Bruce Boudreau has been down this road before.
Through 17 games, the Minnesota Wild are near the bottom of the NHL. As it stands on Nov. 145 they have the third-best odds to win the NHL Draft lottery, according to Tankathon.com. At the moment, the days of being a perennial playoff team appear to be over in the State of Hockey but Boudreau is one of the most decorated head coaches of all time. Between his three stops in Washington, Anaheim and Minnesota, Boudreau has a point percentage of .635 in his career, which is second only to the legendary Scotty Bowman among coaches with at least 900 games. Boudreau has a history of finding ways to win and getting the most out of his players even under the most difficult of circumstances.
The easiest example is the most recent. In 2016-17, players like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund all had career seasons that might never be repeated. In his final season in Anaheim (2015-16) the Ducks fell on their face to start the season going 1-7-2 in their first 10 games but Boudreau guided the team to a 46-25-11 record by season’s end, winning the Pacific Division and finishing with 103 points. Another similar situation happened in Washington in 2008-09, when the Capitals were 5-4-2 through 11 games but finished 50-23-8 and 108 points.
So there’s a chance Boudraeu could do it again with this year’s team. The question is: Would a turnaround be the best outcome for the franchise’s future? Let’s have a look at the best, worst and most-likely outcomes for the Wild and how they would each impact the future.
This might not be a unanimous decision among fans, but the best-case scenario is the Wild making the playoffs. That would likely mean a dramatic turn around between now and April. Such a turnaround would have to include the team’s young core players taking massive steps in their development and production. Meaning players like Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato, Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Joel Erikkson Ek etc. would be the ones pushing the Wild over the hump. If they took such leaps forward in order to make the playoffs, that would put them in position to potentially win a playoff series for the first time in five years. Being in that spot is better than any other outcome. The buzz around the team could potentially be crucial considering the Wild would like to increase the chances of Kirill Kaprizov coming over from the KHL. That result would be a win for everyone in the organization, from the players to Boudreau to the Wild’s first-year GM. A playoff appearance would give reason to believe that the Wild have something to build around.
This one seems obvious because we’ve seen it plenty of times before. The most damaging outcome toward the future would be the Wild getting hot sometime after the new year, threatening for a playoff spot and then ending up the ninth seed in the West. In this situation, a few players would probably string together nice seasons but because of the mild turn around, the Wild would end up taking themselves out of the top-five in the lottery and end up picking 12th again in the draft for a player that won’t help them immediately. It would lower their odds to get a franchise-changing prospect to almost zero. This is also means Boudreau could be out of a job. Kaprizov could also decide the Wild aren’t worth his time and stay in Russia until the Wild trade away his rights.
Given the Wild’s record and where the team is at developmental wise, the Wild finishing inside the top 5 of the draft lottery is the odds-on favorite — but they aren’t likely to be the worst team in the league. If someone like Fiala – who appears to be turning things around – takes a big step forward while the others continue to be middling players the Wild could easily end up winning just enough games not to be last. At the trade deadline, the Wild would be in position to sell off marketable assets and receive draft capital or players that can help them remain competitive in future seasons. With Devan Dubnyk regressing and possibly on his way out at the deadline, the Wild could call up goaltenders Mat Robson and/or Kaapo Kahkonen from Iowa and the organization gets a good look of who could be their future netminder.
The most likely scenario is also the one that puts Minnesota in a solid position for the future. The Wild would receive a top-five pick who could help the team sooner rather than later, Kaprizov would inks a deal to come into the fold and a few supplemental pieces added in free agency could quickly make the Wild a team worth paying attention to for future seasons.