Looking at the Wild offseason through the eyes of GM Bill Guerin
After falling to the St. Louis Blues in the first round, the Wild have a lot of things to figure out this summer.
ST. PAUL — Like everyone in the Minnesota Wild organization, general manager Bill Guerin entered the playoffs with high hopes. He truly believed the Wild were Stanley Cup contenders.
Yet there Guerin was on Tuesday morning at the Xcel Energy Center, sitting alongside coach Dean Evason, trying to explain how a once-promising season came to a screeching halt last week.
“Honestly, I think we got away from our game,” Guerin said. “When we were faced with tough situations we didn’t stick to our game.”
It wasn’t so much that the Wild fell 4-2 in the series with the St. Louis Blues. If Guerin knew deep down the Wild were at their best throughout the first round, he would have been able to live with the results.
The most frustrating part for Guerin was that the Wild crumbled in the face of adversity. For a group that prided itself on its resilience, the Wild looked completely overwhelmed by the moment in Game 6 en route to a series-clinching 5-1 loss.
“Just some uncharacteristic things,” Guerin said. “It’s a really tough time to do that.”
When a reporter suggested that playoff experience, or lack thereof, might have contributed to the lack of composure, Guerin refused to let his players off the hook.
“You can’t let that be a roadblock,” Guerin said. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, we don’t have experience, so that’s OK.’ No it’s not OK. At some point in time we’ve got to fight through. We needed that (in the playoffs) and we didn’t get it.”
Though he’s still extremely frustrated that the Wild aren’t playing in the second round, Guerin has already started to think about this offseason. He wants the sour taste to fuel the Wild moving forward.
“It’s not going to slow us down,” Guerin said. “It’s just going to encourage us to keep doing what we’re doing and get better.”
Here are some questions the Wild need to figure out this offseason:
How will they navigate dead cap?
Now, before getting into any specifics about this offseason, it’s important to note that the Wild will have some financial constraints when it comes to filling out their roster.
Thanks to the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts from last offseason, the Wild will be faced with roughly $12.74 million in dead cap heading into the 2022-23 season. That number jumps up to $14.74 million in dead cap for the 2023-24 season and 2024-25 season.
While he admitted it makes things more difficult for the Wild moving forward, Guerin doesn’t regret his decision.
“I’d do it again,” Guerin said. “We’re just going to deal with it. It’s not something where we go into the office like, ‘Oh god. We’ve got to deal with this.’ No. This is it. We knew what we were doing. We’re fine with it.”
Will the Wild make any roster moves this offseason in attempt to add cap space? Perhaps finding a team willing to take on, say, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and his $2.25 million cap hit?
“That’s a good question,” Guerin said. “We could. I don’t know if that’s the route we’ll go.”
What is the plan between the pipes?
Though the Wild will obviously be facing financial constraints this offseason, Guerin made it clear that he wants to re-sign veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
This was always going to be a possibility from the moment Guerin acquired Fleury, a pending free agent, from the Chicago Blackhawks in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.
How would that impact fellow goaltender Cam Talbot? It wouldn’t as far as Guerin is concerned.
“We want them both back,” Guerin said. “There’s no drama. We like both goalies. We like both people. We want them both back. We think we can be successful with both of them.”
Can the Wild realistically afford Fleury while also paying Talbot his $3.67 million?
“We will see,” Guerin said. “We will see.”
Will Kevin Fiala be back next season?
If the Wild indeed prioritize contract negotiations with Fleury this offseason, it doesn’t take Albert Einstein to realize star winger Kevin Fiala would be the odd man out.
He might already be.
“We’d love to have Kevin back,” Guerin said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be possible.”
While the Wild could try to move mountains this offseason in attempt to re-sign Fiala, which would mean trading away players to make the money work, it doesn’t sound like Guerin is willing to do that. Not with Fiala likely searching for a big raise in the upward of $8 million per season.
“I don’t live in a fantasy land,” Guerin said. “We will see what we can do, and if we can’t do anything, then we move on.”
As of Tuesday morning, Guerin hadn’t talked to Fiala’s agent, nor did he plan to in the immediate future.
“I’m sure we’ll start having some conversations in the next couple of weeks,” Guerin said. “There’s no rush.”
If the Wild can’t come to an agreement with Fiala they will likely trade him ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft. What is Fiala’s trade value?
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Guerin said. “I’m not making calls or anything like that. It’s too early for that stuff.”
Which prospects will be ready?
It’s already pretty clear the Wild are going to need some prospects to step up next season.
No doubt up-and-coming center Marco Rossi is atop that list. He spent
After spending this season with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League, it sounds like Rossi will be given every opportunity to play with the big team next season.
“There were a lot of ups and downs for him,” Guerin said. “We wanted him going through that down there rather than up here. That said, we are expecting for him to push to make our team next season. I think he’s accomplished a lot down there and he’s ready to start pushing to be up here.”
In that same breath, Guerin emphasized that Rossi will have to earn that roster spot. Nothing will be given to him.
The same goes for defenseman Calen Addison, who hasn’t found a way to crack the NHL roster despite his skill set, as well as a handful of other prospects.
“This is a really good league and it takes a lot to be successful in this league,” Guerin said. “We just want to make sure that we’re handling these kids properly and giving them the best chance to have a good career.”
As for young goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, who signed his entry-level deal on Monday, the plan is for him to play next season with the Iowa Wild. That’s not at all surprising considering that goaltenders usually need extra seasoning int he minors before they’re ready to play at the highest level.
“We need to make sure we handle him properly and go through the proper steps and the right development path,” Guerin said. “We’ve got the guys to guide him through.”
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