The Wild have lost their first three games of a season for the first time in franchise history and have led for only 12 minutes, 9 seconds during that time. The latest setback was a 5-2 loss on Thursday night in Winnipeg after which coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters “we’ll get it together.”
Like every NHL coach whose team struggles will do, Boudreau pointed to the fact the St. Louis Blues were in last place in the league until early January of last season before winning the Stanley Cup. This sounds great, but anyone who looked at the Wild roster entering this season, and has watched the team’s forwards fail to finish scoring chances (six goals in three games), isn’t surprised by the start and won’t be surprised if Minnesota fails to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
So what should new general manager Bill Guerin do about this? Very little, actually. The one move he should make in the coming days doesn’t involve change but rather creating stability. Guerin needs to go to coach Bruce Boudreau, if he hasn’t done so already, and assure him that his job is safe for at least this season, if not longer.
Boudreau is used to guiding winning teams — he has missed the playoffs only twice in 12 years of coaching — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of being part of a long-term plan in Minnesota. Boudreau was hired by Chuck Fletcher, was kept around by Paul Fenton (in part because owner Craig Leipold wouldn’t let Fenton fire Boudreau) and now is on his third GM since getting the Wild job in 2016.
There has been dysfunction around Boudreau but it’s not of his doing.
Boudreau, who is in the last season of his contract, was brought in because Fletcher hoped having a veteran coach with extensive playoff experience would put the Wild over the top. That didn’t happen and now Boudreau is left to pick up the pieces of a team that has veterans and youth but no real identity.
About the only criticism of Boudreau three games in is that his constant line juggling appears desperate for a franchise that shouldn’t be desperate. There is no reason to press because there is no reason to expect them to make some type of magical run.
Forwards like Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Kevin Fiala and Jordan Greenway need to see extensive ice time because the Wild must find out just how important these guys will be to the future of this franchise. Guerin’s goal will be to get 2015 fifth-round pick Kirill Kaprizov out of the KHL after this season and build around the talented left winger. Finding out exactly what younger forwards should be on the roster with the 22-year-old Kaprizov will be among the most important things the Wild can accomplish in 2019-20.
What this franchise doesn’t need is a coaching change designed to provide a spark to a team that needs to be focused on the future. Boudreau long ago established himself as a quality NHL coach and that hasn’t changed. Now, if Guerin decides to go in a different direction after this season that is his right as a new GM.
But making an in-season change because of impatience — in a season that should be all about patience — that would be just another mistake by a franchise that already made one with its last GM hire.