Newcomers Bruce Boudreau, Eric Staal could help new-look Wild contend in the West


BOSTON -- The Minnesota Wild have earned a Stanley Cup playoff berth in each of the past four seasons. They are one of seven NHL teams to do so during that span, joining the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

Under former coach Mike Yeo, the Wild did not get past the second round, losing three consecutive postseason series to the Blackhawks. During an eight-game losing skid in February, and a stretch during which Minnesota went 3-12-4, Yeo was fired and and John Torchetti was named interim coach.

Last spring, it was the Dallas Stars who dispatched Minnesota in the first round. So the Wild made more changes. Torchetti was not retained and Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher hired veteran NHL coach Bruce Boudreau last May. Boudreau had spent a total of nine seasons between the Ducks and the Washington Capitals, winning eight division titles.

It's pretty early to judge whether the changes will work in Minnesota.

"Hard to make what kind of team they are [this early]," said one Western Conference scout. "They've had slow starts and their first periods have been awful, but they seem to wake up and play pretty well. They're scoring goals but need to give up fewer than they are. [It's a] funny team right now, and I'm not sure what you'll see from game-to-game."

In the locker room and on the ice, the players are still getting used to Boudreau's system and personality.

"It's been a great transition. It's been a lot of fun around the rink, around the room," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "As a team, there's still a lot we need to get better at, but we're seeing it in spurts throughout games. The closer we can get to doing it more consistently, and more often throughout a game, it's going to translate into more wins for us. It takes work, and we've got to continue to get better and keep learning. But, in the long run, it's going to make us a better team."

Eric Staal, 31, signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Wild during the offseason. Through six games, he led the Wild with three goals.

Getting used to a new coach is an adjustment for any team. Parise explained it's been a unique challenge for the Wild this season because the majority of Minnesota's big-minutes players also participated in the World Cup of Hockey and weren't around for the majority of training camp.

"There's still that adjustment, but the quicker we can snap out of those old habits, it'll be better for us," Parise said.

Other than a new coaching staff, which also included assistant coaches Scott Stevens and John Anderson, the Wild signed forwards Eric Staal -- who won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 -- and Chris Stewart during the offseason. The tweaks to the coaching staff and roster have already had a positive effect on the Wild.

"It's still early, but I think it's been good," said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. "Yeah, it's a little different -- new coach, new staff -- but for the most part we have the same team, minus a few guys. We're still getting used to each other, still creating that chemistry, but it's going well. Everyone gets along. We're learning a new system. Sometimes it takes a little [time] to get used to, but we're doing a good job of it so far."

Adapting to a new coach's personality can sometimes be a even more challenging than the X's and O's, but Boudreau is already being heard loud and clear in the dressing room.

"He's a great guy," Coyle said. "Everyone is a fan of him. His track record speaks for itself. He's been successful, and all his teams were always at the top of the league. Everyone respects that and knows we can learn from him, so it's nice to have a guy like that, and the whole staff as well. It takes some time to get used to the system, but we've had plenty of preseason time to get those reps in, so it comes natural now and we can go out there and just play hockey."