ST PAUL (FOX 9) - Something has to change.
That was the tone among Minnesota Wild players and General Manager Paul Fenton on Tuesday as the team gathered to say their goodbyes for the offseason. For the first time in six years, the Wild will not be a part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Wild had been eliminated from the first round of the playoffs three straight years, and reached the Western Conference semifinals in 2014 and 2015. But the Wild finished this season 11th in the Western Conference with 83 points, seven out of a playoff spot. That’s a year removed from getting 101 points and being in the final Wild Card spot.
There were a lot of questions raised Tuesday, but not many answers as the Wild enters a crucial offseason.
“I’d sound like an idiot saying nothing needs to change. I’m sure everyone’s got their opinions on what that is, but we can’t continue on the way things ended this year,” Wild forward Zach Parise said.
One thing that won’t be changing, and Fenton made that very clear Tuesday, is the team’s head coach. It will be the first time since 1997 that Bruce Boudreau won’t be participating in the playoffs, but he’ll be back coaching the Wild next season.
Barring an offseason extension, Boudreau will be coaching in the final year of his current contract. Fenton has “total confidence” that Boudreau can take Minnesota back to the playoffs.
“Bruce is my coach next year. You look at his track record for the number of years that he’s been an NHL coach, it’s amazing. Bruce is our coach next year,” Fenton said. “Right now Bruce is my coach and he’s going to be the guy that is going to lead this team to where we want to go.”
Boudreau said Tuesday he hasn’t had any conversations with the front office about his contract or his future.
“I just want to coach and I think it’s up to me to help make this team successful. Whatever happens, happens,” Boudreau said.
The reality for the Wild and Boudreau is they never had a full roster healthy enough this season to see what it was capable of.
Parise, who led the Wild with 28 goals and 61 points this season, missed six of the last seven games with a knee injury. He also revealed Tuesday he had been playing through a fracture in his right foot suffered after blocking a shot in a game against Winnipeg.
Defenseman Matt Dumba missed the last 43 games after having surgery for a torn pectoral suffered during a fight. He said Tuesday he expects to be ready for training camp. Mikko Koivu missed the last 22 games with torn knee ligaments, and hopes to be ready for training camp.
The injuries, plus the departures of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, were ultimately too much to overcome despite Fenton acquiring younger talent for them. The downfall started when the Wild went 1-6-3 out of its bye week and went 5-6-3 to finish February.
In desperate need of wins, they were shut out by San Jose and two weeks later, shut out by Nashville. The Wild finished the regular season 27th in the NHL in scoring.
Maybe most inexplicable was the Wild’s 16-18-7 record at Xcel Energy Center this season. Only the L.A. Kings had a worse home record this year, and it’s a big part of why the Wild were cleaning out lockers on Tuesday instead of getting ready for a playoff series.
“It’s obviously disappointing. It’s something that we were expecting and striving for once the season began. We just never really got on a real good roll consistently,” center Eric Staal said. “Just didn’t have that consistency that you need to make sure you’re in a playoff spot.”
Ultimately, it’s about getting the puck in the net. It’s something the Wild didn’t do nearly enough this year, getting shut out 11 times this season. While there are no immediate answers, finding more scoring is something that’s already on Fenton’s radar.
Once they find that, the focus can shift to being a playoff team again. It’s something Fenton, Boudreau and the players feel can certainly happen again, as soon as next season.
“I always see the positive in it. I firmly believed we were going to make it this year. I firmly believe we’ve got the core that’s going to make it next year for sure,” Boudreau said.