Over the past month, the Wild has been one of the most successful teams in the NHL.
Only three clubs have more wins, and just four accrued more points since mid-January — a 7-3-1 run that has catapulted the Wild back into playoff contention.
But to continue this push, first-year General Manager Bill Guerin sensed a change was necessary.
And that’s why on Friday, in the midst of one of the team’s most effective stretches this season, he fired coach Bruce Boudreau.
Assistant coach Dean Evason will take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season.
“The most important thing is that the players are going into this stretch run on a high,” Guerin said, “and I felt like they just needed a different voice right now.”
Guerin dismissed Boudreau on Friday morning at Tria Rink, a meeting that came on the heels of the Wild blowing a two-goal lead in the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
That outcome dropped the Wild to 27-23-7, and with 61 points the team sat three points back of the second wild-card seed in the Western Conference.
While Guerin explained a move like this isn’t the result of one loss but rather “a series of things,” he called Thursday’s game one the Wild should have won. The improvements he’d like to see the team make were also issues that night — inconsistency, how the Wild fares in close games and the on-again, off-again performance of the top two lines.
“It was a tough decision,” Guerin said, “but one I felt at this point in time was one that needed to be made.”
Boudreau, who declined to comment, was in the final season of a four-year contract that also had him taking on a consulting role for the next two years.
After being hired in 2016 to elevate the Wild, Boudreau continued his reputation as one of the most popular and successful coaches in NHL history. He carries the second-best winning percentage of all time among those who have coached more than 600 games, behind only Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.
In 984 games behind the bench for Washington, Anaheim and the Wild, the 65-year-old has 567 victories (22nd in NHL history), 302 losses and 115 overtime losses.
With the Wild, he went 158-110-35 and made the playoffs in his first two seasons — recording a franchise-record 106 points during his first year. But the team was ousted in the opening round of the playoffs both times.
The Wild missed the playoffs last year, and owner Craig Leipold fired GM Paul Fenton after one season.
“Bruce had an outstanding four years here,” Guerin said. “He’s done a lot of good things with this team. He brought them to a different level.”
This season, the Wild sputtered to the worst start in franchise history, debuting 1-6 and wrapping October 4-9. But Guerin didn’t opt for a coaching change then. He also stayed pat after the Wild had another swoon following an 11-game point streak from November into December.
“We were still responding to Bruce,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “But at the same time, if Billy thinks other guys need to get going more, then maybe a new voice will help certain things.”
Even though he inherited the entire coaching staff when he replaced Fenton in August, Guerin said he never arrived with the intention that he would eventually let Boudreau go.
“I like Bruce,” Guerin said. “He’s a good guy, and I planned on seeing it through. I came in with an open mind and didn’t have a decision made. This was just something that’s been on my mind for a little while, and I felt like today was the day.”
Boudreau’s exit continued a shake-up that started Monday when Guerin traded Jason Zucker to the Penguins. Responsibility for the team falls on all levels of the organization, Guerin said, from management and coaches to players, and he preached about accountability — especially for players.
That’s one tenet Evason will stress as he assumes control, a promotion that surprised him.
“When something like this happens, it catches everyone’s attention,” said Evason, who led his first practice Friday. “Hopefully, [the players] individually feel a bit responsible to what happened. We all should. We all should be motivated to go forward and try to do the right things to get to where we want to be.”
Players did react that way, feeling culpable for Boudreau losing his job. They were also shocked at the news.
“We didn’t really expect that,” Suter said. “The team had been playing well.”
The message players took from the switch is that Guerin expects more from them, and Guerin is confident Evason can help elicit that progress. Evason, who was hired as an assistant in 2018 by Fenton, will be a candidate when the Wild conducts a search for a new head coach after the season.
Guerin said he already has replacements in mind, and the characteristics he values in players are the same attributes he’ll target in a coach: accountability, drive, passion, character and compete level.
What Guerin likes about Evason is his love for the game, an attitude that he hopes translates to the players as they, once again, vie to keep their playoff hopes alive during a time of transition for the franchise.
“There’s just some things I feel need to be better,” Guerin said. “I feel Dean is a guy that has a good grasp on that, and he’s going to be able to execute it. I feel like the guys need a different voice right now moving forward.”