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Lack of playoff success doomed the Bruce Boudreau era

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There were some good times, but also plenty of bad times during Boudreau’s tenure with the Wild.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Hockey Wilderness took a look at the best moments of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure as head coach of the Minnesota Wild. But good moments always tend to come with bad ones, and if a coach gets fired, there is going to be a decent number of those bad moments. So let’s take a look at the low points of Boudreau’s time in Minnesota that led up to his termination.

In fairness to Boudreau, his time with the Wild got off to an excellent start. In his first season, the 2016-17 season, the Wild posted a record of 49-25-8, good for 106 points, a franchise record. That does not mean that this season was without its flaws, though. The first major low point of the season was the team’s play after the acquisition of Martin Hanzal. With the Wild sitting atop the Central Division with a record of 39-14-6, then GM Chuck Fletcher made a major trade. He sent an expensive package to the Arizona Coyotes for Hanzal, who was one of the top rental players available. Despite the fact that Hanzal was actually more productive on a points-per-game level with the Wild than he had been with the Coyotes, the Wild record down the stretch was just 10-11-2. Was this Boudreau’s fault for not finding a way to properly incorporate a productive player into the lineup? Was this Fletcher’s fault for changing things up when things were going well? Was it both? That is hard to say for sure. But finishing the season in such a slump after being on top of the division and making a major trade to try to get even better is a disappointment, to put it lightly.

But the disappointment of how the 2016-17 regular season ended was nothing compared to the disappointment of how the 2017 playoffs went for the Wild. The Wild entered the playoffs coming off their best regular season ever and had home-ice advantage against the St. Louis Blues. It was the first time Minnesota had home-ice advantage in a playoff series since the 2008 playoffs, ending a stretch of six straight series without it. Wild fans were hoping this would finally be the year they made a run in the playoffs. Those hopes were short-lived, though. The Blues knocked the Wild out in five games, including victories in all three games in St. Paul. The team struggled to do anything offensively against the Blues, scoring just one goal in each of the first three games. Was that just the result of a hot goaltender, or should Boudreau have done more to find ways for the offense to be more productive? After a record-breaking regular season, it was more of the same for the Wild.

The Wild and Boudreau entered the 2017-18 season both hoping to finally overcome their apparent inability to win in the playoffs, but this season was more of the same. It was another excellent regular season. The Wild went 45-26-11, good for 101 points. It was just the fourth time the Wild had earned at least 100 points, and it happened in each of Boudreau’s first two seasons.

But then came the playoffs.

The Wild were again knocked out in just five games, this time at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. The Wild won Game 3 6-2, but despite this impressive showing, scored just three goals in the four losses and were shutout in both Game 4 and Game 5. To the team’s credit, they were shorthanded. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were both out. Jared Spurgeon was just coming back from an injury. The team was not at full strength, but regardless, this is not how they wanted the season to end. Also to the Wild’s credit, while this was a matchup of the second-place Central Division team against third place, this was also the team with the second-best record in the entire league against a team tied for eighth-best record. The Jets had a phenomenal regular season, and facing them in the first round was a terrible draw. But that does not mean that it wasn’t winnable for Minnesota or that there was nothing Boudreau could have done differently. Was there anything he could have done to have gotten a penalty called on Josh Morrissey for his cross-check to the head of Eric Staal? In all honesty, probably not, although a penalty call there could have potentially changed the momentum of the entire series.

The two most severe low points of the 2018-19 season came just days apart. On April 2, the Wild defeated the Jets, but a Colorado Avalanche victory later that day eliminated the Wild from playoff contention. It ended a stretch of six straight seasons of making the playoffs. It also marked the first and only time (so far) in Boudreau’s head coaching career that he coached a team for the entire season and they failed to make the playoffs. Three days later, the Wild lost to the Boston Bruins 3-0 in St. Paul. That loss meant that the 2018-19 Wild would have the worst home record of any Wild team in franchise history. A year after going 27-6-8 on home-ice, the Wild went just 16-18-7 (the team was actually better on the road, 21-18-2). The drastic turnaround from excellent to terrible home records was an embarrassment for a franchise that prides itself on “Our Ice” and it did not reflect well on the head coach at all.

The 2019-20 season for the Wild looked like it was over almost from the moment it started. The team started the season 1-6-0, and plenty of fans were ready to give up on the season and fire Boudreau immediately. But Boudreau was not fired then. General manager Bill Guerin kept him around, and at times the team actually looked fairly decent. On February 13, the Wild lost to the New York Rangers in a shootout after blowing a lead in the third period. It was the fifth time on the season the Wild would lose a game in overtime or a shootout after having led in the third period. All season the Wild struggled to finish games and close out victories. If the Wild had hung on to win all five of those games, the five additional points in the standings would leave them third in the wild card standings, just two points behind Arizona (they have also played four fewer games than Arizona and three fewer than Calgary, who currently occupies the top wild card spot). Those missed points matter, and for a team that is not that far away from a playoff spot, they could make a difference. It does not seem terribly surprising that Guerin decided to move on from Boudreau after watching the team struggle to play a full 60 minutes and hang on to a victory once again.

The Bruce Boudreau tenure as Wild head coach will probably be remembered for not accomplishing much. In his three full seasons as coach, the Wild have two playoff berths but zero series wins to show for them. They never made it as far as Game 6 in round one, let alone round two. By the end, the team was struggling even on home ice — something that is traditionally a strength of the franchise. Bill Guerin is now looking for who will be the fifth (non-interim) head coach of the Wild in the franchise’s 20 seasons. Once they hire the next head coach, the Wild will have more head coaches in franchise history than playoff series wins. Bruce Boudreau was unable to change this number, but hopefully the next coach will.