Bruce Boudreau was about to break the bank by agreeing to a four-year contract at more than $11 million to coach the Wild on Saturday when the door on his plane, about to leave the Ottawa airport, closed.
The flight attendant got on the loudspeaker and admonished passengers to turn off all electronic devices at the exact moment Boudreau was informing Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher he was accepting the job.
“Chuck says, ‘This stuff always gets out, so don’t say anything,’ ” Boudreau said during a phone interview with the Star Tribune on Sunday. “I said, ‘Fine, I’m on a plane for five hours anyway, so don’t worry.’ ”
Boudreau landed in Southern California on Saturday evening. He turned on his cellphone and 120 text messages flashed in uncontrollable rapid-fire manner.
“It was cuckoo. The thing just exploded,” Boudreau said, laughing. “I guess the news got out.”
On Sunday, the Senators, the team Boudreau interviewed and negotiated with Friday and Saturday, hired Guy Boucher over candidates such as former Wild coach Mike Yeo.
Boudreau, 61, was offered the Ottawa job first.
It was difficult to pass on the offer, because one of Boudreau’s four child-ren and his new grandchild live there. But Boudreau was blown away by how much the Wild stepped up, and not just financially by offering him one more year than Ottawa had.
“Chuck was very proactive,” Boudreau said of Fletcher, who flew to California last Monday and met with Boudreau for four hours Tuesday. “He impressed me with everything, but the one thing that really impressed me, he kept phoning back and seeing how I was on the Wednesday and the Thursday and the Friday. It wasn’t like I was out of sight, out of mind. I knew he was really interested.”
The Wild made its initial offer to Boudreau on Friday night after he met with the Senators. The Wild increased the offer during back-and-forth negotiations by the time he left Ottawa on Saturday.
Boudreau felt comfortable with Minnesota. He loves the fact it’s a hockey hotbed and knows the area a little bit from when he started his professional playing career with the old World Hockey Association’s Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1975.
“I just thought it would be a place that we could win. I know the team is good already,” Boudreau said.
Most of Boudreau’s talks with Fletcher revolved around the two getting to know each other. They talked mostly philosophy, playing style and if their visions align.
Boudreau asked very little about the team.
“My biggest question was, ‘Is Zach going to be OK?’ ” Boudreau said, referring to Zach Parise’s season-ending back injury that’s currently being rehabbed without surgery. “When that came back affirmative, I was thrilled because I’ve admired him for 10 years now as a player.
“But I know they’ve got good individuals there. Their top, top players are really good, and now it’s a matter of being a really good team.”
Boudreau is known as an up-tempo, offensive-minded, four-line coach. He gives his players the freedom to create as long as it’s within the confines of the system’s foundation. In the defensive zone, he likes five players protecting the house and blocking shots. In Anaheim, every player had to wear skate guards.
He describes his system as “in-your-face.”
“We want to be able to, if we don’t have the puck, to get it back in a hurry,” Boudreau said. “We want to play fast. We want to be physical. But I told Chuck, the style will depend on the type of team. … I will adjust to what the personnel is and we’ll find a way to make that work.
“In a perfect world, let’s score five goals every night. But when that doesn’t work, you better be able to defend.”
One clear reason the Wild went hard after Boudreau is his regular-season consistency. In nine seasons, he won eight division titles with Washington and Anaheim and has a career .659 points percentage, which is tops in NHL history for a coach with more than 208 games.
The Wild has been a wild-card team the past four seasons, but in the past three, it had great peaks but had to overcome steep valleys to make the playoffs. If Boudreau can find a way to replicate his regular-season success, that’ll be quite the achievement in the cutthroat Central Division.
“I’d hope to think together we could all stop [the ups and downs],” Boudreau said. “If you get defiant and you get mad enough that everybody plays the right way rather than get mad enough that everybody gets frustrated and tries to do it on their own, that’s what we try to promote. I’ve been lucky with the consistency thing.”
Game 7 bounces
The knock on Boudreau is postseason underachievement. His teams have been eliminated in Game 7 seven times. Boudreau went through each Game 7 defeat Sunday and offered seemingly rational explanations for the losses. Other than a couple, they could have gone either way with a bounce or save here or there.
“A couple bounces and everybody would say, ‘Wow, this guy never loses Game 7s,’ ” Boudreau said, laughing. “But we get there. Look, I’ll take my chances on a Game 7 home or away any day of the week.”
Boudreau’s wife, Crystal, is excited about the change. Boudreau has four children, including 17-year-old Brady, who still is in high school. One son, Andy, works in Banff, Alberta, at a hockey academy; another son is an assistant coach in the East Coast Hockey League.
“My daughter, Kasey, is the one that’s mad at me that I didn’t sign in Ottawa,” Boudreau said, laughing.
Boudreau will be introduced to Wild fans at a Tuesday afternoon news conference and plans to meet again with Fletcher this week to discuss the assistant coaching staff.
Many folks already have inquired about the potential jobs. It wouldn’t be shocking if Bob Woods, his longtime right-hand man in Hershey, Washington and Anaheim, joined his old friend.
“It’s been a crazy week,” Boudreau said.
How crazy? Wayne Gretzky idolized Boudreau as a kid when Boudreau was racking up junior records for the Toronto Marlboros. Gretzky — the all-time leading scorer in the NHL — has said Boudreau was the best player he’d ever seen.
“Let’s not forget, he was only 11 at the time,” Boudreau said, humbly.
After Boudreau was fired in Anaheim on April 29, Gretzky invited him to a golf outing this past Wednesday to get away from everything.
“So when Chuck and [Senators GM] Pierre [Dorion] called for interviews, I said, ‘Monday or Tuesday, anything you want. Thursday or Friday, anything you want, but Wednesday’s out. I’m taking Wednesday to golf with Wayne,’ ” Boudreau said.
“And you know what? I had the greatest day of my life golfing with Wayne Gretzky. So, that was cool.”
Fired on Friday, golfing with the Great One on Wednesday, hired by Minnesota on Saturday.
Yup, that was a crazy week.