While it was tough on Bruce Boudreau earlier this season to return to Anaheim for the first time since being fired, the Wild coach still has a soft spot for the Washington Capitals.
“I love that town,” he said of returning to the D.C. area last week with the Wild. “I never would ever thought of it because it doesn’t have a state beside its name. D.C., right? But it’s the most lively, energetic city I’ve ever seen.”
Boudreau, elevated from Hershey to Washington during the 2007-08 season, won four division titles with the Capitals and the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 2008.
“This was at the time the greatest place in the world for me,” Boudreau said. “It was the first chance I got to coach in the NHL. [Former GM] George McPhee treated me unbelievable. I’ll never forget it.”
Over the years, the Capitals have floundered in the playoffs, with many questioning whether Alex Ovechkin has the ability to lead the Caps to the promise land.
Boudreau, for one, is a huge fan of “Ovi” and believes this version of the Caps has as good a chance as ever to win it all.
Boudreau said the Caps have “no weaknesses.” He sees an All-World goalie in Braden Holtby, a tremendous blue line led by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen and the biggest, deepest fourth line in the NHL. Oh, is there any top line as good as Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, Boudreau wonders.
Boudreau adores Backstrom, who roasted the Wild in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory at the Verizon Center. Backstrom assisted on three goals for his 34th career three-assist game. He hit the 50-assist mark and the 70-point mark for the fourth consecutive season, and seventh and sixth times overall, respectively.
Boudreau believes Backstrom is a future 1,000-assist man and Hall of Famer.
“He’s so quiet off the ice. He doesn’t make waves. He’s not a media tycoon,” Boudreau said. “He just goes about his business and comes to play every day. One of my favorite players I have ever coached. I would have loved to have him as my teammate.”
One reporter last week asked Boudreau to compare Backstrom’s skill set with the Wild’s Mikael Granlund, who’s having an impressive breakout season.
“Don’t ask me to do that,” Boudreau said. “Seeing Granny for this year, he’s really, really skilled. But I just think Nik is the best. I had him for five years. Granny is very, very good. Don’t get me wrong. I just think Nik is in a class by himself.”
Boudreau said Backstrom is the best passer he’s coached.
“His game isn’t going to change for another 10 years,” Boudreau said, adding that the similarity between Backstrom and Granlund is they make “anybody they play with better. When they’re on top of their game, both of those guys are beautiful to watch.”
Boudreau said he had a strong relationship with Ovechkin. At the All-Star Game in January, Ovechkin’s dad sprinted up to Boudreau, gave him a huge hug and said, “We must take picture together.”
“Just a great down-to-earth family,” Boudreau said. “Unfortunately, he is so popular, he’s asked to do so much and he’s probably the biggest name in Russia. But he wants to learn. He would be the first one in all the time, ‘Let me see my shifts, let me see my shifts.’
“Like a lot of Russian players at the beginning, they think scoring is the only answer. It takes a little longer for them acclimate to the North American game. They usually do in the end, and Ovi definitely did.”
In Boudreau’s mind, Backstrom and Ovechkin are the best dynamic duo in the NHL.
“People talk about [Patrik] Laine and all these guys with shots,” Boudreau said. “Nothing comes off the stick like Alex. When he’s coming down the ice and taking one step to the middle and he’s looking at that D, if the D opens his legs, that’s where the puck’s going.
“Backstrom, he does all the little things well and you can’t knock him off the puck. When they’re together, especially the year Ovi got 65 for me, nobody can stop them.”
• It’s early and maybe Martin Hanzal and Ryan White will help lift the Wild to something special this spring.
But the problem with the trade deadline is good teams pluck players from losing teams.
Players on losing teams usually have losing habits, and Ryan White showed that when he quit playing to complain to a referee during the Blackhawks game last week and helped cause a huge goal against.
At future trade deadlines, GM Chuck Fletcher should probably avoid picking up players from Buffalo and Arizona, eh?
• Uh-oh, the pressure’s on now. In the recently published Hockey News “Future Watch” edition, the magazine grades out every franchise’s developing crop of prospects (not full-time NHLers).
Three of the 10 players whose stock has risen the most belong to the Wild: Kirill Kaprizov (unranked last year, 13th this year), Jordan Greenway (unranked last year, 36th this year) and Joel Eriksson Ek (23rd last year, fifth this year).
• With one press of a button, Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, tired of negativity from strangers, deleted his Twitter account.
“I had been thinking about it and my wife said, ‘You’re talking about it enough, so you should just do it,’ ” Ryan told tsn.ca.
Ryan had started to tweet less, but he still couldn’t avoid being bogged down by haters.
“People ask about the negativity thing, but you can filter that as much as you want. I try not to engage because I’m never going to win an argument with a guy in his basement, so why bother?” Ryan said.
“You get nowhere with it. At a certain point, you can get it out of your life and not worry about it.”
So, Ryan said: “I quit Twitter and started over. Now I’m an eggshell so nobody can find me.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 4 p.m. at Winnipeg
Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. vs. San Jose
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Phila.
Saturday: 1 p.m. vs. Vancouver
Sun., Thu., Sat. FSN; Tue. NBCSN
Player to watch: Joe Pavelski, Sharks
Former Badger is flirting with a fifth season with 30-plus goals.
“Believe me, I’ve aged. Seems to be one week a year I really age.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on how he has changed since coaching Game 1 to his 750th.
Michael Russo can be heard on 100.3-FM and seen on FSN • Blog: startribune.com/russo • Twitter: @russostrib • E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org