Friday July 15th, 2016

Newly-hired Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has been one of the NHL's most consistently successful bench bosses of the past decade. The owner of highest points percentage (.659) among active NHL coaches, his teams have won eight division titles in the last nine years. But as fans in his past two stops, Washington and Anaheim, will grouse, Boudreau has notoriously struggled to carry that regular-season success into the playoffs.

Two months after being fired by the Ducks, Boudreau told during a phone interview that even though he didn’t accomplish his main goal of winning the Stanley Cup in Anaheim, he looks back on his time in Southern California and sees a lot of positives. “We didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but we did everything but,” he says. “I loved the players. I thought they were dedicated and played really hard for me. I have nothing bad to say about the players and Anaheim. Or the city. The city was great to me.​

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“We accomplished a lot. We lost to Chicago, [in 2015] who won the Cup, we lost to L.A., [in 2014] who won the Cup. Even the first year [2013] when we lost to Detroit, they took Chicago to seven games in overtime and Chicago won the Cup. We won the four division titles, and two of those [years], we were second in the Presidents' Cup.”

Despite becoming the fastest coach in franchise history to reach 200 wins, compile a .648 points percentage (by far the best of anyone who has ever stood behind the Ducks’ bench), and leading Anaheim to the last four Pacific Division crowns, Boudreau's teams only advanced past the second round playoffs once: in 2015 after they defeated the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames before falling to Chicago. He also has a career 1–7 record in Game 7’s, with all of those losses on home ice. Four of them came in the last four years after the Ducks had led each best-of-seven series three games to two.

After Anaheim was upset by the Nashville Predators in Game 7 of the first round of this year’s playoffs, GM Bob Murray kicked Boudreau, 61, to the curb two days later. But the coach was not unemployed for long. He was courted by Minnesota and the Ottawa Senators before taking the job with the Wild just eight days after being sacked in California.

• Central Division trends: Wild quiet amid busy summer

“I learned a lot in Anaheim. Any time you go to a different organization, you see different things and hear different things and learn different ways to approach things,” Boudreau says. “Whether it was from Bob [Murray] or the assistant coaches or Rick Patterson, their director of player personnel, I really thought I learned a lot and got a lot of new perspective on coaching.”

This past season proved to be one of his biggest learning experiences when the Ducks, a popular preseason pick to lift the Cup, got off to one of the worst starts in NHL history and sat in the league's basement at Christmas before rebounding to win their fourth straight Pacific title.

“I thought last year, especially with the adversity we faced at the beginning, we really applied those things that I’ve learned and the way we played was great,” he says. “From December on, I thought our team played as disciplined and as good as anybody.”

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Now, with his time in Orange County in the rearview mirror, Boudreau is settling into the “State of Hockey” where he started his professional playing career as a forward with the old World Hockey Association’s Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1975. He says he’s been living out of suitcases since he was hired by the Wild on May 9, and has liked what he’s seen around the Twin Cities and at the team's development camp.

“The people of Minnesota have treated me outstanding, the organization has treated me outstanding. I couldn’t ask for anything more at this stage, but again, we haven’t lost any games yet,” he says. “You go down the street and people are putting their thumbs up, so I know they’ll expect a good brand of hockey.”

In some ways, Boudreau faces another Anaheim situation in that he'll be coaching a good team that can't seem to get over the postseason hump. The Wild have qualified for the playoffs four straight years, but struggled to find consistency, needing major regular season rallies in order to qualify during the last three seasons. Minnesota has remained a wild-card team since 2014, unable to secure a high seed in the cutthroat Central Division, which features the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars. The Wild have advanced to the second round twice in that span before falling to Chicago both times. Last season in the first round, Minnesota was dispatched by Dallas in six games, a fate made more frustrating when Nino Niederreiter's potential-Game 6-tying shot came within millimeters of crossing the goal line in what turned out to be a 5–4 loss.

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Boudreau is known around the league as a “players' coach,” one who gives them the freedom to create as long as they do it within the confines of his system. That could benefit guys like Zach Parise, who led the Wild with 25 goals before suffering a season-ending back injury as the playoffs loomed—“There’s nothing wrong with him now,” Boudreau says—as well as defenseman Ryan Suter and captain Mikko Koivu. There are also some new pieces for Boudreau to work with. The Wild have brought Eric Staal in via free agency. The veteran center is coming off a down season with Carolina and the New York Rangers but has the potential put up 50 points in the right system. Physical winger Chris Stewart returned to the Twin Cities after a season with Anaheim. Add in two big-name assistant coaches—former New Jersey Devils defenseman/Hall of Famer Scott Stevens and ex-Atlanta Thrashers head coach John Anderson—and Boudreau is excited about his new gig.

“The one thing I’m going to bring is genuineness," he says. "But I’m a pretty open book to read, pretty passionate kind of guy and a guy that fortunately has been able to win. The one thing I do know is they’ve got a good core of players and they’re not over the hill, they’re continuing to get better.

“I think the biggest thing is that [mine is] a different voice, even though I know that phrase is way overused, but the whole staff is different so it should be a whole new culture. I think we will play a little different than the previous teams did and hopefully the energy means we win more.​"

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