Bill Guerin puts on a good press conference. He’s unusually blunt for an NHL executive, and wildly forthcoming for a Minnesota Wild executive.
Wild owner Craig Leipold hired Guerin less than a year ago to rid himself of Paul Fenton. Guerin had little time to make changes to the roster last summer. This year, before the trading deadline he dealt the popular Jason Zucker and fired the popular Bruce Boudreau, offering another sign that Guerin will be an aggressive and clear-eyed decisionmaker.
But there is a wide gulf between identifying systemic problems and fixing them. Former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher correctly identified the franchise’s dearth of scoring and dynamic forward play, then made a series of moves that brought in forwards who didn’t fix the problem.
Guerin admits that the Wild isn’t good enough — the only rational view of a franchise that employs expensive veterans but hasn’t won a playoff series or play-in series since 2015. His roster will be blessed by the emergent Kevin Fiala and the finally-stateside Kirill Kaprizov, and cursed by the team’s traditional lack of a No. 1 center.
Guerin inherits the usual conundrum facing a Wild general manager: The Wild is too competitive to tank, and nowhere near good enough to win a Stanley Cup, and aggressiveness for the sake of aggressiveness doesn’t always produce desired results.
Can Guerin land a No. 1 center? Probably not right now.
Does he have other big decisions to make? Yes, and two may define his first full offseason.
What he does with Zach Parise and Devan Dubnyk will be telling, and perhaps pivotal.
Parise is signed through 2025 at about $8 million a year. At 36, he remains what he has been for the past few seasons — a good-not-great forward whose admirable playing style has left him battered.
Parise arrived in a package deal with Ryan Suter, but there is no longer reason to consider them a package deal. Suter came to Minnesota to be near his Wisconsin home. Parise came home to be near his father, J.P., and try to help the Wild win a Stanley Cup.
J.P. died in 2015. The Wild is not likely to contend for a Cup with its current roster — in part because of Parise and Suter’s salaries and ages.
If Parise waives his no-trade clause, he could join a team closer to the Cup, and provide Guerin with a trading chip. Parise wouldn’t bring a No. 1 center in return, but he could bring younger, more affordable talent to the Wild, players who might grow alongside Fiala and Kaprizov.
Dubnyk’s situation is nothing like Parise’s. Dubnyk had a terrible season, in part if not wholly because of his wife’s illness. His play led to Guerin criticizing the Wild’s goalie play, which was subpar statistically.
Parise could help the Wild by leaving. I’m not sure that’s true of Dubnyk.
Alex Stalock played well for stretches this year. Kaapo Kahkonen is promising but unproven and probably wouldn’t draw much attention from Wild fans if not for the struggles of Dubnyk in the regular season and Stalock in the Vancouver series.
Guerin could try to trade for or sign a goalie, but either move would cost the Wild assets.
Unless Guerin has inside information leading him to believe that Dubnyk will never return to form, wouldn’t the best move at goalie be no move?
Dubnyk is 34. He has one year remaining on his contract. If he was treated as the starter in the upcoming season and faltered, Stalock and Kahkonen would get a chance to duel for the No. 1 job before Guerin was required to make a major move at the position.
And if Dubnyk returned to form, the Wild would have an affordable No. 1 goalie for a year, plus much more information to inform future decisions at the position.
For all of his blunt talk, Guerin will have trouble overhauling the roster. Moving Parise might help. Moving Dubnyk might not.