The nervousness didn’t kick in while Bill Guerin was interviewing for the job. That came later, when he sat by the phone for more than three hours waiting to learn whether he had been chosen as the Wild’s new general manager.
Guerin, introduced Thursday as the fourth GM in franchise history, was passed over last year when owner Craig Leipold hired Paul Fenton. Given a second opportunity, Guerin hoped the Wild wanted him as much as he wanted to come to Minnesota. That made it all the more excruciating as he sat in his home office in suburban Pittsburgh with his wife, Kara, and daughter Grace, wishing fervently for Leipold to call with good news.
“The interview part was enjoyable,” Guerin said. “The hard part was waiting. Honest to God, I was sitting there looking out the window, and I turned around and said, ‘I’m more nervous now than I was against Detroit in Game 7 in ’09.’ ”
Guerin won that game, and his second Stanley Cup, with Pittsburgh in the twilight of his playing career. He won two more Cups during his eight years in the Penguins’ front office, making a seamless transition to roles as assistant general manager and player development coach.
Following Thursday’s introductory news conference at Xcel Energy Center, Wild coaches, players and executives lauded Guerin, 48, for his broad range of experience and reputation as a unifying force. He returned the favor, making it clear he believes the current personnel can “bounce back” after missing the playoffs last season.
Guerin said there is “a lot of work to do, but a lot of potential” with the Wild. He won Leipold over with his answer to the final question of the job interview: Why do you want to come to this organization?
“When he asked, it was an honest answer of, ‘Who wouldn’t want this job?’ ” said Guerin, whose 18-year NHL playing career included 15 playoff appearances and four appearances in the All-Star Game. “There’s everything here to win. Everything.
“We have a committed owner. We have a great fan base that’s knowledgeable and passionate. The building is full. The environment is great. We have an incredible coaching staff, scouting staff, hockey ops. We have a good team. My job is to make it better.”
Leipold cut Fenton loose after 14 rocky months, characterized by frayed relationships, questionable trades and a regression in the results. This time, the first call the owner made was to the Penguins, asking for permission to speak to a person he had long admired as a player and leader.
With no margin for error, Leipold said he did more in-depth vetting this time. He initially leaned toward hiring a seasoned GM, then expanded the search to include less experienced candidates who “frankly had no baggage” from previous jobs. The process helped him clarify that he wanted a GM who could bring leadership, presence and passion.
Leipold also sought counsel from former North Stars great Mike Modano, now serving the Wild as an adviser. That led Leipold to understand the value in hiring a former player — particularly one such as Guerin, who was known as a devoted teammate willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
“My entire career in hockey, I always wanted the likes of Billy Guerin and Mike Modano on my team,” Leipold said. “I finally got it.
“[Guerin] was not only a terrific player, but obviously an unbelievable leader. And right now, that’s perfect for what we’re looking for.”
At the news conference, Guerin beamed at his family — seated in the front row — and described the travel adventures required to get Kara and children Grace, Liam, Kayla and Lexi to St. Paul. He didn’t seem to mind, either, when he was temporarily upstaged by Breezer, the Labrador retriever puppy the Wild has adopted to train as a service dog.
That demonstrated some of the qualities that landed Guerin the job. Modano, who has known him since they played together for the U.S. in the 1989 world junior championships, said Guerin has a gift for bringing people together. While he is even-keeled, upbeat and quick with a joke, he’s also impeccably prepared and professional.
Modano expects Guerin to give the Wild something it has lacked: The ability to serve as a bridge between players and management. Guerin’s playing career ended in 2010, recently enough to have played with or against some members of the Wild. He described the NHL as a “relationship business,” with success springing from strong bonds throughout the organization.
“I’ve seen a lot and been through a lot of situations, so I feel like I can empathize with what players are going through,” he said.
“There are a lot of ups and downs in the season, and I hope to be a solid foundation for everybody. I have to be at my best if things are at their worst.”
The timing of his hire — 23 days before training camp starts on Sept. 12 — is “odd but not bad,” Guerin said. He plans to spend the coming weeks soliciting opinions, watching, listening and learning.
“We have a ton of work to do, but it’s going to be a ton of fun,” he said. “I can’t wait to get going.”