The Minnesota Wild are right in the playoff race, and out performing the low expectations placed on them this season. So why did they fire Bruce Boudreau?
The Minnesota Wild continue to be one of the confusing franchises in the NHL.
The Wild were written off at the start of the season after missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons last year. However as the season reached the playoff push, the Wild found themselves well in the playoff race and only three points behind the Arizona Coyotes with three games in hand after a 7-3-1 heater over their last 11 games.
Despite all of that, Bruce Boudreau was fired on Friday morning following a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers. The Wild named assistant coach Dean Evason as the assistant coach in the meantime. The firing came mere days after trading Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In his first two seasons as the head coach, Boudreau took the Wild to the playoffs before losing in the first round both times. Despite missing the playoffs last season and battling to get in this season, Boudreau went 158-110-35 with the Wild.
The timing of this move for Minnesota is obviously very strange considering their right in the mix of a heated playoff race, and these are moves that more indicative of a team throwing in the towel than making a push for the playoffs. It’s especially problematic considering that there wasn’t anything structurally wrong with the Wild this season.
The main culprit for the Wild not living up to their internal expectations lies in their goaltending. The Wild have a team save percentage of .897, which ranks as the 25th worst in the NHL. Of the eight teams who’ve made coaching changes this season, six of them have had a save percentage that ranked bottom ten in the league.
Removing the goalies from the equation, Minnesota has one of the best expected goals against averages in the league with a 1.97 (according to ChartingHockey). However if there is something to pin on Boudreau, it’s that the Wild have the second worst penalty kill in the league, which almost cancels out how well they’ve played at even strength.
“It’s not just one loss. It’s not one week. It’s a series of things,” GM Bill Guerin said at a news conference addressing Boudreau’s firing. “We have shown that we can be (one of) the best teams in the league or the so-called best teams in the league. I think in some of the tighter game situations we could be a little bit better.”
Minnesota’s response to Boudreau’s firing was a 2-0 shutout loss to the San Jose Sharks on home ice on Saturday night. They need to go 16-6-3 for the rest of the season to reach the projected 96 point cutoff in the Western Conference to make the playoffs.
It’s perfectly fine for Guerin to claim that they’re pushing to make the playoffs, but surely he understands that these move disruptive and confusing to a team that’s fighting tooth and claw to stay in the playoff race. Teams fire their coaches at this point because their out of the race, and experimenting for next season. Now Minnesota make sense of a new voice with 24 games to go, and execute perfectly in order to get into the playoffs. With a little over the week before the trade deadline, there’s not going to be much for Guein to go off of before he makes some critical decisions about whether or not to make moves.
Talent wise, the Wild still don’t have the talent on their roster like some of the teams their battling with. Even if they do make it, it’s highly unlikely they’ll go anywhere. Whether it’s at the trade deadline or in the off-season, Guerin needs to far more than a coaching change if he wants to get more out of this team.