Wild interim coach Dean Evason has heard mixed messages on a potential return for the NHL.
“One day they say, ‘Yeah, possibly everything’s going to get back,’ ” Evason said, “and then the next day, ‘No.’ ”
But if the action does eventually restart with the Wild still in the mix, Evason is convinced he and the coaching staff will be prepared to lead a team that was on the brink of a playoff spot when the league shut down last month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“If they tell us tomorrow that we’re going to play or start in a week or so, we’re ready,” Evason said Wednesday during a video conference call. “I think that’s what’s positive for us as a coaching staff, and I’m sure all the staffs have done the same thing. But we’re very confident that we’re ready to go as soon as they let us know.”
Evason and his staff have remained in touch during this hiatus, chatting once a week, and on Monday the group assembled a plan for a 10-day training camp — this after the coaches initially outlined a shorter scheme early in the pause when the hope was games would resume quickly.
After using video to emphasize systems play in each zone for three days, Evason then anticipates reinforcing those concepts with up-tempo practices before moving on to intense scrimmages that simulate games.
“You’re gonna have to have a day off in between and then more tweaking as far as our systems and what have you going forward kind of after that fifth, sixth day,” Evason said. “We think we’ve got a pretty good thought process together, but obviously things can change depending on when we get back.”
Promoted from an assistant after Bruce Boudreau was fired on Feb. 14, Evason implemented an aggressive style and the Wild responded by going 8-4 to sit a point out of a playoff position with 13 games to go. The cohesiveness of the group would be a focus of Evason’s if the Wild gets a chance to continue playing — one of many unknowns since it remains unclear if the NHL will finish out the regular season, fast-forward to a traditional playoff or adopt a different format.
Either way, a fast start seems critical.
“The quicker your group comes back together, the better off you’re going to be to have success,” said Evason, likening the remaining games to a tournament.
And while playing without fans in attendance would be different, Evason believes players would adapt.
“Once the game’s played, where the puck’s dropped, the players play the game,” Evason said, “regardless of what’s happening.”
Getting the Wild back on the ice would also give Evason more time to make a case to stay behind the bench.
In the aftermath of the NHL pausing its season on March 12, General Manager Bill Guerin said Evason’s status will remain unchanged for the time being and the two talk every few days.
Evason hopes he has already proved himself but wants an opportunity to show as much as he can.
“We liked where our group was as a group,” he said. “We really played as a team.”
As he waits for clarity, Evason has watched videos of prospects and stayed in touch with players. He hasn’t had any exit-meeting type conversations, but he let them know they could reach out to him and some have.
“Certainly want to keep the communication open with the group,” he said.
The 55-year-old has remained in Minnesota, reading books by Wayne Gretzky and Mick Jagger (Joe Torre’s in the hopper) and staying physically active.
He’s excited he can golf now that courses have reopened, and he’s also working out at home where he’s set up a stationary bike in a bathroom. Evason rides that in the morning, also has a road bike and cranks on a heater when he practices yoga.
“I tried to stay in the same type of routine that I had before this all hit,” said Evason, who’s sporting a beard for the first time in his coaching career.
His wife, Genevieve, isn’t able to stay with him since she’s a flight attendant based out of Montreal still working during the pandemic, and Evason said he’s proud of her even though the situation is unsettling.
“She’s never wavered,” he explained. “She’s never said, ‘You know, I don’t want to do it.’ She just goes about her business [and] stays as safe as you possibly can. But there’s no question it’s scary.
“You see the news and how it’s affected people. There’s certainly concern, but she’s doing her part.”
Although he acknowledged he could go to Montreal, Evason said he’s staying put until the season hopefully is back in motion.
When and if that occurs is still a mystery, but Evason is ready should it become reality.
“We’re just going to wait and see what happens and be as prepared as we possibly can when that happens,” he said, “and hopefully it does.”