The last time Wild general manager Bill Guerin addressed reporters came on Nov. 23, the night he made the trade for veteran Ryan Reaves. He wasn’t pleased with how the Wild had been playing to that point and felt like team needed a boost.
That’s exactly what Reaves has provided as the Wild have completely turned things over the past month and a half.
As far as Guerin is concerned, it’s not a coincidence that the Wild boast a 15-6-2 record since the trade. That mark does not take into account Saturday’s game between the Wild and Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center.
“We were flat,” Guerin said. “He’s not somebody that lets that happen. He’s the same every day. It’s high energy.”
Now, with the Wild at the midway point, Guerin likes that things are trending a positive direction. He believes in this group of players. Here are some things from the first half that stood out to him.
The identity is back
Though the Wild couldn’t stop a nosebleed through the first week of this season, they have defended very well since then. They are only allowing 2.80 goals per game, which ranks No. 10 in the league. That’s been a recipe for success.
“I think we got reacquainted with our identity,” Guerin said. “You can tell the difference between when we’re playing to our identity and when we’re not.”
That’s a change from last season when the Wild regularly tried outscore opponents rather than outdefend them.
“You can’t count on come-from-behind wins all the time,” Guerin said. “You can’t blow a lead and then get it back and then blow it again and get it back. That’s just not winning hockey. We can’t sit here and believe that it is because it’s not.”
The goaltending has been stellar
When the Wild dropped back-to-back-to-back games to start this season, shaky goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson drew the ire of fans. That narrative has been flipped on its head over the past few months as Fleury and Gustavsson have been among the more impressive tandems in the league.
Note taking into account Saturday’s game, Fleury has a 13-8-3 record, a 2.93 goals against average, and .902 save percentage, while Gustavsson has a 10-6-1 record, 2.17 goals against average, and a .925 save percentage.
Asked about the player that’s surprised him most so far this season, Guerin brought up Gustavsson without hesitation.
“I think he’s played exceptionally well,” Guerin said. “There was something there I think now that he’s gotten a lot more comfortable here in Minnesota and with the way we play and what not he knows what to expect every night. He’s really been fantastic.”
The young players have stepped up
Whether it’s Gustavsson in net, the combination of Connor Dewar, Brandon Duhaime, and Mason Shaw up front, or Calen Addison on the blue line, the Wild have gotten key contributions from some of the young players in the lineup.
“They’ve been great,” Guerin said. “They’re fun guys to be around. They’re excited to be at the rink every day. They’ve got that youthful energy that we want young players in the league to have. They’re just highly competitive. They’ve been huge assets for us.”
The team will dictate if he makes a move
As much as Guerin likes where the Wild are at right now, he’s been around the league long enough to know not to take anything for granted. Thus, if he sees something that could potentially make the team better in the long run, he’s going to take a look at it.
“I think the team will tell me what direction we’re going to go,” Guerin said. “If we’re flying high, and we’re doing real well, then we’ll talk about making moves and seeing if we can improve. Or maybe we’ll just stay the same. I don’t know. If we’re not doing well, then we’ll have to talk about what to do with that.”
The buyouts still don’t bother him
It’ll be interesting to see how Guerin navigates the cap crunch over the next couple of seasons. That comes as a result of buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both players carry roughly $7.37 million in dead cap for 2023-24 season and 2024-25 seaosn.
“We made those moves and it’s worked,” Guerin said. “We’re better. I don’t care about the cap hits. We’re operating the same way.”