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.