First-year General Manager Bill Guerin has overhauled the Wild in recent weeks, not only shipping out longtime forward Jason Zucker but also firing veteran coach Bruce Boudreau while the players’ playoff push has been on the upswing.
These decisions made it clear Guerin isn’t married to the team he inherited when he took over in August. Instead, he has started to mold it at his discretion.
This process could very well continue leading up to the NHL trade deadline Monday at 2 p.m., but what Guerin isn’t planning to do is keep scrambling the Wild just for the sake of change.
“I don’t want to do something just to do it, as I’ve been saying all year,” Guerin said. “We have guys signed that are good players, guys that I like. There’s gotta be a reason for it.
“It’s gotta fix something for us or improve something for us, and it could be now. It could be for later. But it’s gotta do something for us.”
That certainly was the theme of the Zucker trade to the Penguins.
Not only did Zucker’s exit create some salary-cap room, but it could open up a roster spot next season — potentially for prospect Kirill Kaprizov. The Wild also bolstered its future with the additions of a first-round pick and defensive prospect Calen Addison, and the immediate return of winger Alex Galchenyuk has gotten better in time.
Galchenyuk scored the game-tying goal before burying the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Canucks on Wednesday. Last game, Galchenyuk had two assists — one on the first of defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s three goals, a natural hat trick that led the Wild past the Oilers 5-3.
Galchenyuk also has experience playing center, a position that took a hit Friday. Luke Kunin didn’t return after the first period, leaving because of an upper-body injury, and his absence forced interim coach Dean Evason to shuffle lines and occasionally use Galchenyuk up the middle.
Defenseman Carson Soucy also suffered an upper-body injury that night. The availability of either player for Sunday against the Blues is unclear. The team didn’t practice Saturday.
The Wild is 9-4-1 over its past 14 games, with the pair of wins in Vancouver and Edmonton the first under Evason after his debut culminated in a 2-0 loss to San Jose on Feb. 15.
“The San Jose game, we didn’t get the result that maybe we deserved,” Guerin said. “But then [in] Vancouver, we played hard. We didn’t play great, and we got a result. That’s all I ask for is that the compete level just keeps going up, and I think it has. I believe in this group. I think a lot of these people, and they’ve responded. They haven’t missed a beat.”
But this is the time of the year when GMs entertain roster turnover, and Guerin said the chatter around the league has intensified — discussions that could have included captain Mikko Koivu.
Nearing the completion of a two-year, $11 million contract that includes a no-movement clause and on the brink of his 37th birthday next month, Koivu could have asked Guerin to try to find him a home with a contender for the rest of the season — a move that may put him closer to a Stanley Cup in the waning stages of his career.
On Saturday, though, Koivu let Wild management know that he wanted to remain with the team, a source confirmed. Koivu has played all of his 1,019 NHL games with the Wild.
A day earlier, Guerin said Koivu’s situation was one that he’d broach with him.
“It’s a conversation, and Mikko and I have a good relationship and a good respect for each other,” Guerin said Friday. “I respect him a ton and just want to honor that because he’s earned a few things in this game.”
While they’ve accepted the fact how the team evolves is out of their control, the uncertainty before the deadline is a real emotion for players.
“It’s not a secret that everyone’s thinking about it,” Koivu said Friday, “and see where the team goes and what are the changes we’re going to make.”
There is one way, however, that players can make their preferences heard and that’s by their performance on the ice.
Based on how the Wild is returning home, their choice is clear.
“We in here as a group want to put the message in the boss’s head that we want don’t want to part ways and we want it to be this group to push forward,” goalie Alex Stalock said. “He’s going to have to make a tough decision but the way we’re playing right now, finding ways to win games, I think that’s the biggest thing.”