The Wild finished its four-game road trip Tuesday night with a nondescript, 3-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles. The defeat followed a script that’s played out repeatedly this season – fall behind early, mount a comeback and fall short in the end.
“It’s a bad formula for success, there’s no doubt,’’ coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters in L.A. afterward.
It might be tempting to judge the 2-2 record on the trip as a small step forward when compared with the team’s 2019-20 start. After all, the two wins are one-third of the team’s overall total so far (6-11-1) and two-thirds of their road triumphs (3-10). Avoid that temptation.
If you’re looking for positives from the Wild on this trip, two items stand out.
First, General Manager Bill Guerin on Monday met with reporters, including the Star Tribune’s Sarah McLellan, and though he didn’t pull the plug on this season, he did indicate that the organization could embrace a rebuild – one that’s sorely needed.
Second, the Wild’s prized goal-scoring prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, wants to make his NHL debut with the Wild next season, Guerin indicated after talking with the 22-year-old Russian’s agent.
Let’s tackle Guerin’s evaluation comments first.
The GM hasn’t given up on the chance for the team to forge a turnaround, but it’s clear that window won’t be open indefinitely.
“We have to do what’s right for the organization as a whole, not grasp at straws,” Guerin said. “We don’t want to talk ourselves into something that we don’t really want to do or think we’re something that we’re not.’’
Right now, what the Wild is not is a playoff contender. Minnesota is tied with the Kings for last in the Western Conference, and its goal differential of minus-16 is ahead of only L.A.’s minus-21 in the West. So, don’t expect Guerin to haphazardly chase trades if they don’t make sense in a term longer than the 2019-20 season.
“If there’s an opportunity for me to make the team better, I’ll do it,” Guerin said, also praising the team’s chemistry and work ethic. “That hasn’t presented itself. I still want to give this group an opportunity. They deserve it. They earned it.”
That’s the delicate dance that a GM must do, keeping hope going for the current season while planning for a future that could pull the team out of its cycle of first-round playoff exits and last season’s nosedive.
“We have to be very honest with ourselves,’’ Guerin said, “and then move accordingly.”
The second item of good news centers on Kaprizov, the Wild’s fifth-round draft pick whose contract with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League runs through the 2019-20 season. The left winger ranks second in the KHL in scoring with 25 points on 13 goals and 12 assists in 23 games, and he’s the type of pure goal-scorer that the Wild has rarely developed.
Though Wild fans are salivating over the prospect of Kaprizov in a Wild sweater next fall, Guerin wants to pump the brakes on expectations once he arrives.
“There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle that we need, and he’s one of them,’’ said Guerin, who will visit Kaprizov in Russia in early December. “But I don’t want it all put on him to where we throw him out on the ice and everything’s fixed. That’s too much on one person.”
True, one person won’t solve everything. But another person – Guerin – pushed a couple of the right buttons for the Wild this week.