The Minnesota Wild clinched a playoff spot with Saturday night’s 6-3 win against the San Jose Sharks, which reaffirmed general manager Bill Guerin’s impression and evaluation of the team. The Wild are good enough to make a run and he has confidence in the team. Guerin was hired two years ago in August to clean up the mess left by former GM Paul Fenton.
This was no easy task, but he has shown time and time again that he is building a winning culture. There is no doubt that Guerin’s pedigree and accomplishments have been why he has built a winner. He is a winner which is one of his many traits which has led him to be the orchestrator behind the scenes on the Wild’s successful season.
This is exactly why Guerin didn’t make a move at the trade deadline aside from the acquisition of Ian Cole back in January, which can be considered his deadline move. There was no reason to add anything at the expense of the future when the Wild are already good enough to make some noise in the postseason. What many considered a “transition” season with five pending free agents has turned into a season with one of the Wild’s most legitimate playoff teams.
There is something different about this team which was evident since the beginning of the season when the Wild came back from behind to secure two overtime victories against the Los Angeles Kings. He has built a winner and a team that is buying into the team-first mentality.
Ryan Hartman’s three-year extension is all the evidence you need to know this isn’t just an assertion; it’s a culture and mindset. While Guerin should certainly be praised for the extension, the biggest takeaway is Hartman’s mindset and his ability to recognize the Wild will be in a tough situation this offseason with multiple significant contract extensions for their core for the future. Only so much money could be allocated to a bottom-six forward, especially after securing Marcs Foligno’s future for three more seasons.
“All I want to do really in this league is win. I think it’s everyone’s goal. To be honest, money doesn’t really matter. It’s winning, you can make as much money as you want in your career if you don’t have anything to show for it, what’s the point really? Like I said, I saw where this team is heading, I know what this group has and how special it is. I think we’re very confident here and that was a big reason for staying around” said Hartman (Via Minnesota Wild Twitter).
That is all the evidence needed to know what direction this team is headed. It is evident that this team has bought in to the message being delivered from the top.
Clinch Playoff Spot With Victory Over Sharks
There have been many questionable decisions surrounding Dean Evason this season which include his inability to see the trajectory of Joel Eriksson Ek, his handling of Nico Sturm, and his deployment of Hartman, where he has forced him into a center position at times despite it not being a strong fit. All this can be true, but Evason deserves praise for how much he has helped this team and he’s a huge reason behind their success.
The victory against the Sharks Saturday night resulted in their eighth playoff appearance in nine years. The Wild have now won seven straight games and are 13-3-2 since March 22nd. It was a classic win where the Wild were outplayed and probably shouldn’t have emerged victorious. This has been the story the past month as they keep winning games and moving forward in the standings despite their poor underlying numbers.
The Wild hold a 46.42 percent share of shot attempts (Corsi), 44.47 percent share of expected goals, and 43.11 percent share of scoring chances at 5-on-5 since March 22nd, which rank near the bottom of the league. These numbers are not a recipe for success, making their ability to continue to win games more confusing.
Saturday night’s win really encompassed many facets of the Wild’s game since the middle to late March. Their underlying numbers weren’t as poor as they have been in the last month, but they were bad enough that the Sharks came away with the higher share of shot attempts, expected goals, and scoring chances despite having the 25th best record.
They had familiar faces as the different makers too, aside from Cam Talbot, who has kept them afloat. After Ryan Suter’s goal, Foligno scored the second goal of the game from a feed from Eriksson Ek. The 29-year-old forward is having a career year and is proving he can be a high-end bottom-six forward.
He recently signed a three-year extension which is a steal considering everything he brings. He has 20 points in 30 games which is just five short of his career-high. His 3.4 even-strength defensive goals above replacement rank second league-wide among forwards. His presence was felt when he missed an extended period of time with a broken ankle.
After Jared Spurgeon scored his third goal of the season, Kevin Fiala gave the Wild some breathing room as he made it 4-0 going into the third period. Fiala is riding a four-game point streak and his game has really elevated since the beginning of the season. He has 17 goals, 15 assists, and 32 points in 43 games. His 57.19 percent share of shots and 61.09 percent expected goal share rank second and first respectively on the Wild.
Kirill Kaprizov – easily the Wild’s most impactful player so far this season – made it 5-1 on a one-timer after a ridiculous pass from Fiala before Bonino tallied an empty-net goal. He is now riding a five-game goal streak which is perfect timing as he tries to gain separation from Jason Robertson, who is not too far behind in the race.
The Calder Trophy frontrunner has 22 goals (tied for eighth league-wide), 19 assists, and 41 points in 47 games. His 57.31 percent share of shots and 58.54 percent share of expected goals rank first and second respectively on the team. Furthermore, he has drawn 16 penalties which are the sixth-highest in the NHL. He continues to be an unbelievable player for the Wild.
The Wild needs to trust the process as Guerin’s vision and roster moves continue to contribute to the winning culture and mentality. This team has outperformed their expectations this season and that is with a lack of center depth and five pending free agents that haven’t exactly been difference-makers.
It will be very interesting to see how his vision of the future affects how he handles this summer in terms of roster changes and the Seattle Expansion Draft. There is no doubt that his winning culture is becoming evident, but this is just the beginning.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.