It’s been 24 hours since the news broke that the Minnesota Wild had fired their head coach, Bruce Boudreau. The news was met with shock from some, surprise from others, and a relieved sigh of “Finally!” from many fans. Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s take a closer look at some of the details around Boudreau’s dismissal, and what this could mean for the Wild heading into the trade deadline.
It’s been no secret that the Wild have struggled this season. They’ve ridden the hockey rollercoaster of Mount Everest-level highs and Mariana Trench-lows. One of the most notable examples was their 7-0 blowout win against the Dallas Stars on January 18 followed by a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers two days later — and a 4-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings two days after the Florida loss.
It’s not just the scoreline results. Top players have struggled to net goals all season long — one of the most notable is Matt Dumba and his 37-game drought that finally snapped last week. In addition to this, the team has been hit harder than usual by the injury bug. Jason Zucker was sidelined for 10 games due to a fractured right fibula. Between illnesses, short-term and long-term injuries, the team has lost 110 games combined from scratched players.
The Wild have lacked momentum on the ice, the ability to break through tough defensive screens, and don’t even get us started on the goaltending. One of the most startlingly obvious struggles has been the passive state of play by the team. And that is something that, at its core, boils down to the coaching. While injuries and goaltender regression can’t be fixed by the coaching staff, the low-scoring games and on-ice momentum are areas where the head coach needs to step in and help the team find their way once again.
Since the start of the new year, the Wild have eked out wins to help them climb in the division standings. However, puck luck alone won’t get a team far without a head coach capable of making in-game adjustments and, above all, motivating the roster to shift the energy on the ice. A head coach is much like a corporate vice president. He has a large staff that reports to him and various tiers of leadership within that staff (in this case, assistant coaches, team captain, and alternate captains). He’s responsible for overseeing their output (goals, wins, division standings), and meeting year-end goals (securing a playoff spot). Vice presidents will begin to feel the pressure when their department starts struggling to meet goals and misses multiple delivery dates (going down a few goals in a game and being unable to battle back for the win). It’s understood that the vice president will work with his staff to address errors and fix problems affecting team output.
In this case, that means changing lines on the ice, and motivating the team to be aggressive instead of passive when trailing during a game. That is something that has been missing this year for the Wild. Even when the Wild were in the midst of a multi-game losing streak early in the season and many thought that Boudreau would be let go then, Boudreau remained quiet and reserved. His tactics remained the same as well. When the Wild did finally snap the losing streak, it was a result of a closed-doors meeting held by the roster, not necessarily by Boudreau alone. To many, it seemed as if Boudreau was content to let the veterans of the roster run the show both on and off the ice. The 2019-20 season is the last one on Boudreau’s contract, so many assumed that he was putting in the time to help the team navigate a tough season prior to a rebuild that would commence with his departure in the offseason.
While subdued coaching and nearing the end of a contract may have been contributing factors to Boudreau’s departure yesterday, General Manager Bill Guerin’s comments should also be considered as a possible reason. Earlier in the week, Guerin stated in a press conference, “If I see any signs of quit from this team, there will be more trades.” The comments came shortly after sending Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, a prospect, and a first-round draft pick. While Guerin most likely meant his comments for the remaining players on the roster, it’s not unreasonable to infer that they were for the coaching staff as well.
To fans watching Thursday night’s game against the New York Rangers, it certainly felt like a night where the team had quit. The Wild squandered a two-goal lead in the final half of the third period and eventually lost in the shootout thanks to a controversial goal by Artemi Panarin. While up by two goals, the Wild’s play turned passive, leading to multiple turnovers and an overall regression into the defensive zone — where the Rangers were eventually able to overpower the struggling Wild. No matter the muted efforts from behind the bench, the Wild couldn’t get the win. In February, when every game has a larger impact on the standings in the race for the playoffs, to drop what had been a sure game against the Rangers was not ideal in the least. Boudreau seemed subdued on the bench and his postgame press conference was no different. It appeared as if the head coach for Minnesota had become bogged down with the weight of the loss compounded by the long grind of losses before it throughout the season thus far.
In light of Guerin’s comments, Boudreau’s firing seemed a foregone conclusion. There hasn’t been a spark for the team in nearly a month, and perhaps a change of head coaches would reignite that spark the Wild so desperately need on the ice. Whether Guerin saw signs of Boudreau quitting and giving up after Thursday’s loss will most likely never be answered publicly.
However, fans should closely watch the next four games prior to the trade deadline. Will interim head coach Dean Evason push the team out of their complacent, passive play and into the more aggressive style the Wild will need if they hope to clinch a playoff spot? Evason is already familiar with the roster, so be sure to watch line changes and dips or increases to ice time. Will the younger forwards with more goals to their name see increased ice time while the veterans who are struggling to score see a dip in their time on ice?
Evason has already made it clear that he will have a more proactive approach to mistakes on the ice and accountability. In his press conference on Friday, Evason emphasized that approach by saying that the Wild “were very passive in the last 10 minutes of the [Rangers] game.” He went on to add that, “We want to be very aggressive as a group, and that’s one of the things that we will be stressing too.” If Evason’s comments below are any indication of his approach to momentum on the ice, expect the Wild to come out mad and stay mad on the ice as they fight for a win:
Evason: "We want the group to be accountable, and we want to be aggressive. If we make aggressive mistakes, you can live with them. If you make passive mistakes, they’re hard to live with."— Sarah McLellan (@sarah__mclellan) February 14, 2020
So whether Guerin saw resignation in Boudreau’s attitude in the last few weeks, Boudreau was riding out his contract, or the organization felt a change was needed to shock the Wild out of their up-and-down swings, one thing is now clear. Boudreau’s firing should serve as a wake-up call for players and fans alike. Whether this is the last change Guerin makes before the offseason remains to be seen. The trade deadline is Monday, February 24, and depending on how the Wild fare in the four games between now and then under Evason, more changes may be in the works.