And then there were eight.
In what has now been one of the most coaching change-heavy campaigns in NHL history, Bruce Boudreau has become the latest in a long line of bench bosses who have been handed their walking papers this season. The Minnesota Wild announced Friday morning Boudreau had been fired, his dismissal coming in the wake of Thursday’s shootout loss to the New York Rangers. He has been replaced by assistant Dean Evason, who previously coached the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and was an assistant alongside Boudreau during his days with the Washington Capitals.
Though the timing of Boudreau’s firing – which came with the Wild among the hottest teams in the league – was bizarre, it does provide an answer to those wondering whether the 65-year-old was going to be among the free agent bench bosses available this off-season. Prior to the firing, Boudreau was contracted to spend the next two seasons as a consultant with the Wild.
Now the focus shifts to what comes next for Boudreau. Only two coaches who have stepped foot behind an NHL bench for more than 500 games possess better points percentages than Boudreau’s .635 (Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, .657; Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, .649), and the one-time Jack Adams Award winner will surely vault to near the top of the list of desirable coaches for clubs seeking a change ahead of next season.
But where will he end up next? Here are five destinations that seem like potential fits:
In looking for the prime places for Boudreau to take control, one has to consider the underachievers first and the rebuilders second. The Flames fit the bill as the former. While it has admittedly been a rocky season off the ice, Calgary was expected to enter this season and run roughshod over a weak Pacific Division en route to consecutive division crowns. Instead, the Flames woke up Friday in a wild-card spot with a minus-eight goal differential. And though there’s faith Calgary can make the post-season under interim coach Geoff Ward, who took over upon Bill Peters’ resignation, there’s no question Flames GM Brad Treliving will be seeking an upgrade behind the bench and a coach who can guide this team forward.
Boudreau is an intriguing choice not only because of his track record, but because he’s been a coach who has gotten the most out of his players. That was true in Minnesota, just as it was during tenures with the Anaheim Ducks and Capitals. Given how mediocre the Flames’ best have been this season, a coach like Boudreau might be what’s needed to ignite the top players.
Oh, and while some may dismiss the idea due to the playoff performances by his teams, all it takes is one good year for everyone to forget about that. Ask Barry Trotz.
Given it’s a results-driven business, few in the Stars front office are going to quibble with the success interim coach Rick Bowness has had since taking over for Jim Montgomery in mid-December. Dallas has the sixth-best points percentage in the NHL since Dec. 10 and finds themselves three points back of the St. Louis Blues and one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for top spot in the Central Division. Full marks to Bowness for that.
Nevertheless, dangling over Bowness’ head is the interim tag. And while he’s had success now and is certain to guide this Stars team into the post-season, one imagines GM Jim Nill will take stock of what’s available on the coaching market come the off-season and consider his options. In doing so, he will likely see Boudreau, an experienced coach with an exceptional resume, and have to consider pulling the trigger on installing him behind the Stars’ bench. Again, while his post-season achievements aren’t exactly dazzling, Boudreau might be able to squeeze that much more out of the talent in Dallas.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
This comes with a caveat: Boudreau would have to be enticed by the idea of stepping behind the bench of a flaw-filled group and being part of the process for a rebuilding franchise. Given his age – he turned 65 in January – and that he’s not been able to win a Stanley Cup, Boudreau might have designs on heading to a team that needs one final push instead of one that is only beginning to lay a foundation.
That said, there’s plenty Boudreau could work to address were he to land in New Jersey. Defensively, his teams have often played very well and the overall underlying numbers of his clubs are often among the league’s best. Systems-wise, he’s hard to top. That’s a big plus. So is the fact that Boudreau has historically done well with young players and given them opportunities to sink or swim. That could be valuable for the Devils, particularly with the crop of prospects they have on the way or on the roster, including top pick Jack Hughes.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Like others on this list, Bob Boughner is saddled with an interim tag. But he might be among the least likely to shake the interim designation given San Jose’s fortunes haven’t turned around in the least since he took the reins from former Sharks and current Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer. In fact, Boughner’s Sharks have a points percentage of .435 across 23 games, which is somehow worse than the .485 points percentage San Jose pieced together under DeBoer. So, while the writing isn’t on the wall, it wouldn't be surprising if there was someone scrubbing the proverbial surface to make sure the ink takes.
If the Sharks are looking for their next coach, too, Boudreau seems an ideal fit for a club that has plenty of talent and needs a coach who can make the most out what he’s given. That’s what he’s done everywhere he’s gone, and San Jose could be no different. The added bonus is that the defensively challenged Sharks could use someone like Boudreau who can clean up their own-zone play. Over the past three seasons, no team allowed fewer scoring chances or high-danger chances against per 60 minutes at five-a-side than the Wild. Add that kind of defensive responsibility to a team with some high-octane pieces and it could be a recipe for success.
Anyone who has checked out any of the where-next suggestions for the coaches who have been fired throughout this season won’t be shocked to see Seattle make the cut. Frankly, the yet-to-be-named 32nd NHL franchise will appear in this space ad infinitum until the day comes that GM Ron Francis names the organization’s first coach.
So, what makes Boudreau a potential fit in Seattle? There are two important factors. First, he has nearly 1,000 regular season NHL games under his belt as a coach, and he’s a bench boss who will command respect immediately. But second, and more important, is what he managed to do over the past four seasons, and particularly the past two, in Minnesota.
At no point did Boudreau have a star-studded roster at his disposal, but the Wild were often greater than the sum of their parts. Heading into the Seattle expansion draft, NHL clubs will be doing their darnedest to ensure they hand their newest opponent nothing more than table scraps. Almost assuredly, the Seattle roster will have less talent than the Golden Knights did in their inaugural campaign. And that means if Seattle wants to hit the ground running, they will need a coach who can coax the best out of every single player. Boudreau has shown time and again he can be that coach.
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