The Wild made two dramatic moves in the past week that are perfectly engineered to anger its fan base.
Monday, the Wild traded the popular and philanthropic Jason Zucker. Friday, it fired popular and endearing coach Bruce Boudreau. Fans are angry. This is why fans should never be put in charge of franchises.
Each move makes sense in isolation, and in this context:
The Wild has been a lousy team for two seasons. Changes are necessary, and the most transformative possible personnel moves — trading Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — require the players’ permission.
Bill Guerin was hired to fix the Wild. The question isn’t why he is making these moves; it’s whether he waited too long.
Zucker was performing poorly, especially in relation to the contract he earned with one well-timed, money-seeking season. He was the most logical Wild player to trade.
Boudreau shouldn’t be blamed for the current team’s mediocre performance, but that’s not the proper standard for judging a well-paid coach in his fourth season with his current team.
If the best line on your résumé as Wild coach is, “This isn’t all my fault,” then you’ve probably got to go.
Boudreau just finished his third stint as an NHL head coach. He was fired before coaching five complete seasons at Washington. He was fired before coaching five complete seasons at Anaheim. For almost every NHL head coach there is a productive shelf life, and few extend beyond four or five years.
This year’s Wild team, despite highly paid players and a preseason retreat, has performed below reasonable expectations. Rallying to the fringes of the playoff race is not an accomplishment about which to be proud.
On Thursday night, the Wild blew a two-goal third-period lead against a mediocre team at home, eventually losing to the Rangers in a shootout. Those are the kinds of nights that get you fired when you find yourself working for a general manager who didn’t hire you.
Boudreau’s personality will be missed. He is disarmingly funny and honest. He should get another head coaching job.
But he was never Guerin’s coach, so the timing of his firing doesn’t really matter, unless you’re the one person in Minnesota who thinks this team was preparing for a playoff run.
Guerin is new to the GM position, but he has worked in management for nine years. Every person who has worked in sports management that long has developed a personal list of coaching candidates. Boudreau was never on that list.
Fans who seek an emotional connection with those they follow appear to be in shock over the Zucker and Boudreau moves. My recommendation for targeted sympathy would be those who never get the big contract, as Zucker did, or the 14 years of highly paid work behind the bench, that Boudreau enjoyed.
Both are rich and working in the field of their choosing.
Zucker is playing in a great hockey city with a quality team and skating next to Sidney Crosby. That’s not a punishment. That’s a dream.
Boudreau beat the odds by lasting more than three seasons with three franchises. And if you injected him with truth serum, he might tell you that he feels lucky to not be coaching this group of hockey players anymore. They let him down at the beginning of the season and were likely going to let him down again down the stretch.
Because owner Craig Leipold is such a fan, the Wild has made plenty of emotional decisions over the years, many of them counterproductive. The Zucker and Boudreau moves are proof that Guerin has the license to make unsentimental changes.
“If players are hurt by this, then maybe they’re players we shouldn’t have here,” Guerin said Friday. “This is the business.”
Guerin had a nice honeymoon during which all he was required to be was Not Paul Fenton. Now the clock is running on his GM career. If he had kept Zucker or Boudreau for sentimental reasons, he would be failing in his duties and cutting his own career short.