Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin had actually seen enough from Dean Evason to drop the interim tag from his title a while ago. So he wanted to make sure that when the players walked into the dressing room as a team for the first time in fourth months Monday morning, they knew exactly who is their undisputed leader.
So let’s give Guerin props for being a forward-thinking guy. It was the same philosophy Guerin used over the weekend when he signed Kirill Kaprizov to a two-year, entry-level deal, despite the fact Kaprizov can’t play for the Wild this season and will burn a year on his contract. (The Montreal Canadiens did the same thing when they inked defenseman Alexander Romanov to a three-year, entry-level deal with the same intention.)
The way Guerin sees it, signing Kaprizov won’t cost the Wild a cent this season and they’ll be able to use training camp and the playoff time to help acclimate him to North America and his future teammates. Kaprizov, who finished second in scoring at the 2018 Olympics and scored the golden goal in overtime for the Olympic Athletes From Russia, is probably pretty thrilled that he’ll be burning a year off his contract, which leaves him only next season before he becomes a restricted free agent. And that puts Kaprizov into a pretty interesting position. It’s conceivable he could actually sign a contract extension with Minnesota before he plays an NHL game. The extended collective bargaining agreement gives teams the right to sign players whose contracts expire after the 2020-21 season to extensions as of 12 noon Monday.
The same goes for the Vancouver Canucks with Elias Pettersson, the Philadelphia Flyers with Carter Hart and the Colorado Avalanche with Cale Makar. Heck, the Washington Capitals could even come to terms with Alex Ovechkin if they wanted to. With the ink barely dry on Kaprizov’s contract, Guerin likely isn’t inclined to do so, but didn’t rule out the possibility of extending Kaprizov as early as this off-season. “I’ll never say never, but I think right now with everything being so fresh, it’s best to settle in and let him get acclimated,” Guerin said. “But I’m up for anything.”
When Guerin was looking for his for-real coach to replace Bruce Boudreau, he came to realize that Evason checked off a lot of boxes and he was right there in plain sight. Of course, it helped immensely that Evason energized the team and led it to an 8-4-0 record going into the pause and into contention for a playoff spot.
“There was no reason to wait and the guys know he’s their boss,” Guerin said. “It was important to me and fair to him because I think he earned it. And I think it was really important for our players. I think they really like Dean and they liked that they performed very well under him in that small sample size of games.”
Between his playing and coaching careers, Evason has experience at virtually every level at hockey, from major junior hockey through to the minors and the NHL as an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals seven seasons and the Wild last season and this season. But one thing he has almost no experience with in the playoffs is success. In 20 seasons as a head coach in junior and the minors and an assistant in the NHL, Evason’s teams have been out of the first round of the playoffs only five times and have never gone beyond the second round.
When Evason took over the Wild on Valentine’s Day, the team was well out of the playoff picture and had a minus-10 goals differential. In the next 12 games, they went plus-10, scoring more goals per game and giving up fewer. But what impressed Guerin as much with Evason as his record was his ability to communicate with his players, both before and during the pause. “He can relate to these guys at every level,” Guerin said. “Young guys, old guys, middle-of-the-road guys. He’s worked with everybody. I saw that the guys were rejuvenated, but what I saw mainly was the way Dean communicated with them and that’s so important in today’s game. I thought he did a really good job of being in touch with these guys and I thought that was a great sign.”
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