You’ve heard it a million times. The Minnesota Wild will be up against the cap for the next two seasons. Therefore, young players need to fill significant roles to build a consistent winner.
At this point, you can’t discuss the Wild without mentioning their temporary financial ruin and how they can overcome it. You can’t mention a single contract signing or extension without thinking of the Zach Parise or Ryan Suter buyouts. It seems to have gotten to the point where any signing that Bill Guerin makes looks good for a split-second before you dive into the details and value.
Oh, hey, how did Billy fit that money into the books?
Minnesota is floating in precarious waters, with fans understanding their financial hindrances but still expecting winning hockey. The Wild have to try to win, given the talent on their roster, especially Matt Boldy and Kirill Kaprizov. Not only the pieces, but head coach Dean Evason needs to experience playoff success, which will reflect positively upon Bill Guerin’s team construction and continued belief in Evason. The Wild enter the year with high expectations and a lot of uncertainty. So, how will we know if they had a successful year?
The definition of success is different for every NHL team. Any team that wins a championship has experienced success, but it is otherwise relative. For the Vegas Golden Knights, success would be defending the Stanley Cup as long as possible. For the Anaheim Ducks, success could be making the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks’ definition could be as specific as seeing Connor Bedard become a franchise player.
But success isn’t as clear-cut for the Wild as it may be for other teams.
After six straight first-round exits, saying that making the playoffs alone would be a success would draw an eye-roll from just about any Wild fan. It may not be as bad as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ drought, which dates back to 2004 when Kirill Kaprizov was seven years old. However, it would be an understatement to say fans in the State of Hockey are "fed up" with continued playoff disappointment.
Even if Minnesota advances past the first round in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, it would feel pretty empty if they didn’t at least put up a fight in the second round. Such a build-up for a series win just to be bounced easily in the next round would probably even hurt more than just watching them lose in the first round like we’re accustomed to.
A successful season realistically could be a first-round series win and a competitive second-round. However, considering the financial situation that prevented the Wild from making any big moves this year, it may not be as simple as that. And they’ll be in the same financial situation next year next season. However, the Wild have made it clear that they will try to win despite their cap situation, so we can hold them to that standard. For this season to be a success, they will have to do it while running it back with the team they largely had for the past two seasons, creating a predicament for Dean Evason.
The Wild can’t sit in a tier below the best teams in the Western Conference forever. They win as many games as the best teams during the regular season, but their success hasn’t carried over to the postseason. That has been the theme under coach Dean Evason since they hired him in 2020.
Dean Evason has never put it together in the playoffs throughout his professional coaching career. He has lost four straight playoff series with the Wild. Not only has he been less than stellar in the NHL in playoff situations, but he’s gone 11-36 in playoff games in his minor league (1-12 in the AHL and 10-24 in the WHL) coaching career. Not only is winning a playoff series paramount for the Wild franchise and the state, but Evason can change his reputation for coaching teams that lose when it matters most.
Guerin walks in lockstep with Evason. Guerin has built the team that Evason is working with. He has created an excellent prospect pool while simultaneously icing a team that has won in the regular season. You could probably even say they should’ve won a series last season if it weren’t for some questionable personnel and game management.
Less-than-stellar officiating also didn’t really help the cause, but every team arguably gets bad calls. Ultimately, Guerin may “only” build the team while Evason executes, but he’s also shown faith in Evason. At some point, that has to manifest in results on the ice.
Winning in the playoffs also doesn’t hurt your chances of keeping your best player around. Kaprizov isn’t going to be in his mid-20s forever, nor will he voluntarily sign contracts with teams that don’t win in the postseason. He’s already played the short-term game to negotiate another huge contract while the Wild build around him. What would be his motivation if Minnesota has made no progress on winning in that time?
However, it goes both ways. Kaprizov has to produce more than one point to drive winning in the playoffs.
Winning cures all. It makes general managers look like geniuses. People will forget about Evason’s playoff record, and Kaprizov is likelier to stay around. Most importantly, it keeps the fans happy, and the Wild should reward their fans’ loyalty. It would be cool to satisfy them by seeing Ryan Hartman chug some ice-cold beer out of Lord Stanley on their home ice. But Minnesota is unlikely to win it all this year, and that doesn’t mean they can’t have a successful season.
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