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Boudreau and the Wild: A perfect pairing except for one fatal flaw

When the Wild hired Bruce Boudreau as head coach in 2016, it seemed like the absolute perfect marriage of coach and team – except for in the single most critical way, where it seemed like a disappointment waiting to happen.

To understand that strange dichotomy is probably the easiest path to understanding how we got from the point Boudreau was hired nearly four years ago to Friday, when he was fired by the Wild in the midst of his fourth season.

The perception of perfection came from handing the keys of a veteran team – one with mainstays at the time like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu already on the wrong side of 30 but still reasonably close to their peak years plus younger established players like Mikael Granlund – to a veteran coach who could maximize talent with a strong system.

The Wild had already been in the playoffs four consecutive seasons at that point, reaching the second round twice under Mike Yeo, and it was reasonable to think that a coaching upgrade might catapult the franchise on a deeper playoff run in a quest for its first Stanley Cup title.

The possible flaw – fatal or ironic, depending on how you want to look at it – was the strong veteran coach the Wild chose arrived with a reputation for wilting in the postseason as well. The only reason Boudreau was even available for hire was that he was coming off another crushing playoff loss with Anaheim, moving his all-time playoff record in Game 7s to a ghastly 1-7.

So the team trying to get over the hump hired the coach who couldn’t get over the hump. They were either going to do it together, or continue to write a frustrating history in tandem.

And we know what happened.

Boudreau guided the Wild to its highest point total (106) in franchise history and home ice in the opening playoff series against St. Louis in his first season … only to watch Minnesota fall flat in a 4-1 series loss. The Wild missed chance after chance, the Blues buried enough of theirs, and all of it was made doubly frustrating by the fact that St. Louis was coached by Yeo.

Next year? Nearly identical result. Another 100+ point season, another quick five-game exit – this time to the favored Jets.

Then the GM who hired him (Chuck Fletcher) was fired, the Wild slumped in 2018-19 to last place in its division, and the news that arrived Friday started to feel like an inevitability whose only question was timing.

Boudreau survived two front office shakeups and probably squeezed about as much as could have been hoped out of this year’s Wild just to get Minnesota on the fringe of the playoff race at the time of his dismissal. The Wild is 7-3-1 in its last 11 games, but this is about as good as it’s going to get and a more thorough rebuild seems to be in the offing.

I’ll always wonder what might have been if the Wild had a Boudreau-esque coach at the start of its run of playoff contention instead of near the end. Maybe it would have just meant more heartbreak. Maybe not.

In the end, Boudreau leaves about like he arrived: As a really good coach in the regular season who contributed to his own demise with poor playoff showings, even if it wasn’t all his fault.

And since you can’t fire all the players (unless you’re the Timberwolves), this is what happens.

Garnett's jersey retirement by Boston makes Wolves situation more troubling

In a surprise announcement Thursday, we learned that NBA legend Kevin Garnett is going to have his number retired.

But no, it wasn’t his number 21. And no, the announcement didn’t come from the the Timberwolves — the franchise for which he played about two-thirds of his career games, including the first 12 of his career.

Instead, it was the Celtics, who are retiring KG’s number 5 sometime during the 2020-21 season in a tribute to Garnett’s six seasons in Boston — which included in 2008 the franchise’s first championship since 1986.

Garnett tweeted shortly thereafter: “I’m honored and thankful to have my number retired with the Celtics. I will always have immense respect and appreciation for ownership, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, my past teammates and Celtic Nation!”

You can read that however you choose — as nothing more than a sincere appreciation of the Celtics or a combination of that and lingering bad feelings Garnett has with some key stakeholders in Minnesota.

I wrote a few months ago about how it was long overdue for Garnett’s No. 21 to hang in the Target Center rafters. Garnett presided over the most successful (and the only successful) sustained stretch in franchise history, which included eight consecutive playoff berths, a trip to the Western Conference Finals and an MVP award.

My sense a few months back was that while there seemed to be some signs of the relationship between Garnett and the Wolves being repaired — helped when Tom Thibodeau, who helped nudge KG out the second time, was fired and replaced by Ryan Saunders, son of Flip (who was one of Garnett’s biggest allies) — there was still a fissure.

And that the hesitation in retiring Garnett’s No. 21 here was being driven more by the player than the organization.

But the conclusion in that piece was that both sides need to get over whatever wedge still exists and come together on a Target Center jersey ceremony. It’s fine that KG’s No. 21 seems to be “unofficially” retired, since nobody else has worn that number since Garnett was traded to the Celtics in 2007.

Boston’s ceremony announcement, while deserved, makes the absence of a similar honor with the Wolves even more conspicuous. Garnett is easily the best player in the history of the franchise. He hasn’t played an NBA game in more than four years.

Gersson Rosas already pulled off one miracle when he unloaded Andrew Wiggins’ contract and acquired D’Angelo Russell in the same trade. Maybe he can help unlock this puzzle, too, and make a seeming no-brainer decision work for both sides.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

  • Gophers women's basketball at Michigan State

    6 pm on BTN, 96.7-FM

  • Indiana at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 103.5-FM/1130-AM

  • Loons at Portland (preseason)

    9:30 pm

  • Wild at Vancouver

    9:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Boston at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • MSU Mankato at Gophers women's hockey

    7:07 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Penn State

    7:30 pm on BTN, 103.5-FM/1130-AM

  • Wild at Edmonton

    8 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • MSU Mankato at Gophers women's hockey

    4:07 pm

  • Loons at Vancouver (preseason)

    4:30 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Penn State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 103.5-FM/1130-AM

  • Gophers men's basketball at Northwestern

    2 pm on BTN, 100.3-FM

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