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Healing Minnesota Wild get vote of confidence from GM Bill Guerin

When healthy, the Wild GM feels he has a solid team.
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Monday's shutout win over the New York Islanders could serve as an indication that the Minnesota Wild are on the verge of returning to the form that saw them win 11 of 14 games after John Hynes replaced Dean Evason as head coach. 

Eight losses in nine games followed Minnesota's post-Evason surge, and the question yet to be answered is if the slump that saw them drop all the way to 27th in the NHL in points was for real or just a blip on the radar caused by an alarming number of injuries. For general manager Bill Guerin, hope is not lost and he expects big things over the second half of the season. 

“If we’re going to make the playoffs, we need to be a lot better than we’ve been,” Guerin said during his midseason press briefing before Minnesota's win over the Islanders. “Our core guys, our big players, have to be better and produce at more key times. Our special teams have to be better, and our role players have to contribute more than they have. I believe that they can. I believe that they will or I’m hoping that they will.

“I still believe in this group and I know people are going to say I’m crazy, but I do. I think we’ve shown that when we are healthy and when we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re a good team. So we’re going to have to really put our minds to it and try to get it done.”

So many injuries bunched together at once was a knockdown punch. Kirill Kaprizov, Filip Gustavsson, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Foligno and Vinni Lettieri were all simultaneously on the shelf. That's the two of the top forwards, two of the top three defensemen, the No. 1 goalie and more. Brutal, to say the least. 

"We can’t control injuries. Injuries happen," Guerin said. "There are some positive things going on. And we do have a lot of hockey to be played, but we don’t have time to waste. We don’t have games to waste."

With 39 games to go, the Wild have gotten Zuccarello, Foligno, Kaprizov, Gustavsson and Brodin back in the lineup with a chance to hang tough for a couple of weeks before the All-Star break allows even more healing to occur. 

At 18-20-5, the Wild have 41 points, 14 behind Dallas for third place in the Central Division and six points behind Edmonton (winners of 10 straight) for the second Wild Card in the Western Conference. 

“If you look at our roster when we are healthy, I think it’s a good team,” Guerin stated. “I want to keep the expectations high. … I expect this team to win every night. I expect us to compete for a playoff spot. And when we get into the playoffs, I expect us to compete to win the first round then the second round then the third and then keep going. That’s just my expectations.

“There are short-term plans and there are long-term plans and you have to make sure we’re staying on course with both of them. But I think moving ahead, we’re going to have to sign some younger players to extensions and things like that. We’re going to have to sign some younger players to entry-level contracts and make sure they can develop properly so they can get into our lineup as quick as possible. All those things are not in the too-distant future. We just gotta do the right thing at the right time for the team.”

Minnesota has six games before the 10-day All-Star layoff and four of them are against current playoff teams. It's a difficult stretch that presents an opportunity for the Wild to not only stay in the hunt, but also prove that when healthy they are closer to the team that won 11 of 14 games under Hynes rather than the club that lost eight of the next nine. 

  • Jan. 18: at Tampa Bay
  • Jan. 19: at Florida
  • Jan. 21: at Carolina
  • Jan. 23: vs. Washington
  • Jan. 25: vs. Nashville
  • Jan. 27: vs. Anaheim
Bill Guerin

Bill Guerin