As expected, it was a quiet trade deadline for Minnesota Wild general manager (GM) Bill Guerin and his staff. With the team staying competitive in the Honda West Division (26-14-3), the roster remained intact and the organizational assets stayed put.
Almost one week since the deadline, business is as usual for the Wild, who entered the second half of one their most successful seasons to date. Guerin was silent during the 2019-20 deadline as well, but it’s obvious that expectations are different this time. Minnesota made it to the bubble play-in round due to the COVID-19 pandemic last season, but were expected to miss the postseason for a second consecutive year.
This season, the Wild’s surge to a top-3 spot in the Honda West Division reignited excitement and morale in the franchise. The team displays one of the most promising young cores led by rookie sniper Kirill Kaprizov, future no.1 goalie Kaapo Kähkönen and forwards Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek.
The immediate impacts from their young players gained Guerin’s vote of confidence in a year that was supposed to be about growing pains and figuring out how to navigate the cap around the costly veteran contracts. ( from ‘Wild GM Bill Guerin makes no moves at trade deadline,’ Star Tribune, 04/12/2021) With the roster untouched, the GM is allowing this iteration of the Wild to go as far as they can before improvements are considered during the offseason. There was speculation of the Wild becoming conservative buyers, with the dire need for centre depth and help in the faceoff circle, but the decision to stay the course fits Guerin’s vision of letting this year’s team run its course and evaluate with eyes set on building a long-term winner.
With multiple unrestricted free agents on the roster, the Wild did not sell. Instead, the team will evaluate who can mesh with the core moving forward when negotiations reopen. Along with centre depth, there are the obvious needs including defensive consistency and expecting more from some of their seasoned leaders, but the team appears set to give their young core some much needed playoff experience and more relevant games for their veterans in May.
The Team’s Direction
Having a quiet trade deadline was established by Guerin days before April 12.
“Approaching the deadline, I’m not going to sell the farm just for a rental that’s going to blow town in a couple of months,” said Guerin on The Chirp with Darren Millard podcast. “We still want to build, we still want to accumulate prospects and draft picks and things like that, because we’re kind of building on the go.”
Guerin followed up this statement with one focused on seeing how this season unfolds and where he sees the team’s future.
“Our time will come,” the GM said in a media call following the trade deadline on Monday.
It’s a continuation of his vow to rework the roster, bring in the young players and continue building slowly. Since July, every trade, signing, NCAA negotiation and on-the-fly solution to injuries and COVID-19 protocols was meticulous and calculated. On April 14 during a media presser, Guerin acknowledged the team’s success so far, but said, “it’s not just about making the playoffs, it’s about going in and making some noise.” He emphasized that there has been progression, but he’s “not satisfied yet,” and the team should not be either.
Guerin is in it for the long haul, reiterating his patience to have the right foundational pieces in place, first and foremost. This means the climb to higher levels of success will be gradual, and the big moves will come when the team is ready. Accumulating and developing talent in-house has not been a strong theme for the Wild, especially after winning the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter sweepstakes during the summer of 2012. Additional veterans like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek were expected to help fill the secondary scoring gaps, but those approaches were not fruitful. Trading for Danny Heatley in the summer of 2011 can be added to this list as well.
While it dominated last year’s deadline for the Wild, rumblings of a potential Parise deal were non-existent. Many hoped that talks between Guerin and the New York Islanders would re-emerge, especially as Parise continues to struggle, often playing fourth-line minutes. Also, Parise’s contract at $7.5 million per season until 2024-25 will be a challenge to maneuver around a flat salary cap at $81.5 million, but it is not as pressing as last season. Kaprizov, Kähkönen, Kevin Fiala and Eriksson Ek require new deals soon, but with more unrestricted free agents coming off the books, the team can find solutions to keep the young band together with the added flexibility.
Unless the Wild are suddenly struck with a prolonged losing streak to end the season, the team will be playoff bound. They are not pegged to be a one of the top contenders, but any postseason experience for the young players and as a unit will be beneficial. Going one step further, once the team reaches the playoffs, the possibilities are there for the Wild to continue surprising the league. No one expected the 2002-03 team to make it to the Western Conference Final, so there is some precedence here.
Guerin envisions the team’s ceiling to go beyond rosters of the past that could not break through the first and second rounds in the last nine years. The GM believes with enough focus on development, banking on draft picks and young players and making the right trades, the Wild can become legitimate contenders when it’s their time to truly go all in for the Stanley Cup. For the time being, especially this season’s second half and playoffs, it’s about Guerin’s emphasis on gradual improvement each game.
Sports journalist covering the Minnesota Wild. Currently completing a journalism degree in Toronto, Canada.