Craig Leipold

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Advice for new Wild GM Bill Guerin

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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.

Eventually.

MORE:
• 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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Wild names Bill Guerin new general manager

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Bill Guerin is finally getting a chance to run an NHL team and he has a big challenge ahead of him.

The Minnesota Wild has announced the hiring of the 48-year-old Guerin as their new general manager. He will replace Paul Fenton, who was fired in July after only one season.

“Bill has been a winner throughout his hockey career and I am extremely pleased to be able to add his experience to our organization and The State of Hockey,” said Wild owner Craig Leipold.

Guerin has worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins organization since 2011 starting as a development coach before moving his way up to assistant GM under Jim Rutherford. He spent 18 seasons in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins and the New Jersey Devils.

Leipold and team president Matt Majka headed the search for Fenton’s replacement and were helped out by executive advisor and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, who played with Guerin for three seasons with the Dallas Stars as well as the United States national team. Guerin had been a candidate for several GM jobs over the last few years, and even interviewed with the Wild last summer before they hired Fenton.

[MORE: Will Wild learn from the failed Fenton era?]

The Wild failed to qualify for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, this first time they’ve missed since 2012. With a roster loaded with older veterans eating up cap space and sprinkled in with some young talent, there will be plenty of work for Guerin to do to try and figure out a way to make the franchise a consistent winner again. There is no teardown coming as part of a full rebuild and it’s going to be a long wait before some of the contracts on their books expire. Guerin will have to get creative in order to infuse the roster with new blood and hope some of the organization’s youngsters take big steps forward.

Despite the turbulent off-season, the confident from up top in the organization is high.

“I believe we are a playoff team,” Leipold said after Fenton’s firing. “We have to get everybody believing that and moving in the same direction.”

MORE:
•  Advice for new Wild GM Bill Guerin
Do Wild have short-term path back to playoffs?

• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Will Wild learn from the failed Fenton era?

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The Minnesota Wild made a bold, rare move on Tuesday, firing GM Paul Fenton barely one year after hiring him.

Much like Fenton’s quote about Mats Zuccarello and a lizard’s tongue, I must ask: was Fenton really that bad?

After all, Fenton was trying to dance to the beat of owner Craig Leipold’s drum: any swipes at rebuild couldn’t come at too much of a cost to playoff contention. It was a no-win situation, and Fenton lost. Let’s examine some of his biggest moves and strategies while the Wild determine what happens next.

Nino Niederreiter to Carolina for Victor Rask: There’s no sense sugarcoating this trade. It was bad the day it happened, and is the main reason Fenton was fired, beyond the weird quotes.

Wild get Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala for Charlie Coyle and Mikael GranlundFenton’s other current-day player-for-player trades could end up being very nice for the Wild’s future.

The Wild got four years (27 to 23) younger in both cases, and probably saved money, as Coyle and Granlund are due big UFA deals after 2019-20, while Donato’s already dirt-cheap, and Fiala could follow as an RFA. The Athletic’s Ian Tulloch places both Fiala and Donato as top 10 breakout candidates for next season (sub required), and Donato earned an honorable mention on this list by PHT’s Adam Gretz, so these are players who may make big leaps soon.

Maybe the Wild still “lose” those deals overall, but it’s not as though Fenton never managed this juggling act.

Yet …

No celebration of the lizard: Signing Mats Zuccarello to a risky, long-term contract was alarming, but it was far from an unusual deal during the reckless free agent spending spree.

No, people were mainly losing their cool about the quote … and you know, it remains pretty weird.

” … I told him when I was talking to him that he’s like a lizard, the way a lizard takes his tongue and sticks it as far as it does and retrieves what it was trying to do,” Fenton said.

Two drafts: Part of Fenton’s allure was in his work with the Predators, but his two draft weekends with Minnesota received mixed reviews. One first-rounder was labeled a reach (Filip Johansson, 24th overall in 2018) while Matthew Boldly could be a bold steal at 12th overall from 2019.

Analytics exodus:  As Michael Russo reported in The Athletic in May (sub. required), the Wild parted ways with two prominent analytics-minded staffers in Andrew C. Thomas and Alexandra Mandrycky, with the latter quickly being scooped up by the Seattle expansion franchise.

Staffers like those can often pay for themselves by discouraging GMs from signing Zuccarello-type contracts and making Niederreiter-type trades, so the next GM might be wise to emphasize analytics where Fenton seemingly shrugged his shoulders.

Not too bogged down: The Wild actually have a ton of money coming off of the books in the near future. According to Cap Friendly, they only have $60M going to 16 players for 2020-21, and that number plummets to a bit less than $37.4M for seven roster spots covered heading into 2021-22.

As I’ve stated before, it’s my belief that the Wild could emulate the New York Rangers in going through a brief rebuild, but a rebuild that’s full-fledgedrather than this current “half measures” approach.

Beyond the Zuccarello contract, the biggest cap issues were installed by Chuck Fletcher, not Fenton, and Donato – Fiala could help Minnesota in a number of ways. Sure, Fenton was sometimes saved from himself (see: Jason Zucker), but it could have been worse.

***

After giving its previous two GMs close to a decade apiece, the Wild fired Fenton after 14 months. It’s still dizzying to contemplate.

However, if this is a sign that the Wild may admit that they’ve been on the wrong course, then maybe they’ll actually reach the light at the end of the tunnel. If not, then the next GM may only last a bit longer than Fenton, who will go down, tragically, as the GM equivalent to a fly trying to avoid a lizard’s tongue.

MORE:
Five potential GM replacements for Wild
• 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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Why Wild are better off being terrible next season

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When you ponder what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly in the NHL, don’t forget the importance of self-awareness.

For all of Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton’s lizard tongued blunders through his first year at the helm, the Wild’s biggest problem is that owner Craig Leipold is in denial about his team.

It’s been about a year since Leipold shared this message, yet all signs point to the Wild refusing to embrace a true rebuild. In ignoring their reality, the Wild only dig the hole deeper by making more mistakes, and dragging their feet on finding better answers.

Instead of getting the best of both worlds of competing and “rebuilding on the fly,” the Wild are stuck in purgatory: too bad to credibly contend, too competitive to get the picks that help teams win championships. Leipold’s paid for a contender while the Wild have slipped to the level of outright pretenders.

In catering to Leipold, both Chuck Fletcher and current GM Paul Fenton created quite a mess. The Wild’s Cap Friendly page might as well include a horror movie scream mp3 every time you load it up.

Allow this take, then: the Wild would be better off bottoming out in 2019-20, rather than battling for mediocrity.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Changing perceptions?

Most directly, an epic Wild collapse would help them get higher draft lottery odds.

The indirect benefits are considerable, if not guaranteed. Most importantly, Leipold may finally realize that the current plan isn’t working. Failing to even be “in the mix” may also inspire the Wild to trade away certain players, and for those players to make the process easier by waiving various clauses.

  • To start, there are players who are more or less in their primes, but may slip out by the time the Wild can truly compete. Jared Spurgeon is the biggest example with his expiring contract, but it continues to make sense to shop Jason Zucker, and Jonas Brodin heads the list of other considerations.
  • If the Wild end up cellar dwelling, it might be easier to convince Mikko Koivu and Devan Dubnyk to accept trades, and perhaps even to part ways with Eric Staal. (Trading Staal would be awkward since he gave the Wild a sweetheart deal, but sometimes things have to get awkward before they get better.)
  • Via Cap Friendly, the Wild’s commitments for 2020-21 go down to $59.46M, and really open up in 2021-22 (just $37.36M to seven players). So, if the Wild are too stubborn or cowardly to trade some of the above players, Fenton could get something close to a clean slate if they merely let them walk or retire. This thought makes a Spurgeon decision especially important.

On Parise and Suter …

Speaking of money regrets, the Wild should try to get Parise and Suter off the books, even if it’s tough to imagine them actually pulling that off.

  • Honestly, if Parise went on LTIR, I’d view it as far more credible than plenty of other cases. He’s had significant back issues, and those don’t tend to go away, particularly for 34-year-olds with a lot of mileage.
  • Suter seems impossible to trade, but we’ve seen other seemingly impossible trades actually happen.
  • Maybe there’d be a hockey deus ex machina, like expansion draft creativity, or a compliance buyout?

Not the best odds, yet Fenton would be negligent if he didn’t explore many avenues to ease concerns.

Hope can come quickly

A long rebuild would be a tough sell, but maybe Fenton could sell a Rangers revamp to Leipold: going all-in for a short period of time to bring in picks, prospects, and generally gain flexibility.

[More on the Rangers’ rebuild]

While I doubt that many teams can recreate the Rangers’ mix of wisdom and luck, the bottom line is that the Wild have gone a long time since they focused on getting blue chip prospects. Look at the Wild’s draft history and you’ll see how rare high first-rounders have been lately, and how often they’ve lacked higher picks altogether.

To sweeten the deal, the 2020 NHL Draft crop is getting quite a bit of hype, too.

Imagine the Wild landing a lottery pick, some picks and prospects through trades, and Kirill Kaprizov’s long-awaited NHL leap. If they hoarded cap space, they could strike for their own answer to Jacob Trouba and/or Artemi Panarin. Suddenly, the Wild go from drowning slowly in quicksand to seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

***

Things can change quickly in sports. The Wild could make their “poor, sad, dejected, beaten down” fans far happier with some bold changes, but they must sway their most important fan: their owner. If a truly lousy season is the only way for Leipold to clue in, then it might just be worth it for the Wild.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Report: Wild close to multiyear extension with coach Yeo

The Minnesota Wild are going to have coach Mike Yeo around a bit longer if reports are to be believed.

Michael Russo of The Star Tribune reports the Wild and Yeo are close to locking down a multiyear contract extension to keep him behind the bench in St. Paul.

Final details were being worked out Friday night, but all signs pointed toward an agreement soon, multiple sources said. Yeo, General Manager Chuck Fletcher and other members of the front office are due to leave for owner Craig Leipold’s home in the Bahamas on Saturday for meetings.

Yeo, 40, has been coach of the Wild for three seasons and two of those have seen the team in the playoffs. Each season has seen progression under his leadership as the team started hot but missed the postseason in his first year and advanced to the second round this season. The Wild have lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs the past two seasons.

In three seasons, Yeo’s record is steady at 104-82-26 but it’s the improvements the team has made under him that has Wild leadership eager to keep him around.