The search continues for Bruce Boudreau’s replacement. It has the potential to be a long one for Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin, as he looks for the next great head coach in franchise history.
There are a few reasons. For starters, Boudreau is a tough act to follow. Secondly, based on the circumstances surrounding Boudreau’s departure and how well the team had been performing up to and even after his dismissal, it’s hard to assess the identity Guerin wants to instill in his team.
Fired this past February, Boudreau had been hired four years ago in then-general manager Chuck Fletcher’s hopes of getting the Wild to take that next step and become contenders. If you need some indication regarding the success of that venture, Guerin is the replacement of Fletcher’s replacement… sooo, yeah.
It was maybe too much to ask for Boudreau to survive one GM change. He likely wasn’t going to survive two. Sure enough, Guerin opted to take the Wild in a different direction, replacing Boudreau with assistant coach Dean Evason on an interim basis.
There are doubts Boudreau will be out of work long. With a track record of turning teams into contenders, Boudreau has been subject to swirling rumors of him being a candidate to head up the expansion Seattle franchise behind the bench. He’s not necessarily the coach you want when you’re rebuilding though, which is in part the point.
In effect, Boudreau came to the Wild as advertised. He did the job as well as anyone could have expected, which is the other part of the point. He couldn’t escape his reputation and it arguably led to his downfall. It’s the biggest reason he ranks where he does on this list of the top coaches in team history:
5. John Torchetti (2016)
- Record: 15-11-1
- Playoff Appearances: 1
- Playoff Rounds Won: 0
It’s arguably a testament to the coaching talent on this list that John Torchetti places at No. 5, seeing as he earned the second-best points percentage among all Wild bench bosses (57.4%). Nevertheless, seeing as Torchetti served only as an interim coach over a third of a season, he must rank last almost by default. That’s unless you count Evason, who hasn’t even had a chance to finish the third of the season he got (8-4 so far), earning an honorable mention as a result.
4. Todd Richards (2009-2011)
- Record: 77-71-16
- Playoff Appearances: 0
If Boudreau’s successor has big shoes to fill, they pale in size comparison to the ones Todd Richards had to wear. That’s called foreshadowing, folks.
Taking over for the team’s first head coach, Jacques Lemaire, Richards is the only one on this list to have never made the playoffs.
In Richards’ defense, this was his first head-coaching position. So, a learning curve is somewhat to be expected. Plus, he did technically improve year over year, earning two more points in 2010-11 (86) than he did in his first season (84).
Furthermore, the rosters with which he had to work also left something to be desired. For example, Mikko Koivu led the team in scoring each season. While an in-his-prime Koivu was and continues to be criminally underrated, you don’t necessarily want an elite No. 2 center having to play over his head. The fact that a rapidly declining Martin Havlat shared the scoring lead in that second season with 62 points kind of drives the point home.
Still, Richards doesn’t deserve to be completely let off the hook, as his overall effectiveness as a head coach should come into question. He eventually served as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for four seasons, making the playoffs only once (and losing in the first round that one time, in 2013-14).
Richards will always hold a special place in Minnesota Wild history as the first and hopefully not last native son to serve as head coach. However, he unfortunately didn’t leave much of an impression otherwise.
3. Mike Yeo (2011-2016)
- Record: 173-132-44
- Playoff Appearances: 3
- Playoff Rounds Won: 2
Mike Yeo has somewhat of an unjustifiable bad reputation. Part of that stems from the dubious honor he holds of having coached the St. Louis Blues into the ground in 2018-19, before being relieved of his duties by Craig Berube who went on to lead them to the Stanley Cup.
That’s an undeniably horrible stain on your record. However, that was after his time with the Wild, with whom he enjoyed a largely successful tenure. No other coach in Wild history made it to the second round twice. He impressively accomplished the feat in consecutive seasons, making for three straight playoff berths.
Of course, Yeo and his Wild teams could never get over the hump, “hump” being code for the Chicago Blackhawks against whom they lost each time. Granted, the Blackhawks teams Yeo faced were incredible, either getting eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions or winning the Cup outright.
Ultimately, it was determined the Wild needed a change behind the bench, namely because they were in the throes of an eight-game losing streak in 2015-16 when Yeo got fired. Torchetti picked up the pieces, immediately turning around the Wild, who went on to win four straight. So, there was talent there. Sometimes it’s just about a new voice, to which Yeo’s tenure with the Blues will attest.
2. Bruce Boudreau (2016-20)
- Record: 158-110-35
- Playoff Appearances: 2
- Playoff Rounds Won: 0
Despite his best efforts, Boudreau remained a great regular-season coach, who just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs with the Wild.
Boudreau’s 57.9% points percentage during the regular season ranks as the highest ever among Wild coaches. He has two 100-point seasons to his credit, including a franchise-record 106-point 2016-17. However, even if he did make the playoffs each of those two seasons, he only has two playoff-game victories to show for it.
Boudreau eventually succumbed to the law of diminishing returns, as the Wild fell from 101 points in 2017-18 to just 83 in 2018-19 and out of the playoffs altogether.
Who knows for sure if he would have been able to get them in the playoffs this season? Despite struggling out of the gate, the Wild were just a single point out of the second wild-card spot by the the time the season got put on hiatus.
You may want to credit Evason’s 8-4 record for that, but, truth be told, the Wild had gone 7-3-1 in Boudreau’s final 11 games, before the switch was made. That’s a higher points percentage (68.1%) than Evason’s impressive 66.7% in the 12 games he coached as Boudreau’s replacement.
In effect, the Wild were arguably just on the same roll on which Boudreau had put them. So, logic dictates it really was a change in philosophy that cost Boudreau his job and not necessarily his performance. If you’re Guerin, you don’t make a coaching change in the middle of a close playoff race if you actually hope the Wild earn a berth. You make a coaching change because you’re looking to rebuild right away.
As a result, Boudreau gets the edge over Yeo because of his relatively strong finish and how he arguably deserved a better fate. Nevertheless, it’s Boudreau’s body of work on which he must be judged and not just his last 10 games or so. And, overall, his body of work was good but not great.
1. Jacques Lemaire (2000-09)
- Record: 293-255-108
- Playoff Appearances: 3
- Playoff Rounds Won: 2
No Wild head coach did as much with as little as the Wild’s inaugural bench boss, Jacques Lemaire. Hell, no coach did as much, period.
Lemaire took an expansion team and immediately lent it credibility due to his reputation as a Stanley Cup-winning head coach. However, the on-ice results weren’t too bad either, with a respectable 68-point first season in 2000-01. That’s two more than the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim as the last-place team in the Western Conference and 16 more than the New York Islanders as the last-place team overall. Hell, the Atlanta Thrashers, who were in their second season, finished with just 60.
Granted, the Wild’s expansion cousins, the Columbus Blue Jackets, finished (just) higher in the standings that 2000-01 season (71). Nevertheless, it took the Blue Jackets much longer to become relevant, only earning their first playoff berth in 2009, getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the process. By that point, Lemaire’s last season with the Wild, the Blue Jackets were on Coach No. 5 (Ken Hitchcock).
In sharp contrast, under Lemaire, the Wild were a playoff team by Season No. 3. Not only did they manage to win a round that spring, they won two, overcoming 3-1 series deficits each time. The Wild of course ran into the Disney Cinderella Ducks who swept them in the Western Conference Final. The Ducks in turn ironically ran into and got beat by Lemaire’s former team, the New Jersey Devils, who deployed his trap to perfection in the process.
Lemaire may not have invented the trap, but he did bring it into the mainstream. Love it or hate it, the argument is, without his defense-first approach, the Wild would not have found the same success they did in the early going.
It’s hard to disagree. To date, no other Wild coach has gone further in the playoffs or even won a division championship like Lemaire (2008). More to the point, no other Wild coach has won a Jack Adams Trophy as the best in the game (2003). He’s technically also the only coach in team history not be fired, as he resigned in 2009, claiming at the that point the Wild would be better off without him.
In retrospect, maybe not. His critics may have disapproved of his tactics, but no one in good conscience can deny he got results. And it’s not such a bad thing for the Wild to have arguably enjoyed their greatest success under one of the best coaches of all time. The best coach in Wild history.