Bruce Boudreau was first a head coach in pro hockey with the Muskegon Fury of the Colonial Hockey League for the 1992-93 season. Fifteen years later, he was 52 and coaching the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League when the Washington Caps decided to give him a shot after firing Glen Hanlon on Nov. 23, 2007, after a horrible start to the season.
This will be the 11th consecutive year that Boudreau has had an NHL team to open the season, whether it was Washington, Anaheim or the Wild. The one time he was fired during a season was by the Caps in late November 2011, and he had a job two days later in Anaheim.
And now more than ever, this is what Boudreau knows as a new season opens on Thursday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche: “There are going to be 27 teams by Christmas that have a chance to make the playoffs and four that won’t. And I have no idea what four they will be.
“There is as much parity in the NHL as any league in sports. And that means if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game every night, you’re going to get beat.’’
OK, these comments will come off as clichéd, but they are used here to confirm my theory that there is nothing more futile in sports forecasting than trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the NHL before the first puck is dropped.
Boudreau is slightly inaccurate in saying the NHL has “as much’’ parity as any league in sports. It has more parity than any league in American sports by the distance of Secretariat over rival Sham in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
Sarah McLellan, the Star Tribune’s Wild beat writer, made a noble effort in Wednesday’s print edition to rank the 15 teams in the Western Conference and the 16 in the Eastern.
What caught my eye is this: Edmonton was ranked 11th — three spots out of the playoffs — and it has Connor McDavid, entering his fourth season as the No. 1 phenom to reach the NHL since Sidney Crosby in 2005.
How can there be so much parity that a team that has the best young player in the world is widely looked at as a non-playoff team?
Boudreau shrugged and said: “Nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.’’
And then the coach repeated a complaint from earlier this week over a panel of 18 “experts’’ enlisted by NHL.com that was close to unanimous in predicting the Wild to finish outside the playoffs. There was one lonely vote for the Wild to finish eighth and squeeze into the West’s playoffs.
“Six straight years in the playoffs, two straight years with 100 points, and 17 out of 18 people say we’re not a playoff team,’’ Boudreau said. “How does that make any sense?’’
Hockey often confuses me, and I’m almost as confused by the Wild pessimism as the coach. The St. Paul gents went out early with Ryan Suter missing, Zach Parise out for half the series and Jared Spurgeon coming back from injury and going at half-speed.
Yes, the Wild was outclassed by Winnipeg in five games, and probably was looking at first-round elimination under any circumstances, but with Suter, Parise and Spurgeon out or limited … that’s only three of your four best skaters (with Dumba), right?
I’m thinking as much stock should be put in 45 wins, 37 losses and 101 points in the rugged West, as being wiped away by the Jets. Now, Parise and Suter open the season healthy, as does Spurgeon, the Wild’ most-underrated player.
True, the people who look at the Wild with a critical eye — meaning, not the families of four from Woodbury — are tired of waiting for the “young nucleus,’’ which is now a four- or five-season nucleus.
Granlund, Neiderreiter, Coyle, Zucker, even Brodin … the hard-cores are at their limit waiting to see that handful get it done at clutch time. Especially Coyle. He’s been given the injury out for last season, and now he has one more chance to become a standout, or to ship out.
And here’s the deal: He’s being given that chance as part of what could be the first arrivals of a new nucleus — the 6-3 right wing for 6-6 center Jordan Greenway and 6-2 left wing Joel Eriksson Ek.
That’s the secret weapon for the 2018-19: Greenway as a skilled giant in the middle for more muscle.
Alex Stalock, the backup goalie, was asked what it has been like in scrimmages and practice to have the 6-6 Greenway in front of the net?
“It’s like driving down a two-lane highway with a semi in front of you,’’ Stalock said.
Relax, Wild wackos. There’s a semi in St. Paul now. More than 100 points again and back in the playoffs.