Wild General Manager Bill Guerin has made one prominent decision since taking the job. He fired popular, veteran coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced him, on an interim basis, with assistant coach Dean Evason.
Under Evason, the Wild won eight of 12 games and moved closer to a playoff berth before play was suspended because of the coronavirus.
Guerin probably has an ideal coaching candidate in mind, and that person is unlikely to be Dean Evason. Has Evason done enough to change Guerin’s mind and take the job on a permanent basis — permanent, in the NHL, meaning he will keep the job about three years before being fired?
Twelve games is not long enough to constitute a true tryout. The Wild could have been experiencing a typical reaction to a coaching change. Even when a coach is as likable as Boudreau, players can weary of anyone’s messaging and can respond favorably to a coaching staff shake-up.
There is a better reason than his record over 12 games for keeping Evason, and that reason is rooted in Minnesota sports history.
The Twins who would win two World Series titles were known for choking before Tom Kelly replaced Ray Miller as manager in 1986. Kelly had a close relationship with his key players, having spent many hours riding Southern League buses with many of them. That bond held fast during two pressurized World Series, resulting in two championships. The most emblematic moment of Kelly’s leadership arrived when Kirby Puckett, having won Game 6 of the World Series, wrapped Kelly in a bear hug after touching home plate.
The Timberwolves have experienced one high-quality season in their history, and that one playoff run was the result of Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders drafting and developing Kevin Garnett. The man who won’t even allow the Wolves to celebrate him these days trusted McHale and Saunders back then, and together they elevated the franchise.
The Lynx were a sporting nonentity before Cheryl Reeve took over as coach and traded for Lindsay Whalen. Whalen wasn’t the best player on the championship Lynx teams, but that trade made the Lynx relevant, and Whalen’s leadership made a star-filled team a championship team. The relationship between Reeve and Whalen was at the heart of the franchise’s four titles.
Kelly, Saunders and Reeve had not run big-league teams before they were given a chance in Minnesota. All three proved that relationships and intelligence are more important than experience.
Kevin Fiala has a chance to become the best player and most productive scorer in Wild history. Evason coached him in the minors when both were in the Nashville organization, and the two often express their respect for each other.
The relationship between Evason and Fiala could prove as important as the relationship between Puckett and Kent Hrbek and Kelly, or Whalen and Reeve.
In his short tryout as an NHL head coach this season, Evason looked more than capable of managing a team and handling the secondary demands of the job, including acting as the most publicly prominent voice of the franchise. Sometimes, being thrust into the media spotlight is the most difficult adjustment for a former assistant. Evason seems comfortable in the public eye.
If Evason can help Fiala develop into a superstar and can run a game and a news conference, you can find (or keep) assistant coaches to handle other responsibilities.
Guerin should hire Evason and see where he and Fiala can take the Wild. Add in Kirill Kaprizov, and next year’s Wild team has a chance to play the most entertaining brand of hockey in Wild history.
Guerin might still be looking to hire a veteran NHL coach, but those kinds of candidates are always available in the NHL. If you don’t hire Coach X this year, you will have another chance in three. This is the right time to invest in Evason, and his relationship with Fiala.