Bill Guerin had an opening for a head coach and, like any good general manager, he already had a list of candidates he wanted to interview.
The assumption was that Guerin would bring in "his guy" to coach the Wild. That's how the world of professional sports usually works. A new GM comes in after a regime change, fires the coach he inherited and replaces him with "his guy." A tale as old as time.
Guerin followed that script to a point. He fired Bruce Boudreau last February, named assistant coach Dean Evason the interim boss and made plans to conduct a true search with the names on his list.
Evason figured to be a long shot. Or no shot. He was here because the previous general manager, Paul Fenton, brought him in, presumably to replace Boudreau at some point.
Then Fenton got fired. And Evason was "his guy." And Guerin had his own list.
On top of that, hockey is known for its cronyism. With so much recycling of coaches, the NHL is doing its part to save the planet.
Guerin kept an open mind, though. He spent more time with Evason late last season and liked how the Wild responded to his direction, going 8-4 before the COVID pause.
Guerin decided last summer to buck convention and stay in-house.
"I liked the way he carried himself," Guerin said in a conversation this week. "It was like somebody I would enjoy being teammates with."
The move looks smart so far. The team is 43-21-5 in one-plus seasons under Evason, and it will finish the regular season this week as one of the three best teams in its division. The Wild has been one of the league's biggest surprises under Evason's leadership, a playoff-bound team in what initially looked like a transition season.
Here's the ultimate compliment to Evason, besides the win-loss record: His team is fun to watch. The Wild's style of play is fast and exciting and no longer induces naps on the couch.
Of course, having a superstar of Kirill Kaprizov's caliber step into the lineup will make any coach look better, but Evason has done a masterful job of implementing Guerin's no-excuses philosophy inside the locker room.
"I felt like this is a guy that I can grow with," said Guerin, who still maintained flexibility by giving Evason a two-year contract.
Though their playing careers overlapped, Guerin only knew Evason as an opponent — a "pain in the ass" to play against, he notes. The two really didn't know each other when Guerin assumed control of the operation.
Guerin sees a lot of himself in his coach.
"We are very blunt, we call it like we see it and we're not afraid to say the hard things," Guerin said.
Being so alike that way occasionally has its moments.
"We've had our blowups, but we don't hold a grudge," Guerin said. "It's just, 'Hey, this is what's happened. Let's talk about it.' I think it's made us both better."
They are unified in creating a new culture for the organization. Guerin has been upfront about turning the page on the previous way of doing things. He only looks forward, not backward.
Only two things matter in their sphere: team and winning.
Neither has time nor interest in anything that interferes with that.
"Whether you are first-line left wing, fourth-line right wing, if you're sharpening skates, if you're driving the equipment truck, doing video … everybody is important," Guerin said. "We're going to do what we have to do to win."
Evason approaches his job in that manner. Team over individual always, which is why he would rather take a puck to the face off a slapshot than talk about himself. His demeanor is steely-eyed intense. He probably went undefeated in staring contests in elementary school.
He is unafraid to hold players accountable. He has scratched Zach Parise, benched Kevin Fiala and shuffled lines to find combinations that work better. Handling egos can be tricky, but Evason seems to strike the right balance of being demanding while getting players to respond the right way. Winning certainly helps.
"You have to treat people fairly and treat players with respect, which he does," Guerin said. "It's not just about that one guy."
Never is, but Guerin needed to find a coach who shared that foundation. He didn't need his list. The guy was right down the hall.