To our readers: Thank you for taking part in our Mailbag Monday this week. Star Tribune beat writers received many questions about the teams and leagues we cover, and each writer selected a couple of questions to answer.
Q: It’s a forgone conclusion now that the season is over.....What coaching candidates do u see Guerin bringing in? -- @GopherGangsta27
As of last month, General Manager Bill Guerin said he wasn’t interviewing coaching candidates. Not only was travel a no-go, but he wanted to see how the landscape in the NHL shook out after the season was suspended before making any decisions. So, for the time being, interim Dean Evason remains in charge. Regardless if the season resumes or not, it’s fair to anticipate Evason will continue to be evaluated – not only because Guerin said that was his intention after he dismissed Bruce Boudreau on Feb.14, but also because of the success the team had with Evason at the helm. Before the league stopped, the Wild was 8-4 under Evason and very much in contention for a playoff spot. Guerin praised the job Evason did before the hiatus and so did players, emphasizing the subtle tweaks and aggressive on-ice approach. Still, there are a handful of experienced former head coaches available – a field that includes the likes of Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant. At the time of Boudreau’s exit, Guerin said the qualities he expected in a head coach were accountability, drive, passion, character and compete.
Q: If the Wild’s season is over, who are the top coaching candidates for next year? Also what’s the Wild’s salary cap situation currently and what possible free agents could you see them pursuing this offseason? -- Dan Chang
The Wild’s salary-cap situation is murky right now since it’s not clear what the salary-cap parameters will be for next season. Before the league suspended play, the salary cap was projected to increase from $81.5 million to anywhere between $84 million and $88.2 million. Currently, the Wild has an approximately $65 million cap hit for 2020-21, according to capfriendly.com. Even if the cap flexed only to $84 million, that’s more than $18 million in wiggle room. The 2020 class of free agents has some intriguing names – forward Taylor Hall, defenseman Torey Krug and goalie Braden Holtby – but these players could also re-sign with their current teams and bypass free agency. With the season on hold, it’s difficult to gauge players’ plans.
Q: If the season gets canceled, or should I say when the season gets canceled, have we seen Koivu’s last game in the NHL? -- @adamsteinhouse
Tough to say. Koivu is 37 and in the final season of a two-year, $11 million contract – factors that add to the uncertainty of his future. But it’s unclear what effect the stoppage, if any, has on his outlook. Perhaps the missed time motivates him to want to continue playing. Or maybe not. During the season, Koviu didn’t divulge his thoughts about suiting up beyond this season when asked. He did, however, share some insight into how he felt when he chose to remain with the Wild instead of waiving his no-movement clause to facilitate a trade elsewhere before the Feb.24 deadline. When explaining his decision, Koivu made it clear playing for the Wild mattered most to him. That could impact his next move, but so could this hiatus – a holding pattern that seems especially significant for a player like Koivu.
Q: Could you see the #mnwild putting Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov on the ice together to create a dynamic scoring line - Fiala on the right, Kaprizov on the left? Or do you think they initially split them up to spread the wealth, so to speak? -- @nater79a
It’s certainly possible these two plays together once Kaprizov signs with the Wild. Considering his repertoire, Kaprivoz is obviously a top-six forward and would likely jump into a prominent role with the team. Matching him up with another offensive-minded player like Fiala could not only help his transition to the NHL but also give the Wild a formidable duo. Lines are constantly changing, so nothing ever seems to be set in stone, but Kaprivoz and Fiala could end up getting a long look together since they’d arguably be the team’s most skilled options.
Q: As a writer, what have you found that you have missed the most and what do you look forward to the most, when the league starts back up? -- @dudeduderman
I’ve missed covering games! To me, that’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. I love the energy in the arena, the sights and sounds and the unpredictability of the action. Summing up what just happened and why it matters – usually on deadline – is a challenge I relish. I often think back to the last game I covered, the 5-4 overtime win in Anaheim on March 8 that continued Fiala’s second-half tear, and how it had so many of the ingredients that make live sports special. When the league resumes, I’ll look forward to the games but also the familiar routine of morning skates, practices and interviews. The games are important, but I also like the steps that lead up to that stage because they help me explain and relate what’s going on with the team and why that’s meaningful.