General managers are only remembered for the success or disappointment their teams achieve on the ice. Steve Yzerman may forever be revered in Tampa Bay for constructing a perennial powerhouse in a non-traditional hockey market. Joe Sakic is building something special in Denver with the Avalanche, even if they fell short this season. Theo Epstein reversed the hexes of not one but two storied, losing franchises when he constructed World Series-winning teams in the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.
Then there’s Mario Tremblay, who constructed the expansion Wild. He had numerous misses in the draft and failed to build around Marian Gaborik. Kevin McHale oversaw the Timberwolves’ best seasons but also had a plethora of draft-day trades that have haunted the franchise about as much as the under-the-table deal with free agent Joe Smith. Then there was Terry Ryan, whose patience and ability to field competitive teams in a small-market economy was commendable, but he will never live down releasing David Ortiz, or the decade of success without a championship.
And each GM has their own mentor with whom they confide. Bill Guerin announced last week that he has added Ray Shero as a senior advisor to the general manager. Shero acquired Guerin in his playing days to help the Penguins to their 2009 Cup Championship, then turned around and added Guerin to his front office once the Worcester, Mass., native hung up his skates. The mentorship has now come full circle with Shero joining the front office to advise his former apprentice.
Typically, an addition to the front office or management staff is a footnote on the offseason. Ultimately, Guerin is the general manager, and heavy is the head that wears the crown. Missteps with contracts, trades, or a lack of foresight will get a GM fired — not to mention a string of losing seasons.
But it also takes trust and confidence to bring people onto your staff who could potentially serve as your replacement. A front office crowded with former and future GMs can feel like a kitchen with too many cooks. It can be intimidating for a first-time GM to have a bunch of fallback options around should the owner decide he or she made a mistake.
The addition of Shero comes at the right time for Guerin, though. There are three big contracts to be signed, three big events to navigate, and this will be just the third offseason for the Wild GM. If he can be successful this summer, the Wild could be on a path that leads to a Stanley Cup rather than more one-and-done appearances in the playoffs.
Big Names, Big Checks
Shero once had two studs on his team who needed to be re-signed. One happened to be the best player in the NHL at the time, and the other was a dynamic Russian winger. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were two elite forwards who demanded big money. Maybe it’s coincidental, but being able to lean on Shero’s experience in signing major contributors to the future of the team while the Wild negotiates with Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, and Joel Eriksson Ek is a luxury few GMs get to have.
Shero was able to lock both down after two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals. Without Shero’s ability to commit major money while also working to find good players through the draft and through trades, the back-to-back Cup wins under GM Jim Rutherford would not have been possible.
Expansion Plans & Strategies
There is some built-up scar tissue after the last expansion draft. The Vegas Golden Knights had teams over a barrel and exploited their position to maximize both picks and talent to turn an expansion team into a Cup favorite each year they’ve been in the league. The same rules exist for the Seattle Kraken this summer. Good players will be available, and the Wild are in a position to lose a vital member of their core yet again. Unless Guerin swings a side deal to keep Kraken GM Ron Francis away from certain players, that is. Shero was the New Jersey Devils GM for the Vegas expansion draft and came out of it unscathed. They didn’t overthink the situation and only lost defenseman Jon Merrill.
Someone with the experience of going through an expansion draft, another mind to strategize how to navigate or negotiate with Seattle could be helpful. The Wild are likely going to lose a good player, but with the right strategy, the overall cost of the expansion draft can be significantly reduced.
Trading With Confidence
Lastly, Shero wasn’t afraid to make a trade. Outside of calling up his old boss to make a deal for Jason Zucker, Guerin has only made small moves for players on expiring deals. He told opposing GMs that he wasn’t open for business at the trade deadline this year. Guerin has about one more season where he can be patient with the Wild’s on-the-fly re-build. The clock is already ticking; he’ll have to accelerate this process, and the deadline might be coming quicker than most expect.
Michael Russo of The Athletic mentioned that sources close to Kaprizov said that Guerin must display a “clear plan to upgrade down the middle” before Kaprizov will sign for any real term. And that’s a fair statement after being saddled with Victor Rask all season long. Marco Rossi needs to get up to speed after suffering a terrible bout with COVID, and that might delay his NHL debut, and Dean Evason appears unwilling to put Kaprizov with Joel Eriksson Ek. So acquiring a center to pair with the Russian phenom might have to come in the form of a trade. With some encouragement from a valuable source with experience in the matter, Guerin might feel more confident pulling off a blockbuster deal.
Shero did not shy away from big trades. In New Jersey, he took advantage of Peter Chiarelli in the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. He got creative in landing Nikita Gusev. He went big to get Jarome Iginla a championship. And he pried away the captain of the New York Islanders in a big move that ended with Bill Guerin joining the Penguins and hoisting the Cup.
Maybe a Jack Eichel trade to Minnesota won’t happen. Making room under the salary cap for his hefty contract might prove to be too difficult. After all, it's a numbers game when making trades. But that won’t stop Shero from encouraging Guerin to get creative and explore every opportunity to improve the team. Sometimes too much can be made of the construction of the front office. Sometimes, additions that seem insignificant at the time start a butterfly effect that ends with a championship.
Wild fans must hope that Shero is the right voice for Guerin.
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