In meeting with reporters two weeks ago, Wild GM Bill Guerin was blunt about how he would evaluate the team going forward:
“We don’t want to talk ourselves into something that we don’t really want to do or think we’re something that we’re not,” he said. “We have to be very honest with ourselves and then move accordingly.”
Here’s the question: How long should the evaluation last before Guerin makes tough decisions?
First take: Michael Rand
It would have been tempting for Guerin to make snap decisions after the team’s tough start, but the biggest obstacle, honestly, is the schedule.
It’s hard to get a perfect handle on a roster when 20 of a team’s first 30 games are on the road. By Dec. 7, the Wild will have played almost half of its road games. And as the schedule has balanced out a little lately, the team has performed at a higher level.
But overly optimistic teams might point to St. Louis as a reason to keep a roster together. The Blues, as has been oft-repeated, won the Stanley Cup last season after entering Jan. 3 with the fewest points in the league. On that date, however, 13 of the eventual 16 postseason teams were already in playoff position.
Sarah McLellan: That tends to be the norm, with the potential playoff picture taking shape as early as Thanksgiving. Most teams in a berth at that point in the calendar tend to hold on to one. This reality isn’t encouraging for the Wild, which has remained near the bottom of the standings despite recent improvements, but the best read on the group might not come until after the holiday break.
Not only is January the start of the second half, but that’s when the schedule starts to become more home-heavy. The results at Xcel Energy Center so far have been encouraging enough (5-1-2) that it would make sense to take the time to see if the woeful October was exacerbated by so many road games against stiff competition. Keeping the evaluation process would help figure that out.
Rand: From Dec. 21 through Feb. 15, the Wild plays 18 home games and just four road games — which I’m sure delights you, Sarah, given how much time you’ll get to spend in Minnesota during the coldest months.
That stretch will lead right into trade deadline season (Feb. 24 is the final day), which I suppose is a double-edged sword: It’ll give Guerin time to evaluate, but strong play at home could be fool’s gold.
Trades are about Guerin’s only option for immediate change, though. Mikko Koivu is the only notable unrestricted free agent this summer.
McLellan: But a quick fix in the trade market is difficult to find, which Guerin also noted in his state-of-the-team address. The most impactful, and long-lasting, change usually comes from the draft. Look at the top scorers in the NHL today; all of them — from the Oilers’ Connor McDavid to the Bruins’ duo of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak — are homegrown.
Regardless of where the team finishes, identifying and adding promising prospects is vital to the Wild’s growth. Those draft picks could come to define Guerin’s effect on the Wild, perhaps as much as which established NHLers he decides to keep, cut or acquire.
Rand: In that case, he’s probably best off making trades early and setting the Wild up for a high draft pick.
McLellan: Regardless of what happens, the next few months could easily determine what’s in store for the franchise for the next few years.
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