Lindy Ruff

Bruce Boudreau another NHL coaching job COVID-19
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An NHL team should give Bruce Boudreau another shot as head coach

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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.

Sabres fire Housley after brutal finish

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Reminder: in hockey, it’s not three strikes and you’re out. If Sunday’s any indication, sometimes you only get two.

The Buffalo Sabres fired head coach Phil Housley after two seasons, giving him the same rope as the Florida Panthers afforded Bob Boughner, who was also canned after two seasons. The parallels continue from there – both the Sabres and Panthers are Atlantic Division teams with heightened expectations they didn’t reach, but also seem to change directions at the drop of a hat – and Sabres GM Jason Botterill has his work cut out for him in getting through another tough patch.

Housley failed to bring the Sabres to the 2018 and 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Buffalo’s continued struggles has clearly left the mood strained for loyal fans. The Sabres went 58-84-22 under Housley, memorably going from first in the NHL briefly this season, to plummeting to the point that the Sabres have the fifth-best (8.5 percent) chance of winning the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.

That flat finish improves their chances of landing an impact player like Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, but it also cost Housley his job.

Can someone else right the ship in Buffalo? They haven’t exactly found a lot of answers, as this ship has been rudderless basically since they ended Lindy Ruff’s lengthy reign behind the bench.

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.

Under Pressure: Lindy Ruff

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The Dallas Stars were a fun dark horse candidate for some time, but this summer ensured that they can’t get away with being a “work in progress” any longer. Much of the pressure to advance falls on Lindy Ruff’s shoulders.

Plenty of questions remain on defense

When you look beyond the flashy set of forwards and the gaudy prices on goalies, one cannot help but wonder if Dallas will still struggle to keep pucks out of its net.

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi should (potentially) at least give them average-to-good goaltending most nights, but will the Stars’ hyped defensive prospects mature in time to patch up a leaky group of blueliners?

For one thing, it’s a little odd that Tyler Seguin wasn’t shaken off of his belief that Stars couldn’t just outscore their opponents in 2014-15.

“We felt we had all these top players, all this firepower that could score a ton of goals. Automatically in training camp we were scoring a ton, but we weren’t focusing on defense,” Seguin told Sportsnet in early August.

“That’s not the on the coaches or GMs at all. That was all on us. We felt we could outscore every team.”

Yes, Seguin lets management off the hook, but it still seems a little strange.

Rising expectations

On the bright side, the Stars were a pretty strong possession team. Defending Big D goes deep on that front.

To some extent, the formula might not be ideal, though; the Stars’ blistering offense (third in the NHL in “SAT For”) in some ways camouflages the fact that Dallas also gave up far more scoring chances than they would have preferred (20th in “SAT Against”).

How much can we reasonably expect the Stars’ defense to improve from there? Again, it’s difficult to say which prospects may make an impact (and when), so the blueline may be largely similar to the shaky one from last season. Johnny Oduya serves as a nice upgrade over Trevor Daley, but only to a certain extent.

Fair or not, Ruff will absorb plenty of blame if the same problems blot out the Stars once more.

Nichushkin expected to return to Stars’ lineup tonight vs. St. Louis

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Valeri Nichushkin, who was recalled from his conditioning assignment on Thursday, is expected to return to the Stars’ lineup tonight when Dallas plays host to the St. Louis Blues.

Nichushkin has missed nearly five months after undergoing hip surgery in November.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff would not confirm Nichushkin’s return to the lineup, but Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News reports that it’s a safe bet the 20-year-old will appear in his first game since Nov. 6.

“He’s real excited to be back playing, to be back here and have the opportunity to play,” Ruff said.

Nichushkin had 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games during his rookie campaign last season while playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

He played in just four games registering a minus-3 rating this season prior to the surgery.

Ruff admits the club has missed the presence of the 6-foot-4, 205-pound forward.

“We’ve missed his size,” Ruff said. “For the most part, Seguin, Benn and Val were a good line. He was a guy who could hang onto the puck down low, physically dominate some teams, and even come off the wall in the offensive zone and make plays. And I really felt by the end of [last] year he was one of our best defenders coming back defending.”

Tonight concludes the five-game season series between the two clubs. Each team has won twice.

Stars’ Nichushkin (hip) nearing return

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When Dallas Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin returns to the lineup is now up to the 20-year-old.

Nichushkin, who has been out of the Stars’ lineup since November recovering from hip surgery, continues to practice with the team, but recently had a minor setback.

“It’s his timetable now…when he feels good enough,” Stars’ coach Lindy Ruff said. “We thought we had him close a few days ago, but with the harder practices, he was starting to feel sore and we kind of backed off a little bit. He’s skating really well. It’s just when it reaches that point when he feels he is going to be good enough to play.”

Nichushkin has appeared in just four games this season.

Last season he registered 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games with the Stars.