A Long Playoff Run Might Be The Only Way Head Coach Bruce Boudreau Can Keep His Job
Bruce Boudreau has had a phenomenal run as a National Hockey League head coach.
Since taking over behind the bench of the Washington Capitals in 2007, Boudreau has done nothing but win games in the regular season. In eight full seasons (82-game schedule) of coaching, Boudreau has achieved 46 or more wins in each of them. Unfortunately, it’s the playoffs where he has had very little success.
Boudreau’s teams have qualified for the NHL playoffs in every season he has coached. But only once has he ever led his team past the second round. In six of his 11 post-season appearances, his team has been a first-round casualty.
Current Minnesota Wild General Manager Paul Fenton took over for the fired Chuck Fletcher at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. With Boudreau’s track record of regular season success, it was no surprise that Fenton kept Boudreau in place behind the bench. This allowed the players to maintain some familiarity while Fenton slowly and patiently made the moves he deemed necessary while shaping the team to his liking. In addition, Boudreau did lead the Wild to a combined 94 wins over the previous two seasons. He was certainly worthy of another shot.
But new GM’s, at one point or another, like to bring in their own people. It’s obviously not surprising that executives like to hire those that they have built a relationship with over time, a trust in their knowledge to apply the same values they possess themselves.
Win Or Else
You have to assume that Fenton is no different. Regular season wins and playoff appearances are great, but a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals is the ultimate goal. If Boudreau can’t translate those regular season wins into playoff glory, no doubt Fenton will move on from Boudreau and give the Wild a fresh face behind the bench.
It’s no different from what transpired with the Chicago Black Hawks the last few seasons.
Stan Bowman took over as General Manager prior to the 2009-10 season in Chicago, where coach Joel Quenneville was already in place from the previous season. Bowman was patient, and allowed the former Jack Adams award winner to keep his position behind the bench. That patience paid off with a Stanley Cup victory that same season, and two more championships in the next five years.
But even with that success, rumors always circulated that Bowman and Quenneville could never see eye-to-eye in terms of on-ice philosophy. One would assume that Quenneville would have held that position and left on his own terms one day. But after two first-round exits and then missing the post-season entirely last year, the writing was on the wall for Quenneville. A slow start for the Black Hawks this season led to the shocking dismissal of Quenneville by Bowman, who brought in current coach Jeremy Colliton.
For the first time in many years, a Boudreau-led team is having trouble finding its legs in mid-season. With as many wins as losses to this point of the season (26-22-4), the Wild’s current two-game losing streak has them precariously holding onto a wild card position in the Western conference standings. They are however only two points out of third place in the Central division.
Dumba Injury A Big Loss
An injury to Wild defenceman Matt Dumba has been a major blow to the team this season. Dumba tore his pectoral muscle in a fight with Matthew Tkachuk on December 15th, and his return to the line-up this year is in doubt. Since Dumba’s injury, the Wild have gone 9-10-2, and his absence is felt immensely each game. When healthy, Dumba averages well over 23 minutes a game in TOI (time on ice). Very few teams can replace those lost minutes internally.
Asking the Wild to fill Dumba’s roster spot through the trade route prior to the deadline on February 25th is a tall order. Thanks to big contracts to the likes of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu, Minnesota has very little room to add any defencemen of significance because of salary cap limitations. This alone will likely see the Wild stand pat at the trade deadline, and simply hope Dumba can return at some point prior to the stretch drive to aid the team into the playoffs.
Schedule Is On Their Side
One thing benefitting the Wild is their upcoming schedule. Starting Tuesday, Minnesota plays 10 of its next 11 games against teams at or below .500 on the season, six of those being on home ice. This is a vital stretch for the Wild, one that could not only determine their fate for the season, but that of Boudreau’s as well. After that, 14 of their remaining 19 games come against teams currently over .500. Anyone associated with the Wild will agree, the time to make a move in the standings is now.
The Wild are not getting any younger. Koivu is 35. Parise, Suter and Eric Staal are 34. Goalie Devan Dubnyk is 32. Even with a long playoff run, it’s inevitable that Fenton will have to make some roster moves after this season to bring some youth into the organization. But that will prove to be difficult.
Parise and Suter both have No Movement clauses in their contracts, and both have an average annual value (AAV) of over $7.5 million until 2023. Combined the two take up almost 20% of the team salary cap. Jared Spurgeon and Dubnyk have Modified No Trade clauses in their deals, and Zucker has one kicking in next season. Fenton has his work cut out.
When it comes to on-ice philosophy, Fenton and Boudreau are complete opposites. Before becoming GM in Minnesota, Fenton spent years as an assistant GM with the defensive-minded Nashville Predators. Boudreau, on the other hand, has been blessed with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Going with the hand he was dealt, Boudreau has been all offence, all the time. Its the type of player Boudreau himself was over a 17-year professional career, averaging over a point-per-game in many of those season.
Boudreau played in an era where winning a game 7-5 was common and accepted. In today’s NHL, a coach winning a game by a 7-5 score is often miserable afterwards, lamenting poor defensive lapses and vowing to “get things straight on the back-end”.
With different ideology between Fenton and Boudreau, it seems inevitable that a long-term alliance between the two is unlikely. Boudreau, 64, is still coaching in an era where not only are the players coming in and producing at a younger age, but so are the bench bosses. Young coaches with fresh systems and new defensive schemes. The only avenue to likely buy Boudreau more time behind the Wild bench is a Stanley Cup berth.
For that to happen, the Wild need to start winning.
And the league’s schedule maker is urging them to do that right now.
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Statistice provided by hockey-reference.com, hockeydb.com and theScore
Feature photo image credit: Nikos Michals