Bill Guerin let everyone on the Minnesota Wild have it after they lost both games in Sweden. The Ottawa Senators had beaten them 2-1 in a shootout, and the Toronto Maple Leafs won 4-3 in overtime. Minnesota returned home having won their last game on November 7, a 4-2 road win over the New York Islanders. They haven’t won since.
“Was it a scream-fest? Bit of both.” Marcus Foligno told The Athletic. “The one thing about Billy, when he talks, everyone respects the s— out of him. That guy talks, you’re gonna really, really listen.”
“It was kind of a kick in the ass, figure our s— out kind of meeting,” Ryan Hartman added. “Something we definitely needed.”
The Wild haven’t figured it out yet. The Colorado Avalanche beat them 2-1 on Friday, and the Detroit Red Wings topped them 4-1 on Sunday. Their losing streak stands at seven, and it will be increasingly difficult to make the playoffs this year, let alone win a series.
Worse yet, they are what they are at this point. In the offseason, Bill Guerin signed Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, and Mats Zuccarello to long-term deals with no-move clauses. Therefore, he cannot trade them at the deadline if the Wild become sellers. And it will be hard to send anyone down to Iowa, given the cap implications.
“My biggest thing is our compete level,” Guerin said. “And look, guys work hard every night, and they care. I know that. But it’s a different type of compete and focus. I just don’t think we’ve had it.
“It’s everything from faceoffs and 50-50 puck battles to just pure execution, being in position, being in the right places to tape-to-tape passes. It all needs to be better.”
It is hard to define. But it seems like Guerin is talking about attention to detail, which is vital to any team’s success. He’s also discussing grit, a term the Wild embraced before last year’s playoffs. Nobody will argue that hockey teams don’t need to work hard and grind out games. However, they also need skill, and Minnesota is lacking in that department. That’s their core issue.
People quickly pointed out that the Wild need more from Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy. However, Kaprizov may be playing hurt, and they’ve left Boldy in no-man’s land. The Wild have played Boldy on the top line with Kaprizov and Marco Rossi, but that creates an undermanned second line. Therefore, Boldly has to play on the second line. Dean Evason has recently moved Joel Eriksson Ek to the second line, where he should play to help Boldy. However, Marcus Johansson, 33, is showing his age, and there isn’t another natural winger for that spot.
The Wild need to shut Kaprizov down if he’s hurt. They need to keep Eriksson Ek on Boldy’s line and continue to cycle through wings until they find the right fit next to them. But they’re stuck with what they have. Minnesota must find a spot for Hartman and Johansson because they’re under long-term deals. Had the Wild not re-signed them, they could have tried to move them at the deadline to find a better fit next to Boldy.
If the Wild had given themselves more flexibility, they would have the cap space and roster spots to try various prospects in the minors to allow someone to earn a spot. They could also send down underachieving players and move aging veterans to bring in newer, younger talent. Nobody would have blamed them if they had used the cap hell years to reboot. Building a contender with $14.75 million in dead cap space is almost impossible. But Guerin chose to buy out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, then extended aging veterans to keep the core of a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons.
Extending Zuccarello, Foligno, and Hartman looked like noble acts. The Wild were showing loyalty to three players in a cutthroat league while trying to create cap certainty. But those moves gave them limited options if things went haywire, and they have. Guerin cited familiarity with coaches and fellow players when he traded for Johansson and re-signed him. But unlike the Kaprizov and Boldy extensions, which any rational team would have done, Minnesota didn’t have to retain a veteran core that hadn’t gone on a playoff run.
But they did, and now Guerin is scolding the team amidst a seven-game losing streak. He’s Victor Frankenstein getting upset at his monster. Minnesota’s roster is a product of the front office’s offseason actions. The Wild are what they are. They have a league-average offense and give up 3.94 goals per game, which is second-worst to the San Jose Sharks. They have a bottom-third power play (15.9%) and the worst penalty kill in the league (67.2%). That isn’t a winning formula, and it’s hard to change the variables. They created a monster in the summer and willingly relinquished control of it before it ever took the ice.
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