When Bruce Boudreau was hired by the Minnesota Wild, it was a move that was generally applauded in the hockey community. With the applause came hushed concerns about Boudreau and what he brings to the Wild. Despite an impressive record in the regular season, that kind of success has yet to find Boudreau in the playoffs. And for better or worse, that is where coaches are ultimately judged. With that in mind, let’s examine Bruce Boudreau’s playoff record in a few different ways. First, we will compare Boudreau’s first nine years coaching to the first ten years of the first Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter: two coaches who have been trading Cups since 2010 until Mike Sullivan and the Penguins interrupted the party. Second, we will examine if Boudreau’s teams have played worse in the playoffs in comparison to their dominant selves in the regular season. Lastly, we will take a look at Boudreau’s biggest blemish on his record, Game 7’s.
Boudreau vs. Sutter and Quenneville
At this point in history, it is easy to point to Coach Q and Sutter as the best coaches in the league. It is all about winning the Cup, and these two have done it more than anyone lately. However, when one looks at both of their first ten years in the league, it becomes clear that they haven’t always been so successful in the playoffs.
Oddly enough, through his first nine seasons Boudreau has more playoff wins than Sutter and Q had, and has a better win percentage in the playoffs. The similarities between them in their first decade coaching in the league doesn’t prove Boudreau will be winning multiple Cups any time soon; but it does show that success in the playoffs isn’t necessarily representative of coaching ability.
The biggest difference between Quenneville, Sutter and Boudreau at this moment is time. Now that Quenneville and Sutter have won a few Cups, it seems like they are always in the finals. However, in Quenneville’s 19 years of coaching, he has only been to the Stanley Cup Finals three times. Sutter has coached in the NHL for 16 seasons, and has been to the Stanley Cup three times. This reality highlights just how difficult getting to the Cup is, let alone winning it all. In fact, in the past twenty seasons (starting with 1995/96 and ending with 2014-2015) only seven coaches have been the Stanley Cup more than once. This graph here shows who those coaches are, and how they have fared in the past twenty years.
Do His Teams Play Worse in the Playoffs?
Bruce Boudreau’s lack of playoff success is the albatross of his NHL coaching career. In his eight playoff appearances, he has only gone past the second round once. With that kind of failure following his teams, one would think that the performance of his teams must suffer.
If only it were that simple.
It all began in Boudreau’s first season with the Capitals. From the moment he took over, the Capitals were a great team and ended up winning the Southeast division title. Despite that level of success in the regular season, the Captials lost in the first round to the Flyers in seven games. As you will see in the following chart, it was not because the Captials played poorly. They were simply unlucky. This chart shows each playoff appearance and compares the underlying numbers of the corresponding regular season with the underlying numbers for the playoffs.
If only each year his teams played far worse than they did in the regular season, then we could simply say he just folds in the playoffs. However, that is not the case.
Perhaps the biggest head scratcher came in 2011. The Capitals rolled through the Rangers in five games in the first round, but then were swept by the Lightning in the second round. If you look at the chart for that year, that was actually one of their better playoffs. So what happened? Well, the Capitals goaltending was brutal, and the Lightning got great goaltending. If you look at this table here, it is pretty clear who was carrying play. Hockey is a heartless game, and that year it did not care that the Capitals deserved to win.
It is not as if Boudreau teams always outplayed teams; at times, they played worse. Well there we have it, the reason his teams don’t win in the playoffs: they play bad. But wait, let’s look at the most recent Cup champions out of Pittsburgh. They came in hot under Mike Sullivan, and rode that all the way to a championship. Didn’t you see how many games in a row they out-shot their opponent?
However, the Penguins did not start really dominating games until the Eastern Conference finals. Prior to that, they were fortunate to get past the Rangers and Capitals. They didn’t play very well those first two rounds and were buoyed by rookie goaltender Matt Murray. Here, another graph to show what I mean. Overall, their numbers look great and show why they eventually won the Cup. However, when you look at their first two rounds, there underlying numbers all take a significant dip. All stats are score adjusted and are for 5on5.
So, if playing poorly doesn’t mean you lose and playing well doesn’t mean you win, then we cannot conclude that Boudreau’s lack of playoff success comes down to his teams playing poorly. Plus, they usually play well. What has been missing is a big win at the right moment even if they didn’t play their best game, just like Pittsburgh did this year. This missing peice is highlighted by Boudreau’s Game 7 record.
Boudreau’s Game 7 Record: 1-7
Remarkably, Boudreau has already coached in eight Game 7’s in his career. More remarkable, is that he has only won one of these games. His game seven record is a huge reason for a lack of playoff success. Imagine he wins just one of those games. His whole career could be different. Alas, we cannot deal in the imaginary, only what has already happened. And what has happened is mind-boggling. Boudreau cannot get a goalie to outplay the other teams goalie ever. Of the eight games, only in one has his goalie played better than the opponents. Guess what? That’s the only Game 7 he has won. Another chart coming right up.
As you click-through these, keep an eye on two things: save percentage and shooting percentage. The most glaring being a 0% 5on5 shooting percentage against Nashville this past year. This is where one could critique Boudreau. Is it his game management or preparation that is causing such low numbers in either category consistently? That I cannot answer, but I can say that the numbers are bound to even out soon; which is good news for Wild fans. No coach can continue to lose so unjustly in Game 7’s right? Right?
Overall, Boudreau’s playoff failures are more of an enigma than an indicator. Boudreau will continue to take his teams to the playoffs, and eventually things will even out. At least, that’s what the numbers would indicate. However, it remains to be seen if the Wild roster has what it takes to play the way Boudreau wants them to. If they do, Boudreau is ripe for things to start going his way, and finally getting the playoff success he deserves.