The market for free agent coaches just got halfway palatable. Move over Randy Carlyle, Marc Crawford, and um... Paul MacLean? Bruce Boudreau just jumped from the firing line to the top of the list of available coaches!
The veteran NHL coach- and former Minnesota Fighting Saint!!!! #OneOfUs- was just fired by the Anaheim Ducks after a roller coaster season. Many thought he would've been fired months ago, as the Ducks had a slow start that saw them sport the Conference's worst record through November 5th. But Boudreau overcame his team's start by excelling at an area that he previously wasn't known for: defensive hockey. Friend of the blog Dustin Nelson wrote on January 11th:
They're still scoring the fewest goals per game at 1.88, but they've closed the door defensively [because] Boudreau is coaching them out of the hole. They've changed their style, locking up the neutral zone and keeping the puck on the outside of the defensive zone. Other teams have taken note.... "It was extreme, the biggest trap we've seen all year," said Flames defenseman Mark Giordano after playing the Ducks.
In the 16 games since November 30, the Ducks have scored three ore more goals just four times. They're averaging 1.81 goals per game in that stretch. But they've also given up just 1.94 goals per game. They're 9-5-2 in those 16 games, and that's impressive. Yes, goaltending has been good, but the system gets credit here too.
The Ducks sticking with their coach paid off for the franchise, as Boudreau managed to catapult Anaheim to the top of the Pacific Division. After the All-Star Break, they scored the second-most goals in the league while allowing the second-fewest. But Anaheim's goals weren't to make the postseason, or even to win the Pacific. They've done that before. Their goal was to win the Stanley Cup, and bowing out in Round 1 proved to be too disappointing a result for a team that came within one game of the Cup Final last season.
But Anaheim's loss will be someone else's gain. It's possible Boudreau won't be unemployed by the time this article publishes. And if the Minnesota Wild are smart (and lucky), they'll hire Boudreau as their fourth-ever full-time head coach. Why?
His record speaks for itself- he's a good coach. In his 9 NHL seasons, Boudreau has an extremely impressive 409-192-80 record. Aside from the 11-12 season, where he was fired by the Washington Capitals and hired by the then-struggling Ducks, Boudreau's teams have finished in first place every season. Sure, the Caps and Ducks had a lot of talent on their teams, but you still have to be in awe of that consistency.
He piloted #1-ranked offenses in both his coaching stops, but that doesn't quite give a sense of his impact. What does is this- upon leaving Washington, the team took a dip in controlling scoring chances until Barry Trotz arrived, and Anaheim's ability to control play immediately went up when Boudreau replaced Carlyle.
Boudreau's offensive-mindedness would be a godsend to a Minnesota franchise whose history has largely defined by a sometimes excessive commitment to defensive play. While Mike Yeo returned the Wild to a stifling defensive style that was absent in the years prior to his arrival, the Wild often struggled to turn that into possession and offense. Boudreau is one of the very few coaches on the market who has a history of building on that structure and adding scoring.
Furthermore, there's a prevailing thought that Yeo's overly defensive mindset has stagnated the growth of the Wild's younger talent. This shouldn't be an issue for Boudreau, who has a lot of experience in bringing along young players into the league. In Washington, guys like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Mike Green all had NHL experience prior to his arrival, but Boudreau was the coach who oversaw their coalescing into a winning team. He also brought along many young Ducks in Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Jakob Silfverberg, Kyle Palmieri, Rickard Rakell, and Sami Vatanen.
And perhaps most intriguingly for Minnesota, Boudreau did this while dealing with many disparate age groups in Anaheim. In a locker room that included those young players, big-money veterans (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler) and stars in the twilight years of their career (Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu), Boudreau was able to hit the buttons to balance the needs of all of them and lead the team to 4-straight Pacific Division titles.
So yes, Boudreau would be great for Minnesota. But could Minnesota sign him?
It's hard to imagine that money will be an issue for Wild owner Craig Leipold. He spends up to the cap each season and hasn't been one to cut corners to bring a winner to Minnesota. Not only that, after deciding to stand by GM Chuck Fletcher, Leipold doubtlessly wants to get "his guy" the tools he needs to succeed. So that brings up the question: Would fit be an issue for Boudreau?
The only other coaching job that's currently vacant is the Ottawa Senators, and while they have all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson, they don't appear to be close to serious contention. Other coaches whose jobs may have depended on their team's success in the playoffs- St. Louis' Ken Hitchcock and NY Islanders' Jack Capuano- won playoff rounds for the first time in recent history, so perhaps they'll be safe. Other teams may (and perhaps should) be willing to move on from their current coaches to hire Boudreau, but as of now, Minnesota may be his best bet at contending next season.
While the Wild took a big step back in the standings, there's definitely some intriguing things that could attract a coach. Even at age 32, Zach Parise (if healthy) and Ryan Suter are still productive veterans, and Minnesota has a general manager and owner that are willing to A) Spend money and B) Demonstrate loyalty to a coach. There's also a lot of untapped potential. Young players like Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, and Matt Dumba have all been solid for Minnesota, but none have progressed like the organization thought they would. If Boudreau feels like he can "fix" them the way John Torchetti did with Erik Haula, then him going to Minnesota might be a match made in heaven.