ST. PAUL — In a move that sent shockwaves throughout the Minnesota Wild locker room, general manager Bill Guerin abruptly fired coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday morning, marking a surprising ending to his tenure in the Twin Cities.
That decision came about 12 hours after the Wild blew a 3-1 lead against the New York Rangers in the final 20 minutes of regulation and finished the night with a frustrating 4-3 shootout loss at Xcel Energy Center.
While that meltdown might have been hastened Guerin’s decision — the first-year GM was adamant that the Wild should have won that game — he made it clear the outcome itself was not the sole reason for the move.
“It’s a series of things,” Guerin said Friday. “Even though Bruce and I have had a great relationship — I really enjoyed working with him, I learned a lot from him, and I think he liked working with me — the most important thing is that the players are going into this stretch run on a high, and I felt like they just needed a different voice right now.”
That voice will come from assistant coach Dean Evason, who will take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season, and will be a candidate for the job when Guerin launches a coaching search this offseason.
Evason was hired as a Wild assistant coach last season by former general manager Paul Fenton, and now that he’s in charge, he vowed to bring an added sense of accountability to the team.
“I’ve been around long enough to know how difficult this situation is and how hard it is on a person,” said Evason, who ran practice for the first time Friday morning. “We all have to feel some responsibility for what happened.”
The Wild are 27-23-7 with 25 games left in the regular season. Their 61 points leave them three back of sharing a wild-card playoff spot with Vegas, Calgary and Arizona in the Western Conference. It is as close to a playoff spot as the team has been all season.
As for Boudreau, he was clearly surprised by the move, and respectfully declined comment Friday afternoon when reached by the Pioneer Press via text.
In three-plus seasons in the Twin Cities, Boudreau’s team went 158-110-35 (.579), making the playoffs twice. For his career, Boudreau is 567-302-115 (.634), also spending time with the Washington Capitals and the Anaheim Ducks.
“Listen, he’s done a lot of good things with this team,” Guerin said. “He brought them to a different level. This is not a personal thing. It’s just all about winning hockey games and making a push for the playoffs.”
If that’s the case, the timing of Boudreau’s firing is puzzling.
Since suffering an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 1 coming out of the bye week, the Wild have played much better, going 4-1-1 over the past two weeks.
That said, Guerin definitely expects more from this group moving forward, and after firing a shot across the bow earlier this week by trading well-respected winger Jason Zucker, he made his intentions even clearer by firing Boudreau so abruptly.
“If players are hurt by this, then maybe they’re not the players that we should have here,” Guerin said. “Just like I said the other day with the Jason Zucker trade, this is something where I fully expect our players to show up at game time and be ready to go.”
The next chance for the Wild to prove themselves will come against the San Jose Sharks at 4 p.m. Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
“I think when something like this happens, it catches everyone’s attention,” Evason said. “Hopefully they all 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.”
In the locker room, it was clear that players feel somewhat responsible for Guerin’s decision.
“You go home and understand that part of it is on us as players,” said goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who has struggled mightily this season. “I know if I played better this year, then we’d be in a different scenario and Bruce might still have a job. You just can’t go home and beat yourself up about it too much. That’s the reality, so it’s important to be accountable.”
“I kind of wear it myself,” added fellow goaltender Alex Stalock, who allowed the tying goal with 66 seconds left in regulation against the Rangers. “That’s what happens. You kind of put a lot of blame on yourself. You make that last save, and we come in and have an upbeat practice. And now, things start to change.”
Guerin acknowledged that his decision is the popular thing to do, but felt it was the right after much deliberation with members his inner circle, as well as owner Craig Leipold.
“We don’t take things like this lightly,” Guerin said. “We are talking about human beings here. It’s not just the hockey part of it. It’s the human element of it. You don’t just make knee-jerk reactions when talking about somebody’s livelihood. This is something that we put a lot of thought and conversation into.”