Earlier this week, Bruce Boudreau hinted that he doesn’t expect to be around Minnesota much longer.
One can understand why, because while this team finished with 100 points each of the last two years under Boudreau, it might not hit 82 this year, and that’s the ultimate mark of a failed season. The team also basically ran up the white flag by giving Paul Fenton permission to trade whomever he liked at the deadline.
Fenton, of course, is the new guy and Boudreau certainly wasn’t his hire, and a thing GMs love to do is bring in their own coach to implement their own vision of how the team should work.
Boudreau’s track record of success is what it looks like on the surface: This is the first time he’s ever coached a full season with one team and not finished north of 100 points (the Ducks also played at a 113-point pace in the lockout year). For a guy with now 10 seasons of coaching a single team under his belt, that’s outstanding. Moreover, even those who would downplay his success elsewhere would have to concede that the problems with this particular Wild team certainly aren’t his fault.
Which is to say that the impulse to change the coach is understandable and even possibly a good one. Even if you’re probably not getting a coach who’s better than Boudreau at getting something out of a roster, sometimes you need a fresh start and that’s fine.
But if you’re shipping out Boudreau, who’s got one year left on his contract, that has to come with the acknowledgement that this roster’s in dire need of a serious makeover. It’s no great revelation to say this, but Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Eric Staal are all 34, and all signed until at least 2021. Parise and Suter are, of course, locked in until 2025.
Owner Craig Leipold has said the team isn’t rebuilding, and Fenton says they have several good players under 23. Let’s say that’s Kirill Kaprizov, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek, Kevin Fiala, and Luke Kunin. You have to like all those players. But you don’t have to love them as future NHL stars.
Apart from Kaprizov, who’s under contract in the KHL through next season and thus not coming over next season, there’s not really any game-breaking/franchise-defining talent. Unfortunately for the Wild, that’s what you need to hoard to succeed in this league. And this, ultimately, is the problem with the Wild as an organization. Boudreau is a good enough coach that the Wild probably outperformed their talent level this year, sure, but there is talent. Enough of it that they’re not going to be able to bottom out at least for a few more years.
Even if Parise, Suter, Staal, and Devan Dubnyk get worse as they age (which they obviously will) the only thing that’s going to happen is that the Wild plug away in the 70ish-point range in the meantime, which isn’t low enough to get you a high-quality draft pick. The team also doesn’t have a ton of money to throw around this summer and go get someone who can push them anywhere to legitimate playoff contention — i.e., not goofing around in the 8-10 range for most of the second half before ultimately falling short — once again.
Which is, has been, and will continue to be the real problem with this team: The only way you can compete for championships in this league is to get hit some home runs with high-end talent early in the draft and then also get a couple extra-base hits in the later rounds. The Wild, for the most part, haven’t done that basically ever in their history. A couple dingers, a few doubles to the gap, but that’s about it and very rarely all at once. Trying to get some past-their-primes UFAs to cover up the lack of higher-end development hasn’t ultimately helped.
Maybe Fenton, whose former team has a better development track record, can help turn that around starting with June’s draft, where the Wild are likely to pick in the low teens unless some bounces go their way.
But there’s a lot of work to do here and not much time before all those guys who are 21 or 22 start being more like 24 or 25, and the aging curves don’t look so good for them anymore, and there’s still a year or two left on the Parise/Suter contracts.
That six-man core going forward looks like it could be a decent, but probably not great, top six. The problem is that none of the guys in it are defensemen or goalies. Seems to me they don’t even have a sure-thing NHL defender in the system. I had to look up whether they’d even drafted a goalie recently, and they did. Once. In the fourth round. In 2015. And it’s unclear from the Elite Prospects page whether he’s a top-20 goalie in the Czech second division.
So if the Wild are figuring the problem this year was a coaching issue, they’re wrong. And if they’re figuring this is a UFA signing or two away from being back on the rails, they’re more wrong. And if the think being on the playoff bubble is the best way to rebuild on the fly, history says they’re somehow even wronger than that.
And maybe you can address one of two of those issues this summer, but you sure can’t address all three. Oops.