Wild general manager Bill Guerin has a million things on his plate this offseason as he tries to usher in a new era for Minnesota’s NHL franchise.
While the Wild have a solid core in place, and could be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the future, the 50-year-old Guerin has to nail the next few months in order to push things forward. Frankly, this might be the most important offseason in franchise history as it has the potential to define the better part of the next decade.
For the first time in forever, the Wild have a bonafide superstar in Kirill Kaprizov. They also have a perfect wingman in Kevin Fiala, not to mention another rising star in Joel Eriksson Ek. Add in some solid role players up and down the lineup, and it’s not hard to envision the Wild making some noise next season.
But it starts with Guerin pushing the right buttons this offseason. He talked to reporters in person on Thursday and detailed everything he wants to get done over the next few months.
Here’s a look at his comprehensive offseason to-do list:
Re-signing young stars
Asked point blank what his top priority is this offseason, Guerin immediately highlighted the need to sign Kaprizov, Fiala and Eriksson Ek to new contracts.
“We see those guys being here long term,” Guerin said. “They are part of the foundation of this organization.”
In order to sign those players to long-term deals, Guerin is going to have to shell out a significant portion of the estimated $22 million in salary cap space the Wild have available for next season. He already has spoken to Kaprizov’s agent, and he plans to touch base with the agents for Fiala and Eriksson Ek soon.
“Nothing is going to get done with any of them this week,” Guerin said. “These things take time. It’s a process. But I’m confident that I’ve got good relationships with all their agents. They are all level-headed people who want to make fair deals. We’re excited to get the process going.”
As for Kaprizov, specifically, he figures to cost about $8.5 million per year if the Wild want to sign him to a long-term deal. Maybe even more than that.
“We’d prefer a longer deal,” Guerin said. “Like I said, it’s a process, so there’s some going back and forth and things like that. Look, we love Kirill, I don’t think there’s any secret there, and what he’s brought to our team. We’ll do what we can to get a fair deal.”
Working with Parise
The elephant in the room during Thursday’s meeting with reporters was the drama surrounding veteran forward Zach Parise. It took nearly 15 minutes for someone to even bring up his name.
It’s no secret that Parise was unhappy with the way things went down this past season. He watched his playing time steadily decrease late in the season, and had Marcus Johansson not broken his arm midway through the first-round playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s a chance Parise would have been a healthy scratch for all of the playoffs.
Asked about his experience earlier this week, Parise openly voiced his frustration before adding that he fully intends on being a part of the Wild next season.
For what it’s worth, it sounds like Guerin would love to have Parise around. He lauded Parise for his professionalism this season and noted that the decision to decrease his role wasn’t anything personal.
“This is all about winning hockey games, and we’re making difficult decisions every day,” Guerin said. “Not everybody is going to be happy with them. But we aren’t here to make everyone happy. We’re here to win hockey games.”
As someone who played more than 1,200 games in the NHL himself, Guerin understands the frustration that comes with getting older. He remembers having to accept lesser roles later in his career — and not always being happy with it.
It’s no different with Parise.
“Look, I remember car rides after games with my wife and the things that were coming out of my mouth and the anger and being ticked off,” Guerin said. “We know that’s happening. But now I look back and I’m like, ‘Oh, this GM didn’t really care about that. He was just trying to win the game. This coach didn’t care about that. He was trying to win the game.’ That’s all we’re trying to do.”
Navigating the July 21 expansion draft will be easier said than done, though from the sounds of it, Guerin believes he’s going to be able to dictate which player the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest franchise, pick in the upcoming draft.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to protect everybody we want to,” Guerin said. “We’re going to lose somebody that we like because we like everybody. But we’re going to do the things we need to do to preserve what we have here and to make our team better for next year and for the future.”
In that same breath, Guerin emphasized that a side deal with Kraken general manager Ron Francis might be on the table at some point.
Though some fans might have might have nightmares about side deals considering such a move cost the Wild former top prospect Alex Tuch in a trade with the Golden Knights back in 2017, that’s likely what it’s going to take for the Wild to keep someone like, say, top-notch defenseman Matt Dumba, this offseason.
“I haven’t talked to Ron,” Guerin said. “But I’ll talk to him and see what they have going on and what their ideas are for us. There’s a lot of planning involved and a lot of strategizing and a lot of going through our options.”
Filling out roster
While the priority might be signing Kaprizov, Fiala and Eriksson Ek to long-term deals, the Wild also have to think about depth heading into next season.
In that sense, keeping veterans like Nick Bonino and Ian Cole would be home runs. Both players have made it clear that they would like to return to the Wild if possible.
“Obviously. I think everybody here knows how I feel about those guys,” Guerin said. “We really love what they brought to our organization. I think they had a big hand in improving the culture here and bringing a winning attitude.
“We will speak to their agents,” Guerin added. “They understand the business side of it, and that we have these younger guys that we have to prioritize. They’ve been through it before. There’s no real rush.”
Evaluating young talent
Will top prospect Matt Boldy be on the NHL roster next season? Maybe.
But his spot isn’t guaranteed simply because he was a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Guerin said. “There’s no penciling him in. Or this or that. No, none of that. None of that for him, for (Marco Rossi) or for whoever comes in. These guys are going to earn their spot.”
Asked why Boldy didn’t play in the playoffs, Guerin replied, “Who’s spot is he going to take? Honestly, we had Zach Parise sitting out. He’s going in, not Matt Boldy.”
It’s very clear the Wild are being patient with their top prospects in the name of development. As far as Guerin is concerned, there’s no reason to rush these kids to the big leagues if they need more seasoning in the minors.
“It really stunts their growth,” Guerin said of promoting players too quickly. “We don’t want to do that. They’re too important. These kids are too important to us.”
Rossi has started working out again after missing this past season due to complications from COVID. He is supposed to resume skating this weekend and is expected to be 100% come training camp.
“He’s doing very well,” Guerin said. “Things are looking really good. He seems to be incredibly healthy.”