Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Declan Kerin caught up with new Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau for a quick offseason chat, with a focus on his former goalie Frederik Andersen.
What do you make of your new roster heading into the season?
Boudreau: I think it’s pretty good. I think we’re going to surprise some people. A lot depends, quite frankly, on Eric Staal. Is he going to be old Eric Staal or new Eric Staal? We’ll see.
He was playing mostly wing in Carolina and then again in New York last season. What was the thinking with pegging him for the first-line center role?
Boudreau: Every team wants a center that is big and strong and can play against other teams’ big centers, especially in the West, which is our situation here. But at the same time, Eric has had a tremendous career. He’s had a year and a half where he hasn’t been very productive, but other than that… When I was in Washington, he was as good of a player in the NHL as there was. We’re hoping he can return to form, and if he returns to form we’ll be very happy.
Is the challenge just going to be to reinvigorate him a bit?
Boudreau: I think it is. He sounds very excited about playing for probably the first time in a couple of years. He knows the team is going to be pretty good. He knew Carolina was struggling for a few years. This is just me thinking. He’s going to be excited about playing.
Do you see a match with him on a line with Zach Parise? That sounds like a good pairing in one’s mind’s eye. Parise is a tireless worker (on the wall) who could free up Eric to play in the middle of the ice a bit more.
Boudreau: I don’t know how I’m going to work it yet, but it sounds like it would at least be an experiment anyway. I agree. I think it’ll work out. I hope, anyway.
I wanted to get a bit of a feel on Frederik Andersen. He hasn’t been in the league too long and you don’t get a tonne of coverage with the late games. What do you see as his strengths as a goalie?
Boudreau: He’s got a lot of them, actually. He’s big, covers a lot of net, very agile, can handle the puck really well, and can make the incredibly good save when you need it. That’s what I found about him.
How about weaknesses and what he needs to work on?
Boudreau: I think, sometimes, it was consistency, like most goalies. I don’t know at what point, but at one point last year he had won more games per start than any other goalie in history, type of thing. But consistency is what we’re always looking for in goaltenders. He’s untested in how heavy of a load he can take. Can he play 60 games? I don’t know. He’s never had that. He plays between 40 and 50 games usually during the course of a year. The unknowns are his biggest weakness.
He came in fairly overweight in his first camp, correct? Do you think him getting back in shape was a tipping point for him in finding consistency?
Boudreau: Yep, and Dwayne Roloson and his trainer worked with his trainer all summer and he lost 25 pounds. Where he was in Norfolk in the American league — he was a good goalie sometimes. He now became a quicker, really good goalie all the time. Mostly it was his dedication and his work ethic. He continued the work ethic through practices the whole time I was there.
How did you attempt to balance your starts with Gibson and Andersen, and make the decision of who to start in the playoffs? Obviously they are both really talented goalies.
Boudreau: We were actually switching them every game. Gibson started in the minors last year, and Khudobin was there. Khudobin got hurt, I think, and Gibson came out and shut the opposition out in his first few games. That sort of sunk Khudobin. We just switched them back and forth, alternating them every game. There was twice that Gibson got injured. There was one time Freddy got injured. That was sort of the indicator. Even for the playoffs, Andersen missed the last eight games of the year, except for the last game in Washington. That’s why we started Gibson in the playoffs. Andersen played the last game in Washington, shut them out, and we knew he would be ready if called upon. And he was.
It works itself out in the course of year. Unless you’re a Braden Holtby who doesn’t get hurt and can play 72 games… I mean, earlier on in the year we just moved goalies, switched them back and forth, and kept them fresh.
Did he have a good attitude about the 50-50 split?
Boudreau: They probably both wanted the net all the time but they were both very good at knowing who the other goalie was. Andersen knew Gibson was good and Gibson knew Andersen was good. That became a little easier.
I know you guys had a miserable start, but his save percentage was actually really good in spite of it.
Boudreau: He was fabulous. He was a very good goalie who came to play and I never had a problem with him.