A name became available on the coaching market Friday that should shoot to the top of Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher’s interview list.
Bruce Boudreau was fired by the Anaheim Ducks in a crazy move by a team that has won four straight Pacific Division titles. Boudreau, a NHL coach for the last nine years, has the best points percentage of any active head coach and made it to 400 wins faster than any coach in league history.
The Wild have a hole to fill on the bench after firing Mike Yeo in February. John Torchetti never shook the “interim head coach” title. In press time this week, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said that Torchetti is in the mix for the opening still. Yet, it’s hard to believe that after hiring two rookie coaches that failed to send the Wild on a serious run, that owner Craig Leipold or Fletcher are looking to go down that road again.
Everything about Boudreau makes sense for the Wild. It’s a team that needs a coach with experience who can handle veterans and has had success with young players. They need to be able to push for winning now, as much as fans would like to see more attention on prospects. They’re on the hook for some big deals and are seeing the end of the prime years of its biggest stars. There’s another chance here to strike before they have too many players on big deals, well into their decline.
This Season in Anaheim
While the Ducks went through a slump this season where their abysmal shooting percentage had the losses piling up, Boudreau was able to coach his way out of it. He wasn’t scared to start giving ice time to young defensemen who could move the puck and he wasn’t scared to shut down the neutral zone and freeze out the opposition. The scoring didn’t return as soon as they’d hoped, but they started to win because they became impossible to score on.
Mark Giordano said, “It was extreme, the biggest trap we’ve seen all year.”
Boudreau is able to do a lot with talent. He’s frequently had top talent — his NHL clubs have either had Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom or Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — and that’s maybe a problem for Minnesota.
But with a shifting locker room dynamic in Minnesota — something Chuck Fletcher said wasn’t a rift but a generational gap — this could be something that Boudreau can help with. There are older stars in Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Thomas Vanek, as well as some real talent in the system that the team will need to rely on in coming years with a tricky cap situation looming.
Not only is there evidence that the roster makes sense for a Boudreau team, he’s able to coach a physical hockey style, which, like it or not, may be the style that Fletcher is looking for in his next hire. The Wild have never been an overly physical team, but there’s been a love of those grinding players like Matt Cooke, John Scott and others over the years.
Fletcher and his staff have drafted many big forwards recently, looking, to some extent, to have some big power forwards on the roster in coming seasons. Alex Tuch, Jordan Greenway (the biggest player drafted in the 2015 draft) and Pavel Jenys all fit this mold.
This was additionally apparent when Torchetti revealed that Fletcher had a significant hand in the team turning to pugilist Kurtis Gabriel — who had three games of NHL experience — for the final playoff games. Gabriel was given the nod over a number of more offensively gifted prospects, as well as veteran Ryan Carter.
There are options out there for Fletcher. Dallas Eakins doesn’t have a NHL job. Guy Boucher is interested in a return to the NHL and is rumored to have talked with the Ottawa Senators. Marc Crawford is in a similar position. Randy Carlyle — god help us — is still without a NHL coaching job. If Anaheim doesn’t hire him, Trent Yawney is another name of interest.
But Bruce Boudreau would be a big get for the Wild. It’s a coach that could help them dig out of year after year of inconsistency and being stuck in the middle of the Western Conference, never making a serious run and never being so bad that a rebuild is in the works.
There simply isn’t a better option available this summer for the Wild.