Bruce Boudreau was asked about getting help on the blue line following the Wild’s 5-2 loss Thursday night in Chicago. But the unhappy coach seemed to provide a much broader answer.
“Well, we are going to have to do something,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know what we’re doing. I haven’t talked to Paul (Fenton, the Wild’s general manager) yet, obviously. I mean, we can’t continue. Something’s got to give. We can’t continue to go on like this or we’ll take ourselves right out of the playoff race.”
Boudreau isn’t wrong.
The Wild have lost five consecutive games, scoring five goals and getting one point in that time, and have fallen four points out of the eighth and final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Vancouver (40 points) and Edmonton (39) sit between the Wild (37) and eighth-place Dallas (41). The Wild are only four points ahead of the last place team in the conference, the Los Angeles Kings.
It’s no secret that Boudreau wants some help for his sinking team — since completing a 5-2 road trip in mid-November the Wild have gone 6-12-1 — and he wants it yesterday. He was brought here with the hope that he could do what Mike Yeo couldn’t and he’s now in the third season of a four-year, $12 million contract.
So far he has two first-round playoff exits to show for his efforts and right now he has a roster that is struggling to score goals, despite registering a season-high 48 shots on Thursday, and doesn’t appear anywhere near ready to compete with the upper-echelon teams in the league. The loss of defenseman Matt Dumba for at least three months following surgery only makes things worse.
Boudreau, who will turn 64 on Jan. 9, deserves better than this. He’s a good coach who wins in the regular season — eight first-place finishes in 11 seasons and more than 100 points in each of his first two years with the Wild — but has only gotten his team past the second round once and is 1-7 in Game 7s.
Boudreau and the Wild aren’t going to have to worry about playing hockey in the springtime the way things are going and the team’s run of six consecutive playoff berths is in jeopardy.
Chuck Fletcher, the general manager who hired Boudreau, would have almost certainly made a trade in the coming days to try to shake up things and spark his team. Considering this collection of Wild players always seems to need a kick in the breezers, it might have worked. But Fletcher was fired after the Wild’s third consecutive first-round playoff exit last season and replaced by Fenton.
It’s likely that Fenton has a much different agenda than Fletcher and that isn’t good news for Boudreau. Fenton, who helped build a Stanley Cup-contender as assistant general manager in Nashville, is going to do what he thinks is best for the Wild in the long term. That means the days of trading prospects and draft picks for immediate help are gone. At least for now.
Here’s where it gets interesting for everyone involved.
It sounds as if Wild owner Craig Leipold wasn’t kidding when he said he felt this roster only needed “tweaks” after Fenton was hired. Leipold believed he was sitting on a team that could contend with only a few minor alterations.
This view isn’t a surprise considering Leipold has no interest in losing season-ticket holders, doesn’t want to give up the revenue generated in the playoffs and, as a fan himself, wants to see his team win. Leipold also is in the seventh year of paying Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s 13-year, $98 million contracts that were given out with the intent of bringing a Stanley Cup to Minnesota.
Whether Fenton has explained to Leipold that this current group isn’t going to win a Stanley Cup isn’t known and maybe the general manager is simply going to wait for Leipold to realize this himself. But if Fenton is doing his job, and there’s no reason to believe he isn’t, he is left with two options.
The first will be to maybe make a minor move but keep the majority of this team together and hope they miss the playoffs. That would allow Fenton to begin retooling the roster this offseason. The second would be to make a plea to Leipold to allow him to begin making moves around the Feb. 25 trade deadline and we don’t mean to add veterans.
Parise, Suter and Mikko Koivu have no-move clauses but there are plenty of pieces that could be moved, including center Eric Staal and goalie Devan Dubnyk. Both have modified no-trade clauses and the 34-year-old Staal, in the last season of his contract, could be a key addition to a contender. Fenton probably would be more than happy to deal Charlie Coyle and/or Nino Niederreiter, but they are both having such disappointing seasons it’s hard to believe they would bring back much of a return.
The one thing that Fenton can’t do is make a trade that sacrifices any future assets in order to get short-term help. Not unless that trade is a so one-sided in Minnesota’s favor that it results in the other general manager being dismissed shortly after its completion.
Fenton’s hands are tied because the Parise and Suter contracts don’t allow him to completely blow up the roster, but watching this team on a daily basis likely has made it clear that adding a piece or two that fits under the current cap isn’t going to change things.
Fenton could fire Boudreau — and he might do so, given he didn’t hire him — but again it’s become clear that jettisoning coaches isn’t the answer. Wild players got that when Yeo was fired and replaced by John Torchetti during the 2015-16 season. That team rallied to make the playoffs — the Furious Rallies at their finest — and then was dispatched by Dallas in six games in the opening round.
Boudreau isn’t the problem but making an immediate and largely cosmetic change to help him isn’t the answer. Boudreau isn’t going to like that but at this point, if Fenton wants to build an actual winner that can play deep into the springtime, his concern has to be the future of this franchise.