Wild will bring Bruce Boudreau back for final year on deal
ST. PAUL -- For most of the Wild’s season-ending news conference at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday, April 9, coach Bruce Boudreau sat quietly while reporters fired questions at general manager Paul Fenton.
Boudreau got a couple of softballs thrown at him early but was engrossed in his boss’s answers. When attention turned back to him — specifically how he felt about entering next season with one year on his contract — Boudreau seemed surprised.
“I really liked it when you were asking Paul all the questions,” he said.
At least Boudreau knows he still has a job.
As time ran out for a team that failed to make the NHL playoffs for the first time in seven years, there was more than a little speculation that Fenton would not bring Boudreau back. But the Wild’s first-year GM announced, somewhat casually, that Boudreau would be back for a fourth season in Minnesota.
“Bruce is our coach and he’s going to be the guy that is going to lead this team back to where we want to go,” Fenton told reporters.
Beyond that, Fenton declined to commit one way or the other, explaining that he had yet to talk with owner Craig Leipold about any members of the coaching staff. Boudreau is owed about $2.6 million on a four-year deal he signed with Fenton’s predecessor, Chuck Fletcher.
Boudreau expressed no qualms, apparently ready to earn an extension — if he, in fact, wants one. On Friday, the coach said, he and Fenton met for more than four hours to evaluate the season without once broaching the subject.
“I just want to coach,” Boudreau said. “It’s up to me to make this team successful, and whatever happens, happens.”
By most any standard, Boudreau is still one of the NHL’s best head coaches. Although he has never pushed a team past a conference final, Boudreau, 64, has led all three of his teams to the postseason, missing only twice — including, of course, this year. The Wild held the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot when Fenton began tinkering with the roster, sending power forward Nino Niederreiter to Carolina for center Victor Rask on Jan. 17.
The only other time Boudreau has missed the playoffs as a head coach was in 2011-12, when he was fired in Washington and took over a last-place Anaheim team at Christmas time. Missing again, he said Tuesday, “sucks.”
“How else can you put it?” he said. “It just sucks.”
Fenton said he likely will address Boudreau’s contract situation with the coach, but signs point to him at least waiting a while. As he mentioned Tuesday, general managers tend to make changes when they join an organization, and on Monday, Fenton let the contracts expire on assistant GMs Andrew Brunette and Shep Harder.
Fenton also has an ally sitting conspicuously on the Wild bench in Dean Evason, who had been the Nashville Predators’ American Hockey League coach in Milwaukee for six seasons before replacing longtime Boudreau assistant John Anderson before this season. That’s often a bad omen for an incumbent (see: Dwayne Casey) but it would be difficult, and expensive, to blame Boudreau for this season.
In his first two years in Minnesota, his teams earned 106 and 101 points, respectively, and in 2016-17 were the NHL’s second-best scoring team, and he had the team in a playoff spot this season before the roster started shifting beneath his feet — although he declined to make that an excuse.
“I come to work every day, and whoever’s there, I coach,” he said. “I’ve been in another organization where I didn’t know who got sent down or who got called up and I’d have to look at the sweaters every day and say, ‘Oh, he’s here now. OK, good.’ So, we have to adjust on the fly like that. It doesn’t matter what they throw at you. It’s my job to pull it all in and make it work.”
He’ll have at least one more season to do make it work in Minnesota.