If you are to believe one ranking of which NHL coaches are currently sitting on the hottest of hot seats, Bruce Boudreau very well could be coaching his last home game for the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Greg Wyshynski of ESPN has Boudreau listed as one of three coaches on a hot seat that he lists as scorching, joining Ottawa’s Marc Crawford and Edmonton’s Ken Hitchcock. Both of those gentlemen, however, took over in-season and are in interim roles. Wyshynski‘s choice of where to put Boudreau isn’t a surprise considering there has been plenty of speculation that general manager Paul Fenton will replace Boudreau with Wild assistant Dean Evason this spring.
But there are strong indications that isn’t going to happen and Boudreau will be retained. Owner Craig Leipold reportedly doesn’t want to fire Boudreau, and it turns out that initial reports that Boudreau received a four-year contract in 2016, paying him around $12 million per season, did not include the fact then-general manager Chuck Fletcher gave him two additional years to serve in an advisory role. (Hat tip to the Athletic’s Michael Russo on that nugget.)
While I’ve often been the guy advocating for a coaching change in this town, this is one case where the Wild will be making the right call if they bring back Boudreau for a fourth season. This will mark the first time in Boudreau’s 12 years coaching in the NHL that his team will have missed the playoffs, at least when he has been behind the bench for the entire season. Boudreau began the 2011-12 season as coach of the Washington Capitals but was fired after a 12-9-1 start. He was quickly hired by Anaheim and went 27-23-8 but the Ducks missed the playoffs.
Boudreau won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year in the NHL in 2007-08 with Washington — the Caps went 37-17-7 for 81 points in 61 games after he took over an NHL team for the first time — and he has guided eight teams to 100-plus point seasons. However, the job he has done to keep the Wild afloat this season has been among his most impressive.
The Wild were eliminated from the playoff picture on Tuesday night when Colorado beat Edmonton, but Boudreau deserves credit for helping this team remain in the postseason race for as long as it did. This comes after Boudreau guided the Wild to 106 in his first season and 101 points in his second.
The argument for firing him would be that Boudreau hasn’t guided the Wild past the first round of the playoffs, and now he isn’t even going to the postseason. It didn’t look like good news for Boudreau last spring when Fenton decided not to bring back Boudreau’s friend, John Anderson, as an assistant coach and instead hired Evason, who had been the coach of Nashville’s affiliate in the American Hockey League. Fenton had served as the general manager of that Milwaukee-based team and it appeared he was setting the wheels in motion to replace Boudreau.
But anyone who has watched the Wild this season knows Boudreau has pushed just about every button possible to get the most from this collection. He has yelled when he needed to yell, provided tough love when that was necessary, given emotional support when that was needed and even kept quiet when he could have melted down. The loss of defenseman Matt Dumba and center Mikko Koivu to season-ending injuries played a role in derailing thingsthere were other factors as well.
Boudreau was hired in an attempt to find a veteran coach who could get the most from a team that continually frustrated Mike Yeo. But just as Yeo and interim coach John Torchetti failed to get the most from this mercurial bunch, Boudreau also didn’t have the answers. That cost Fletcher his job last spring after the Wild was bounced by Winnipeg in five games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Fenton wasn’t hired to make a coaching change, but rather to divest the Wild roster of players whom Fletcher had acquired but couldn’t bring himself to send elsewhere. That’s what Fenton did by trading away Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund. Not all of these deals look great — the Niederreiter for Victor Rask trade appears to be among the worst in the NHL this season — but Fenton was given the power to make those move because the roster needed a shakeup.
It’s often the case that the GM also wants to hire his own guy to coach the team and usually it makes sense to go in this direction. But one move that Fletcher got right before being shown the door was hiring Boudreau after he had been fired in Anaheim.
Boudreau proved again this season that he’s a very good coach, and to blame him for the Wild’s disappointing season would be a mistake. Giving him at least one more season behind the bench is absolutely the right move, and it appears that’s exactly what will happen.