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Where’s the meat in these Bruce Boudreau rumours?

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Is this just fantasizing?

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Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images

What if you can go home again? That’s the question it seems Bruce Boudreau is asking himself. But what’s real and what’s ‘Leafs talk is just good business’ about these rumours?

Let’s back up to the situation on the Minnesota Wild. The Wild put Paul Fenton in as GM in May of 2018, and just over one year later they fired him after he made some disastrous moves. Fenton inherited Boudreau as coach from the former GM, the long time boss of the team, Chuck Fletcher (now with the Flyers).

When the Wild realized Fenton was a gigantic mistake, they let him go and hired Bill Guerin, who has been an an assistant GM in the NHL, and has run the very successful AHL affiliate of the Penguins, but has never been an NHL GM. The tradition is that the rookie GM wants to hire his own man, and he fired Bruce Boudreau at what was a very strange time — February 14. That decision to fire the coach on the cusp of the trade deadline was salvaged somewhat by the pandemic. The Wild finished out the season with a loss in four games to Vancouver under the assistant, and now head coach Dean Evason.

At the time of Boudreau’s firing he said this:

Boudreau was coaching in the final year of his contract and said Sunday he entered the season expecting to be let go at some point after Guerin was hired in the summer because “all GMs want their own coach.”

However, the timing last week caught him by surprise with the Wild owning a winning record and closing on a playoff spot.

“I didn’t know if it would at the beginning of the year, Christmastime, the middle of the year or the end of the year,” Boudreau said. “But, I thought we were playing really good and when you’re into the second week of February, I just figured I was safe ‘til the end.”

and

“If I could coach yesterday, I’d do it,” Boudreau said. “I get mad, and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I want to get right back into it. In the past, I’ve gotten lucky that I got back into it right away. When I came here four years ago, I hoped this was my last job. I hoped to be here 10 years. It didn’t work out that way, but I know I can still coach.”

And that was it until Elliotte Friedman posted this in 31 Thoughts on August 11:

The Maple Leafs have an opening on their coaching staff, as power play specialist Paul McFarland heads to OHL Kingston. Out-of-the-box thought: Bruce Boudreau. He will want to be a head coach, first and foremost. That’s what he is. However, he’s always had a fascination with the team he grew up watching and played for.

And that’s really all it takes in Toronto to launch a rumour, but now it seems like there’s a little meat on this thin bone. This came up again on the 31 Thoughts podcast, where Friedman backed off on the idea a little by saying that Boudreau is really after a head-coaching job. This time around, Friedman makes it sound totally like his own speculation.

James Mirtle tackled the topic in the Athletic, and said this:

So, I asked around the past few days [after the Friedman story] if there was anything to it. And it turns out that this has progressed beyond just the thought-bubble stage.

The Leafs asked the Minnesota Wild for permission to talk to Boudreau at some point in the past few months. No formal interview has taken place, but the news got back to the 65-year-old coach fairly quickly.

This says to me that the Leafs were turned down by the Wild, since “the news got back to” Boudreau. The other explanation is they just never followed up and didn’t call him for an interview. Which is speculation based on some phrasing, and maybe they did talk already in an informal way.

As an aside: the NHL will help teams negotiate on hires of executives and coaches who are under contract to teams that fired them like Mike Babcock. The result is a reduction in what the original team owes, based around their new salary. Once a fired executive’s deal is up or almost up, none of that matters, so the Wild had little incentive to help the Leafs, nor any to hinder.

For reference, the Leafs announced Paul MacFarland was leaving to go to the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL on May 8, but that doesn’t tell anyone when they knew he was planning to leave.

On August 18, after the Friedman article and before the Mirtle article, NHL.com writer Tom Gulitti did a Q&A with Boudreau.

“I would love to coach as soon as I can,” Boudreau said. “I know I’ve been around for a while. But I didn’t start until I was 40, so I haven’t been around that long and I think I have the energy, because this is all I’ve done my whole life, to do it again. You’ve gotten awards and won divisions and that, but the goal since I’ve been 4 years old is to win the Stanley Cup.

“So I want to be in a position to have one more shot at it, at least.”

Boudreau said he hasn’t spoken to any teams about a coaching job since he was let go by the Wild. While he waits for his next opportunity, he’s staying busy talking hockey on the NHL Network. For now, he’s doing it remotely from his home in Minnesota. Later this month, he’ll move to a house he purchased in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the city where he coached the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League to the Calder Cup in 2006.

Hershey is about 100 miles west of Philadelphia, in the heart of AHL country, but handy to a lot of NHL teams.

Later in the interview, Boudreau talks about how much he hates being out of work, and how that’s never happened to him. And in this article, at no time does the word coach ever get preceded by the word head. The whole thing reads like an advertisement from a guy looking for a job, but maybe who understands the head-coaching jobs are all going to younger men now. Which is not how Friedman framed it.

Plausible or not?

If it was Dave Hakstol that had left and Paul MacFarland who had stayed, this would seem a touch more plausible to me. But Hakstol may well be on the way out, we don’t know.

It’s more plausible to me that Boudreau would take a lesser role on the Leafs, than that the Leafs, or rather Kyle Dubas, would think that would work.

Friedman and Jeff Marek also discuss Kyle Dubas’s line at his post-season presser where he says (courtesy of MLHS):

I don’t find myself transfixed on one thing. You all think that I have one way of going about things and it is never changing, but I think anybody who knows me or works with me would tell you it is pretty much the opposite. Every season, regardless of what the outcome has been — whether at different levels we have won or have been in the playoffs and fallen short — there has always been a full review of where we are at.

The vision for me always has to be changing. I don’t think any business or any team that just has one vision or way of doing things and doesn’t change is going to be successful in the long run. They might get lucky, but it is not a way to go about having sustainable success. I think the moves that we have made over the last couple of seasons have indicated that it is not just all about one thing here. That will certainly be the review that is done now with regards to where we are at and where we are going.

I am not someone that is stubborn with that. The goal will be to get us into a different position next year, certainly, to the point where we are making progress and sustaining ourselves as a contending team year in and year out.

They took this almost as a warning to Leafs fans that Dubas is about to do something that we will consider out of character. Which is a very fair reading. Friedman likens the trade for Kyle Clifford to the sort of thing Dubas might be about to do.

Clifford is often thought of as a throw-in or contract dump in the Jack Campbell trade. I think that’s wilful obliviousness. I think Sheldon Keefe wanted him, and I think Dubas did too, so it’s past time to throw out the old character sketch in our minds of a “Dubas player”. But I’m not sure if I’m willing to buy in that the thing Dubas would do out of character is to put a shadow looming over his man Sheldon on the Leafs bench.

If you look at the Flyers, you have Alain Vigneault with Michel Therrien, the former head coach, as his assistant. But Vigneault chose Therrien, and they both have long established careers and look like two peas in a pod. The dynamic with Boudreau working for the rookie NHL coach Keefe would be very different. I’m not sure Dubas wants to make Keefe that uncomfortable.

But the man with every agent’s phone number memorized had this to say today, so this sounds like where things stand: