Can Bruce Boudreau turn the Minnesota Wild into a consistent winner?

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Bruce Boudreau looks on during the third period of the game against Winnipeg Jets on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Jets 4-3. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Bruce Boudreau looks on during the third period of the game against Winnipeg Jets on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Jets 4-3. (Getty Images)

ST. PAUL, Minn. – In the Xcel Energy Center last week, several Minnesota Wild players went into Bruce Boudreau’s office one-by-one following a practice.

They weren’t being singled out for anything wrong. Boudreau, who is in his first year with the team, simply wanted to meet with them to discuss what was going on in their lives. This is how Boudreau is trying to both figure out his new team and win them over

“I think communication is really important and for me it’s all about what happened to me. When I was younger and playing with the (Toronto Maple) Leafs, I may have sat out 20 games in a row but the coach or GM, nobody said anything to me, so I didn’t know if it was good, bad,” Boudreau said. “I vowed if I ever get to be a coach that I want to make sure the players know why they’re sitting out. The players know, I don’t want them to have questions because when you start having questions you always think the worst all the time, and that might never be the case. So come out and talk to me.”

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Hockey contest now]

In hockey there’s a lot talk about systems and puck possession, but in a lot of cases there’s more to success than just Xs and Os. Players need to have faith in the coach and want to play for him. Boudreau knows that if the Wild trust him that maybe he can coax more out of the group that’s struggled to break through the last several years.

“You need to be able to go to bat for (your coaches),” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Barry Trotz (when I was in Nashville) was a really good guy and people wanted to play for him because he was such a nice guy. Bruce is a really good guy and you want to play for those guys that have your backs that are there for you, stick up for you and you want to work for someone you really respect and trust and I feel that’s the same way with us.”

During the offseason, the Wild put a hard sell on the 61-year-old Boudreau with good reason. Since he started coaching in the NHL in 2007-08 with the Washington Capitals, he has won eight division titles.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 19: Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild and manager Paul Molitor #4 of the Minnesota Twins shake hands after Boudreau delivered a ceremonial pitch before the game between the Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays on May 19, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Blue Jays defeated the Twins 3-2 in eleven innings. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild and manager Paul Molitor #4 of the Minnesota Twins shake hands after Boudreau delivered a ceremonial pitch before the game between the Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays on May 19, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Blue Jays defeated the Twins 3-2 in eleven innings. (Getty Images)

He was fired from the Anaheim Ducks last offseason after the team lost their fourth straight Game 7 at home with Boudreau at the helm. Even though Boudreau held a 208-104-40 record with the Ducks, general manager Bob Murray didn’t want the potential distraction of going into another postseason dealing with the storyline of Boudreau’s Game 7 failures.

The Wild, an organization that had fired Mike Yeo the prior year and replaced him with John Torcehtti on an interim basis, weren’t scared away by Boudreau’s playoff woes. They saw a guy who had gotten all the potential he could out of his teams and guided them to a type of regular season consistency that has been tough to attain in the league’s salary cap era.

“He’s very approachable, but at the same time he’s demanding of what he wants and he really holds individuals accountable and he’s done that since training camp and through the first game so I think in the long run we’re going to respond well to that,” forward Zach Parise said.

Boudreau’s approach doesn’t just include an open-door policy to players. He also populates the locker room walls with quotes from Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Jerry West and others. This could seem folksy to old school hockey hardliners, but he’s OK with this. Overall, his ‘down-to-earth’ style has helped him gain respect around the league from players to coaches to management and media as well.

“We have (quotes) all in the insides of the stalls of the bathroom from Larry Bird, all these champions and I just think it resonates to somebody – it resonates to me,” Boudreau said. “If somebody says, ‘if I see that if he can do it I can do it. If Michael Jordan is saying something like that, then holy crap I have to do that,’ you know?”

For years, the Wild lavished players with big contracts who had flourished offensively in prior locations, but saw their numbers dip in Minnesota under Yeo. Parise (13 years at $98 million) scored 45 and 38 goals with the New Jersey Devils but hasn’t scored more than 33 in a season with Minnesota since he signed in the summer of 2012.

Forward Thomas Vanek (three years at $19.5 million) was twice a 40-plus goal scorer in his career, but never notched more than 21 in his two seasons with the Wild before being bought out last summer. In nine seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Jason Pominville (who is making $28 million on a five-year contract signed before 2014-15) averaged 0.79 points per-game but 0.63 points per-game since a trade to the Wild in 2013.

Some of this had to do with age – a few of those players were acquired after their prime offensive years. But the rigidity of Yeo’s system could have also hampered their offenses to a degree. If Boudreau’s past is an indication, the Wild’s offense should be opened up to allow players more creativity this season.

15 OCT 2016: Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) disagrees with a call during the Central Division match up between the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) disagrees with a call during the Central Division match up between the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“He knows the game, he wants you work hard but he also wants you go out and play, he doesn’t try to manage how you play,” Suter said. “He obviously wants you to play within the system, but there’s a lot of free rein he gives you and I think that’s a huge positive for him. I think that’s what we need. I think we were so structured and so defensive-minded so to have a guy like him to open us up is awesome.”

Overall it’s tough to tell if Boudreau has had any sort of meaningful impact on the Wild. They have played just two games and gone 1-1-0.

This team is different than past groups Boudreau has taken over. With both the Capitals and Ducks, he coached squads that had superstar players in their primes. The Wild have a lot of veterans, but nobody with MVP potential like Alex Ovechkin in Washington or Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim. Is this the type of roster that can win multiple division titles like Boudreau’s prior teams? Boudreau certainly has belief they can make an impact this season.

“Every time we played against Minnesota it was a tough game. They outplayed us all the time. We might have won but they outplayed us,” Boudreau said.

Minnesota doesn’t play the hard, heavy games suited to the Capitals’ and Ducks’ personnel, which has also been an adjustment for Boudreau. The Wild employs more of a scrappy lineup with Parise as their offensive centerpiece along with young forwards Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

“This is a more fast team so we’re trying to get them – you are what you are, you can’t make a 5-foot-9 guy a 6-foot-4 guy but we can do a lot of the same things of getting in people’s faces,” Boudreau said. “With our speed we should be able to not allow them to do a lot of things.”

The key test for the Wild will involve how they play in the middle of the year. With Yeo as coach, the team went through major slumps during the dog days of the season and this sort of became his trademark. He seemed to lose the faith and attention of some of the veteran players as well. Parise and Suter, for example, sought out Adam Oates as a skills coach, which struck a nerve with Yeo.

If the Wild stay consistent throughout 2016-17 and show a buy-in to Boudreau then it’ll be clear that the new coach has made an impact. If not, then the Wild’s issues were clearly bigger than Yeo, Torchetti or even Boudreau.

“I think as a group you have your own expectations and we, as players, we think we have a good team and of course we’ve got to show it,” Parise said. “We’d love to put ourselves in that category of being a consistent, legitimate winner.”

– – – – – – –

Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY