The Minnesota Wild snapped the Nashville Predators’ six-game winning streak when they beat the Preds 6-1 on November 30. It was win No. 2 for John Hynes and Minnesota’s first back-to-back wins in regulation this season. During a first-period break, the Predators played a tribute to Hynes, their former coach, and the Wild won in a building where they are 15-22-7 all-time. Connor Dewar had a hat trick. Minnesota’s coaching change had reversed its vicious cycle.
"This group's been through a tough start," Hynes told reporters in Nashville. "But I will say that they are really tight. They're hungry. They've been very receptive to me coming in."
The Wild won four straight under Hynes before suffering their first loss in Vancouver on December 7. The Vancouver Canucks became the first team to hold Minnesota scoreless this year and ended an eight-game losing streak to the Wild. It was Minnesota’s fourth loss in their past 15 games in Vancouver. The Canucks snapped Mats Zuccarello’s ten-game point streak, and Kirill Kaprizov and Marco Rossi played poorly.
“I think there’s a lot of good lessons out of this game,” Hynes said after losing in Vancouver. “The first four games were a little bit different style of games. This is the first time we’ve seen this style of game against us, and we didn’t handle it the right way. So it’s a good opportunity to grow from it.”
Minnesota’s new-coach smell has worn off. Now we’ll learn whether Hynes has cured a rot or if they just stink. Winning three straight division games is no small feat, and the Wild’s results on their most recent road trip were pretty predictable. They’re probably better than the Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken, but Vancouver and the Edmonton Oilers are likely superior teams. However, the Wild were a perplexing team before they fired Dean Evason. Now, they’re that much more confounding because Hynes has entered the equation.
The Wild retained Evason after losing in the first round for the fourth straight season because they had two 100-point seasons under him. It’s hard to judge his first two seasons because the pandemic shortened them. But we know that Evason got the team to win in the regular season only to lose in the playoffs. Minnesota went 8-15 in the postseason under Evason, but Evason’s playoff struggles went beyond that. The Milwaukee Admirals were 1-12 in the AHL playoffs under his watch, and Evason owns a 10-24 record in the WHL postseason.
Was Evason wringing as much talent as he could out of the Wild in the regular season, only to have opponents expose them in a playoff series? Or is Minnesota fundamentally a 100-point team that underachieved when it mattered most? We’d still be asking that if Evason was behind the bench. But Hynes changes the equation, if moderately. Hynes has a mixed track record as a coach. The New Jersey Devils had a .487 points percentage in his five years there; the Predators had a .577 points percentage during his five years in Nashville.
Granted, the Devils were rebuilding when he took over, and he took over the Predators job in the middle of their season. But he also has discouraging results with developing players. Hynes’ players tend to speak highly of him, but they’ve often played better after he departed. Hynes has had moderate success as a coach, producing two 90-plus point seasons in Nashville before they fired him last season. He’s 4-15 all-time in the playoffs.
Hynes’ coaching history wouldn’t matter as much if he were an interim coach. The Wild went 15-11-1 under John Torchetti when he took over for Mike Yeo in the 2015-16 season. But Minnesota replaced him with Bruce Boudreau the following year. Torchetti hasn’t had a head coaching job since. However, Bill Guerin gave Hynes a multi-year deal. Guerin won’t say how long he signed Hynes for, only saying that he couldn’t get a coach like Hynes without a long-term contract. Guerin has a longstanding relationship with Hynes, and he had to have hired him knowing he probably won’t get another opportunity to change coaches. Hynes is someone he trusts.
But adding Hynes on a multi-year deal to a cap-strapped team full of immovable contracts means the Wild are what they are now. They don’t have cap space to add any marquee free agents. There won’t be many young players with upside occupying the NHL roster because Guerin has doubled down on cost-controlled veterans to get through the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyout years. And if Minnesota misses the playoffs this year or another team eliminates them in the first round, they’re stuck with Hynes.
The best thing you can say about Hynes is that he’s willing to learn from other coaches and doesn’t appear stuck in his ways. Guerin didn’t fall into the trap Chuck Fletcher did of believing he had a wunderkind coach. Fletcher failed to recognize that Yeo was overwhelmed by the prospect of managing Parise and Suter and the expectations that came with signing them. Fletcher should have replaced Yeo with an experienced coach like Peter Laviolette or Ken Hitchcock when he had the chance. Instead, he waited until the team melted down, wasting valuable years of Parise and Suter’s prime years. Guerin isn’t making the same mistake with Kaprizov, Rossi, Matt Boldy, and Brock Faber.
Hynes boosted the Wild, and they may have settled into a sense of normalcy now. They aren’t one of the best teams in the league, but they might still make the playoffs. However, they didn’t make up any ground in their four-game winning streak, and making the postseason doesn’t matter much if they can’t get out of the first round. Everyone here is long past the excitement of making the playoffs alone. We still don’t know what normal is for the Wild, but we’re about to find out soon enough.
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