see.”

There are also positive vibes regarding trade acquisition Marco Scandella. Craig Berube provided a positive early review to how Scandella is working with Colton Parayko, as the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported (sub required).

“He’s a big guy,” Berube said. “Plays physical, good defender, good stick. Two big guys out there that we can play against anybody, be hard on the other team, be hard on top players on the other teams. (Jay Bouwmeester) was there for a long time with Parayko. This is a similar fit that I see.”

Wild try to hang in there

Minnesota’s been through quite a bit in 2019-20, as well.

After quite a few instances where he seemed to be on the hot seat, Bruce Boudreau got the axe. Plenty of Wild players have wondered about their future, a thought highlighted by Jason Zucker being traded. Interim head coach Dean Evason has had his hands full in trying to keep the Wild in the West playoff hunt.

It still looks like a serious uphill battle, but the Wild have won two in a row. Jared Spurgeon‘s hat trick was the highlight of a frenetic 5-3 Friday win against the Oilers.

“We had a real scramble-fest going there in the third period,” Evason said, via the Wild website. “But guys were committed and it didn’t really matter who we called up, they just played and played the right way. It’s very encouraging.”

With all of that in mind, will it be the Blues or Wild who end Sunday’s NBCSN game feeling encouraged?

Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Xcel Energy Center alongside analyst Pierre McGuire. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Reviewing NHL trades; Boudreau wants another coaching gig

Boudreau wants another coaching gig; reviewing trades NHL deadline headlines
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Bruce Boudreau admits he was blindsided by his firing, and uttered the inevitable expletives. Boudreau doesn’t believe he’s too old to keep coaching, and wants another gig. (The Athletic, sub required)

• By trading Jason Zucker and firing Boudreau when Boudreau didn’t see it coming, Wild GM Bill Guerin put his team on notice. Who might be next? (Pioneer-Press)

• Doctors haven’t cleared Nolan Patrick for contact, but he’s skating again with teammates. Patrick explains how much of a difference it makes not to be alone anymore during this process. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Canadiens coach Claude Julien received a $10K fine for his comments to officials. (Global News)

• The league added some context to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s red-hot, record-breaking 11-game winning streak. Spoiler: they haven’t trailed very often. That and more in their morning skate. (NHL)

[PHT is tracking and reviewing trades through the deadline here]

• I must confess that when I read the headline “Part of the Sedinery,” I was wondering if there might be a Sedin twins wine. Reading about their outstanding charitable efforts was even more delicious than a smooth Valpolicella. (Vancouver Province)

• Travis Yost argues that Mike Hoffman would be a perfect fit for the Oilers. Actually, Yost is making that argument again. Imagine Hoffman’s sniping with Connor McDavid‘s playmaking? Goalies everywhere grumbled. (TSN)

• Going longer-term on Edmonton, Tyler Yaremchuk discusses Ken Holland’s quest for cost certainty. Giving Zack Kassian an iffy contract certainly took away a lot of breathing room. (Oilers Nation)

• Raw Charge makes a spot-on analysis of the Blake Coleman trade from Tampa’s perspective. Coleman is indeed a great addition, but credit to New Jersey: the price was high. (Raw Charge)

• Lou Lamoriello is reviewing other options for trades after adding Andy Greene to the mix. They’ve lost some ground in playoff races, so that might be a wise strategy. (Islanders Insight)

Blake Wheeler feels “gutted” for injured Jets teammate Bryan Little. (Winnipeg Free-Press)

• The Blue Jackets have had to scratch for every win, point, and basically every goal this season. (The Score)

Logan Couture seems close to returning to practicing with the Sharks. Here’s some unsolicited advice: err on the side of safety during a lost season. (NHL/Sharks)

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.

Bruce Boudreau fired, Wild names Evason interim coach

Boudreau hot seat
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Bruce Boudreau has been fired by the Minnesota Wild with 25 games remaining and the team sitting three points out of a wild card spot.

“I would like to thank Bruce for his hard work and commitment to the Minnesota Wild during his tenure with the organization and wish him and his family the best in the future,” said Wild GM Bill Guerin in a statement.

Dean Evason, who was named an assistant in June 2018, has been named interim head coach.

Guerin made the decision Friday morning, a day after a 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers. Despite a sluggish start to the season, they had been playing well of late going 7-3-1 in their previous 10 games. Still Boudreau being firing felt inevitable as he coached the final year of his deal.

In parts of four seasons under Boudreau, the Wild compiled a 158-110-35 record and the 12th-best points percentage since his hiring in 2016. He led the team to two playoff appearances, which both ended in five games in Round 1.

You can also point the finger at one area that ends up costing head coaches their jobs: goaltending. Since Boudreau was hired, the team’s even strength save percentage has gone from .926 and .927 in his first two years to .912 in each of the past two seasons.

Boudreau, who marks the eighth NHL coaching change this season, is an interesting free agent on the market at the moment. The Devils, Flames, Sharks, Stars all currently employ interim head coaches, while teams like the Red Wings and Sabres could potentially be seeking new bench bosses in the near future. Any one of them could benefit from hiring Boudreau, who has a track record of improving teams after coming on board.

There’s also the possible interest by the Seattle expansion franchise who will begin play with the 2021-22 NHL season. But given Boudreau’s work history, he’s not out of a coaching gig for very long. It should be interesting to see if any teams move quick to lock up his services.

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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.

Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

Wild five points from playoff spot Red Wings
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If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
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

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

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.