In a lot of ways, it’s fitting that the Minnesota Wild announced Bill Guerin as their next GM during Ottawa Senators Day at PHT.
After all, Guerin is stepping into a GM gig that might be just as tough as what Pierre Dorion is dealing with in Ottawa, even if the challenges are different.
Despite missing the playoffs in 2018-19 and failing to win a series from 2015-16 through 2017-18, Craig Leipold continues to drink the Kool-Aid, rather than pulling off the Band-Aid. He wants the Wild to contend, so if any rebuilding happens, it needs to take place while the Wild also try to compete.
Mock former GM Paul Fenton all you want, but that isn’t exactly an easy juggling act.
The question, then, is will Guerin be able to juggle better than Fenton? (After all, he does have the hands of a former NHL sniper.)
Here’s some friendly advice for Guerin because, frankly, he’ll probably need all the help he can get.
1. Find out who wants out
As a former player, Guerin likely has a leg up on most GMs when it comes to being able to relate to other players. That might come in handy when it comes to a sensitive subject: waiving no-trade and no-movement clauses.
Theoretically, it would be awkward to have such a conversation with a veteran player who’s meant a lot to the franchise, whether that be Zach Parise and his seemingly eternal contract, or Mikko Koivu on a one-year deal. Yet, as we’ve seen from Parise doing some summer soul-searching with The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required), some of these players have already pondered moving on. It’s easier to have such chats when you’re accomodating a veteran player trying to win that elusive Stanley Cup than it is to ask if you can uproot their family via a trade, after all.
2. Identify your core, and don’t settle
Such clause talk brings up some tough decisions for Guerin when it comes to who is a core Wild player and who is expendable.
As stuck as the Wild seem right now, it’s remarkable how much of a clean slate Guerin can enjoy in the not-so-distant future … at least if he makes smart calls. Via Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $9.5M in cap space, although RFAs Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek still need deals. Even if the cap remained at $81.5M, the Wild’s 2020-21 cap space would rise to $22M, and then all the way up to about $44M heading into 2021-22.
With that in mind, Guerin needs to be cold and calculating. Should the Wild sign Jared Spurgeon, a soon-to-be 30-year-old defenseman who figures to be expensive following this upcoming contract year, or would it be smarter to trade a quality defenseman for what could be a big haul, and build for the future? The Wild have already seen how bad a long-term contract can look, and while Spurgeon could age gracefully, he could just as easily become another albatross.
Spurgeon isn’t the only tough call, but he’s among the toughest.
[From Wild Day at PHT: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]
3. Invest in analytics
Firing Fenton after a bit more than a year wasn’t the greatest look for the Wild, but the silver lining was that it kept Fenton from flubbing a Jason Zucker trade in the same way he made the worst blunder of his time, the atrocious Nino Niederreiter trade.
According to Russo’s scathing, incredible rundown of Fenton’s reign in Minnesota, the Niederreiter trade was essentially made during a Florida retreat where the Wild’s top analytics staffers weren’t even invited.
The dream would be for Minnesota to be cutting edge, yet at a minimum, Guerin can avoiding shooting himself in the Fenton … er, foot.
4. Bring in your people
On the other hand, Russo’s reporting also enforced why it can be so important to surround yourself with people you trust.
As much criticism as Fenton drew in that piece regarding being paranoid about leaks … it also is worth mentioning that stunning details ended up leaking out of Minnesota about Fenton’s foibles. Is that ironic, or Alanis Morissette ironic? Considering all that surfaced, can you blame Guerin if he poaches some of the people he knew from Pittsburgh?
Guerin must aim for the right balance between hiring people you can trust, and fresh faces who innovate. I’d wager there’s a sweet spot between Lincoln’s “team of rivals” and Jon Gruden sending his scouting staff home during draft time out of paranoia.
5. Manage Leipold
Perhaps reality will slowly dawn upon Leipold that the Wild need to at least reboot things a bit. In the meantime, though, Guerin needs to hit the right buttons: keeping this team reasonably competitive, without totally mortgaging the future for marginal present-day gains.
Chances are, there will be missed shots here and there for Guerin, but if he gets big picture decisions right where Fenton right wrong, the Wild might just become the top-shelf team Leipold demands.
• Did the Wild learn from the Fenton era?
• Why the Wild are better off being terrible this season
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.