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ST. PAUL…. The Minnesota Wild have got their man, but it isn’t interim Head Coach John Torchetti. The team has opted to bring former Washington Capital and Anaheim Duck Head Coach Bruce Boudreau into the fold with a 4 year, $12mil contract to take the coaching reins. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, during an appearance this morning on NHL Network radio said he would have been comfortable handing the job over to “Torch” on a permanent basis but when Boudreau became available he thought it would be worth the time to pursue Boudreau and see what could become of it. The Ottawa Senators were in hot pursuit as well, but the Wild offer was superior in term and in salary.
Boudreau is no stranger to the Twin Cities having had a short stint with the former WHA Minnesota Fighting Saints, but that was years back (75-76) on the front end of Boudreau’s playing career. And while he never stuck as an NHL player, he had a very distinguished minor league career and is a member of the AHL Hall of Fame. He is still 16th all time in goals scored (316) in the ’A’, 13th in assists (483), and 12th all time in points (799) scored. For all minor leagues combined, he is 8th all time with 1368 points on 548G and 820A. He accumulated 70 points (28G/42A) in 141 NHL games. How have things changed in the NHL? A half a point a game player today is fairly valuable, back when Boudreau played? Not so much apparently.
Boudreau paid some substantial dues in the minors as well from a coaching standpoint. He put in 16 seasons as a minor league coach before getting promoted to the Capitals in the 07-08 season. He won two minor league championships but has not experienced that in the NHL yet. In fact he has a 409-192-80 regular season record in the show, good for a .659 win percentage, which is better then the legendary Scotty Bowman. Playoff success at the NHL level has been elusive, creating much skepticism amongst the Wild faithful. He has a 41-39 playoff record, losing 4 first round series, losing out in 3 second round series and then losing the only Conference Final series he has coached in. His teams have lost 7 of 8 game seven’s in the playoffs.
It has been Boudreau’s playoff malaise that has earned his previous ousters, it certainly couldn’t be his regular season record. His clubs have won 8 Division titles. But certainly, winning the old Southeast division (nicknamed the South-least) and the Pacific are not as daunting as attempting to take the Central division in this day and age. And “Gabby”, his nickname given his penchant for major doses of conversation, is known as a players coach and has been gifted at building relationships with his star players, one Russian notwithstanding. Gol’ dangit, he even had a bit part in the most iconic hockey movie of all time, Slap Shot.
There have been guys with lesser credentials that have coached in this league. Bruce is a hockey lifer and I like him. I have liked him for a long time, way before he appeared as a common everyman, complete with BBQ sauce on his face during the taping of the HBO 24/7 show leading up to the Caps-Penguins Winter Classic. He is just simply a guy who could be your next door neighbor that you really got along with. Bruce is the veteran guy Fletcher should have got before his two failed rookie coach hires.
But now the intro presser has been held, the photo op’s and back patting are over with and the restless hockey natives of the State of Hockey want to know when this club can deliver on some long held hockey dreams. Well, I have my theories and thus my answers, and they probably aren’t what the fans want to hear. I mean, I’m a fan too, but the NHL can be a brutal place and dreams most times can only get you into the building. After that the harsh reality of trying to win the most wondrous trophy on the planet will take hold.
Bruce is a splendid coach. I have no explanation for his lack of playoff or G7 success. That’s mostly on his players in my book. We all know of the Wild’s current inadequacies and not even Bruce can coach the team out of them. That’s the reality. This team needs a change of philosophy and it has to start at the top. Selling tickets and filling the building are great but that is only going to occur for average to slightly above average clubs for so long and then the fans will revolt. We might be starting to see that now. This team needs a tear-down and then a complete rebuild done the right way and it has yet to begin. It hasn’t begun because I think the prevailing theory is to plug and patch and gloss over things and out of fear that the fan base would not accept a total rebuild.
But when you are drafting year after year at the mid-pack tier you aren’t getting the franchise changing player. Your veterans are aging, and perhaps the young guys you put your faith in aren’t getting better as expected. But that happens. It happens all the time. Just because a player is young does not guarantee that they will get better just because they are getting older. It doesn’t work that way. And so out of about 8 roster regulars under the age of 26, only 2 of them seem to be improving. And out of the 25 players who get in on a regular basis, I can only come up with 10 worth moving forward with.
With the teams cap situation where it is currently at, the number of moves that can be made over this off-season are limited at best. And I admire that owner Craig Leipold is willing to spend to win, but what he really needs to be willing to do is what he won’t do thus far; lose games. That’s how it works in today’s NHL, be willing to lose and be ready to get that top pick, franchise changer that the Wild can only dream about right now. Bruce welcome to Minny, best wishes to you, I hope I am wrong….. PEACE