Bill Guerin didn’t mince words when talking about his team’s performance this season.
The Minnesota Wild general manager wasn’t happy with his team’s 3-1 series loss to the Vancouver Canucks last week, and while he thinks Minnesota has some pieces to help make some noise down the road, he knows the Wild are still a long way from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
It’s been nearly 12 months since he took over from general manager Paul Fenton, and it’s clear he’s ready to put his stamp on the team during his first offseason as the man in charge.
“There definitely have to be changes,” Guerin said. “We haven’t had success here. Things need to get better. That’s just the way it is.”
Here are some things Guerin said he plans to focus on:
Finding a true No. 1 center
For as long as the Wild have existed, they have lacked a true No. 1 center.
While there have been solid players here and there — Mikko Koivu, Brian Rolston and Eric Staal, for instance — there hasn’t been a bonafide game-breaker up the middle.
That’s something Guerin knows won’t be easy to fix.
“Teams don’t trade No. 1 centers. They just don’t,” he said. “Usually, it’s got to be done in the free-agent market or through the draft. It’s a position that I think this organization has needed for quite some time. We are going to try to address it.”
Maybe the most concerning thing for Guerin is that doesn’t seem confident with the options already in the organization. Asked if he sees a true No. 1 center in the pipeline, he responded, “I don’t.”
“It’s something that we’re hoping somebody can turn into. You just don’t know,” he added. “We have some good players in the pipeline and a lot of them are wingers. It’s something that we might have to get in the draft.”
Getting better in goal
If either Devan Dubnyk or Alex Stalock were hoping for a ringing endorsement ahead of next season, Guerin most certainly did not offer one. In fact, it was pretty much the complete opposite.
“I was disappointed in the goaltending,” Guerin said. “It needs to be better, that’s just the way it is, and if I said anything different, I’d be lying because it was not a strong point for us.”
The stats speak for themselves. Dubnyk was 12-15-2 with a 3.35 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Stalock was 20-11-4 record with a 2.67 GAA and .910 save percentage. Neither was up to Guerin’s standards, and he didn’t rule out looking outside the organization to fix it.
“If I have an opportunity to make it better, I will,” he said. “I’m also confident if those guys come back that they’re gonna be battling for a spot, and we’ve got Kaapo Kahkonen pushing them. It just has to be better, flat-out. I can’t promise anybody a spot.”
As for Kahkonen, it’s unclear whether Guerin would feel comfortable rolling with an unproven starter.
“If he plays well enough to be a No.1 goalie, he will be a No.1 goalie,” Guerin said. “It’s not as easy as I was saying it. There has to be some planning involved in it. We will have to decide if that’s the way we want to go. He’s definitely an option.”
Talking to Koivu
From the moment the final horn sounded late Friday, the Mikko Koivu watch went into full effect. His contract has officially expired, and the 37-year-old captain retiring from the NHL is certainly on the table.
Koivu told reporters this week he needs some time to process before making such a big decision. He also needs to talk to Guerin to see if the Wild would even interest in bringing him back. “You know what, I’m not going comment on Mikko right now,” Guerin said. “We need to talk before I start giving out any answers.”
There’s no timeline right now.
“I think Mikko needs some time for himself,” Guerin said. “He’s going be around here. I’m going to be around here. There’s no real rush.”
There are a handful of players on the roster eligible for contract extensions this offseason, notably includes rising star Kevin Fiala, lockdown defenseman Jonas Brodin, gritty winger Marcus Foligno and defense-minded forward Joel Eriksson Ek.
“We’d like to get started,” Guerin said. “There are a couple of really important guys that we have to get re-signed.”
It might not happen right away, though, with the NHL playoffs still in full swing — not to mention the sea of unknowns still surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. All of that plays a role in these types of decisions.
“There’s definitely a lot of moving parts right now,” Guerin said. “It’s a little trickier not knowing the landscape of what the market is going to be, so It could take a little more time than usual.”
There are Wild players who might fit the mold as possible buyout candidates.
Maybe the most obvious is center Victor Rask, who has completely fallen out of the rotation and carries a $4 million cap hit until the end of the 2021-22 season. If the Wild decided to buy him out, they would be on the hook for a $1.33 million cap hit until the end of the 2023-24 season.
“I guess we would use it if we had to,” Guerin said. “It’s definitely a last resort. To pay somebody to go play somewhere else is not something that I would love to do. Like I said, if we have to do it, we will do it.”