The Wild’s transition from Paul Fenton to new General Manager Bill Guerin is complete, but now the real work begins. The question becomes this: What can Guerin do so late in the offseason to change the Wild’s trajectory next year?
First take: Michael Rand
In terms of roster construction, the answer is “not much.” Barring a major trade — which seems unlikely as Guerin evaluates the Wild’s personnel — things are pretty well set. So any improvements or changes figure to be internal. To that end, chemistry and analytics could be the Wild’s best bets.
If players were unhappy last year under Fenton’s watch, Guerin might be able to squeeze more out of this roster by setting a different tone. And if he is serious about an “all-in” approach to analytics, as he said in his introductory news conference, perhaps there are new combinations or player roles to consider.
Aside from that? Good luck. It could be a long year.
Wild reporter Sarah McLellan: A patient transition by Guerin also makes sense because there’s still plenty to learn about the current roster.
The group poised to begin this season isn’t the same one that faded to close out 2018-19. Free-agent additions Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman will give the lineup a different look. Captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Matt Dumba are returning from injury to fill key roles.
And forwards who were acquired in trades last season (Victor Rask, Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala) are no longer newbies adapting on the fly. Clearly, the team has a gap to bridge to get back to the playoffs after missing out for the first time in seven years. But there is an opportunity for improvement from the incumbents.
Rand: Guerin wasn’t wrong when he said Thursday that there is talent on the Wild’s roster.
Historical data shows that young players growing into expanded roles can make big jumps — something Minnesota is hoping to see from the likes of Donato, Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek.
A deeper dive into the data suggests Jason Zucker could be primed for a bounceback season as well, and more data suggests the Wild was unlucky offensively last season judging from its large gap between expected goals and actual goals scored.
The big concern I have is that any gains the Wild might make offensively with young players could be offset by declines from older players. A team can have success while its roster is in transition, but there’s no doubt this is a transition year.
McLellan: Maybe that’s exactly what this franchise needs. During its run of six consecutive playoff berths earlier this decade, the Wild was perennially competitive but never came close to winning the Stanley Cup.
Its bid to become a contender took a major hit after last season’s slide, but the roster also has enough experience and talent to avoid becoming a bottom-feeder. That murky territory between the haves and have-nots is nowhere to live in the NHL, so perhaps this transition can help determine what exactly is the best direction for an organization made up of aging veterans, established pros and intriguing youngsters to take.
Figuring that out might be Guerin’s most challenging task. It could also be the most important.
Rand: For his sake and the Wild’s, Guerin better earn more than 14 months to figure it out.
Final word: McLellan
Stability in that role would certainly help the process.