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Zulgad: Cause for confusion: Wild’s timing on jettisoning Bruce Boudreau makes little sense

Why now?

That was the immediate question when news broke Friday morning that Bruce Boudreau had been fired as the Wild’s coach and it remained the question after first-year general manager Bill Guerin held a late-morning press conference.

Guerin didn’t dismiss the fact that the Wild blowing a two-goal lead in the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night might have played a role in Boudreau losing his job. One immediate thought had been that Boudreau might have objected to Guerin’s trade-for-the-future on Monday that sent Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh. Did that create acrimony between the two? The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 24 and there’s a chance Guerin will move another core veteran or two before then in order to build for the future.

That theory was run by former North Stars general manager and Minnesota hockey authority Lou Nanne during an interiew on SKOR North on Friday morning. Nanne said he didn’t believe Boudreau would have objected to Guerin making more moves because as a veteran coach he’s well aware of what a GM has to do.

Guerin, meanwhile, sounded like a guy who believes interim coach Dean Evason can get more out of the Wild in their remaining 25 games. The Wild had a chance to pull within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference on Thursday but instead ended up being three points back of Arizona. Guerin said he felt the team “needed a different voice,” despite the fact the Wild were 6-3-1 in their past 10 games and 4-1-1 in their past six.

After dealing Zucker on Monday and again in discussing Boudreau’s dismissal on Friday, Guerin made it clear he sees the Wild as a playoff team. So is this why the change was made? Because Guerin thinks players had tuned out Boudreau and will listen to Evason?

Keep in mind, Evason was put on Boudreau’s coaching staff last season by one-and-done GM Paul Fenton because Fenton and Evason were close. This isn’t even Guerin’s guy who is taking over and there is little chance he will be around next season. No one would have been surprised if Fenton had made this move with 25 games left last season because the assumption would have been Evason would be the permanent replacement.

The fact Guerin would make a change wasn’t surprising, especially with Boudreau working in the last season of his four-year contract. It would have been easy to do after an atrocious 1-6 start to the season when it looked as if the Wild would be one of the worst teams in the NHL. It would have been easy during an 11-game point streak, if Guerin wasn’t interested in seeing Boudreau manage to squeeze nearly every possible point from a roster that needed a high draft pick more than a playoff berth.

Guerin didn’t take the Wild GM job until late August — Fenton was fired in late July after it became clear he lacked the ability to work well with others — and he showed great patience in waiting to make his first major moves. The Zucker trade was the first and had been rumored for weeks. There were many who believed Guerin would bring in his own coach in 2020-21, but by this point those people thought Boudreau would make it through this season.

“In a decision like this, it’s never just one thing,” Guerin said. “I just felt like the timing was right. You’re never going to make everybody happy, people are always going to question you, but I just feel like this time the timing is right to do it now. That’s just the way I felt.”

The one thing we don’t know is whether Guerin is just putting his plan for the future into place, or whether he was under pressure from owner Craig Leipold to get this team into the playoffs. That should not be a priority but Leipold is a huge fan (that’s a good and bad thing) and he’s also a businessman who has seen plenty of empty seats at Xcel Energy Center this season.

Perhaps, Leipold is hoping that if the Wild can sneak into the playoffs a first-round series will help make up for some of the lost revenue and maybe get back a few of the season-ticket holders who have jumped off the bandwagon. Leipold already got a solid from his buddy, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who awarded him the 2021 Winter Classic at Target Field and thus created a vehicle that is sure to move season tickets to those who want to make sure they can be in attendance at the outdoor game.

The Wild’s game Saturday against the Sharks will complete a stretch in which they have played 18 of 22 at home. Minnesota is 10-9-2 in that time overall and 8-7-2 in the 17 games at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild will then have 24 games left, including 14 on the road. Minnesota is 10-15-2 away from St. Paul this season.

After the Wild’s loss to the Rangers, Boudreau talked like a coach who was confident he had the remainder of the season to get things right. “This is what it’s going to be for 25 games,” he said. “I think our problem today was we need 18 players and a goalie to play great and we didn’t have all 18 players playing at their best today. When we do that, we’ve got good character and they work hard but things don’t always go right if they’re not at their best.”

It’s unclear if Guerin had decided to fire Boudreau by that time — Guerin watched the game from the general manager’s box — or if that decision wasn’t made until the sun came up.

Asked if he would have made this move if the Wild had beaten the Rangers, Guerin said: “It’s always one of those kind of things that you think about, but we didn’t win last night. It’s not just one win, it’s not one loss, it’s not one week. It’s a series of things. Even though Bruce and I have had a great relationship, I really enjoyed working with him, I learned a lot from him, I think he liked working with me. The most important thing is that the players are going into this stretch run on a high and I felt like they just needed a different voice right now.”

If the Wild were an underachieving group expected to make the playoffs, that explanation would make perfect sense. But given what Boudreau managed to get out of this not ultra-talented team, jettisoning him now is a curious decision by Guerin. There is only one thing that seems certain: Boudreau deserved better.


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