Nearly two months have passed since the Minnesota Wild hired Bill Guerin as their new general manager. Six games into his first season in his new position, he cannot be pleased with the club’s performance.
The air of optimism that surrounded the Wild following a 2-1-3 preseason performance swiftly dissipated as they lurched to a franchise-worst 0-4-0 start. They finally picked up their first win – a 2-0 shutout of the Ottawa Senators – on Monday but remain at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Entering this week, the Wild’s goals-against per game (4.20) ranks among the league’s worst. Their 2.40 goals per game are among the bottom third. Their only bright spot is a penalty-killing percentage (84.2) among the top-ten.
The Wild aren’t getting enough production from their top forwards. Jason Zucker and Zach Parise (two goals each) are their only ones to dent the score sheet. Their top-three scorers are defensemen Brad Hunt, Ryan Suter, and Jared Spurgeon.
Starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk is off to a terrible start. His 4.56 goals-against average and .862 save percentage place him among the league’s worst in those categories.
Barely two weeks into this season, the Wild have plenty of time to change course. If they don’t arrest this skid soon, however, they risk falling into a deep, early-season hole that could jeopardize their playoff hopes.
The Wild possesses a core of aging talent with few promising youngsters ready to step up into full-time roles. Addressing that issue this early in the season is a daunting challenge for the most seasoned NHL general manager, let alone someone in his first go-around as a GM.
Oft-injured Parise is now 35-year-old. Team captain Mikko Koivu is 36 and recently returned for knee surgery. First-line center Eric Staal turns 35 on Oct. 29. Suter and Dubnyk are 34. Off-season acquisition Mats Zuccarello is 32.
A handful of players are in their playing prime. Zucker, 27, is trying to regain his career-best 33-goal form from 2017-18. Matt Dumba, 25, is blossoming into a top blueline star. The blueline skills of Jared Spurgeon, 29, and 26-year-old Jonas Brodin are often underrated.
Several promising players, such as Ryan Donato, Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, and Jordan Greenway, have the potential to perhaps become core players.
Guerin could be pressured by team owner Craig Leipold to address the club’s fortunes but he probably doesn’t need prodding to entertain some early changes.
A preseason report by TSN’s Darren Dreger claimed Guerin was in the market for a top- or second-line center. Dreger acknowledged the difficulty of acquiring that type of player but suggested Guerin could find trade bait among the Wild’s abundance of wingers, prospects, and draft picks.
Swinging that type of deal, however, would mean giving up at least one good young player or other assets vital for a roster rebuild. The longer the Wild take to snap out of their current spiral, the less likely Guerin will part with those assets.
Guerin won’t get much by shopping one or two of his aging stars. Assuming Parise, Suter, or Koivu waived their no-movement clause, their expensive salaries and declining performance dampens their trade value.
Cap Friendly indicates Dubnyk ($4.33 million annual average value) and Staal ($3.25 million) are signed through 2020-21. They could draw some interest in the trade market but not enough that fetches immediate help.
Dumba’s rise to prominence and the recent re-signing of Spurgeon means they’re not going anywhere. That could leave Zucker as the Wild’s best trade chip. Guerin’s predecessor attempted to trade him twice only to have those deals fall through at the last minute.
Guerin could consider a coaching change. He inherited current bench boss Bruce Boudreau, who’s doing the best he can with this roster. Regardless, Guerin could bring in his own man to shake things up before the season spirals out of control.
A coaching change might improve the play of their promising youngsters but won’t turn back the clock on their aging core players. Nevertheless, it could be the only realistic early move Guerin can make to salvage the season.