Welcome, once again, to a new edition of the THN Hot Seat, a continuing series of THN.com columns in which we identify a member of each NHL organization who will face massive pressure during the 2022-23 season. The person we identify as being on the Hot Seat will be an NHL player, head coach, GM, or franchise owner. In this edition, we’re breaking down the Minnesota Wild.
WILD HOT SEAT: BILL GUERIN, GENERAL MANAGER
WHY: It’s well known by now that Guerin and Wild ownership took an incredible gamble in July of last summer when the team bought out the final four seasons of the contracts of star veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The unexpected move gave Minnesota wiggle room in the 2021-22 season, but there was a looming ricochet that would begin in the 2022-23 campaign, with a combined dead salary cap hit of $14.743 million for two consecutive seasons.
The result was a fairly successful regular season last year, but the Wild failed to move beyond the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And here we are now, with the day of reckoning here for Minnesota’s cap situation. The reduction in allowable payroll cost the services of star winger Kevin Fiala, who was traded this summer to the L.A. Kings in return for Minnesota-area prospect Brock Faber and L.A.’s first-round pick in the 2022 NHL entry draft.
That’s not a bad haul for Fiala, but the fact remains the Wild aren’t going to be as offensively-potent a group as they were last season. According to CapFriendly.com, Minnesota still has more than $4.3 million in cap space, but they also have to fill out their roster with one more player, and they’re already going to be more reliant on young players, as they’ve currently got eight projected NHLers aged 25 years old or younger. Contrast that with their new goaltending tandem of veteran star Marc-Andre Fleury (signed to a two-year, $7-million contract extension) and former Ottawa Senator Filip Gustavsson (who posted an unimpressive 3.55 Goals-Against Average and .892 Save Percentage on a lousy Sens team last year), and you’ve got a squad that could see some holes open up during the regular-season.
This is not to suggest Minnesota won’t be a playoff team again this coming year. Led by superstar sniper Kirill Kaprizov, center Ryan Hartman and two-way pivot Joel Eriksson Ek, the Wild are almost certainly going to qualify for the post-season once again. But, with pushes below the Central Division standings from the St. Louis Blues – the team that disposed of the Wild in the first round last spring – as well as the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, home ice advantage for Minnesota is no sure thing.
All this is on Guerin, who took over as GM three years ago. He has not been able to produce any second-round appearances since taking the Wild’s reins, and there will be no easy answers for them, particularly this season and next year. The cap ceiling isn’t going to rise enough to allow Guerin to go out and add assets that can contribute now, and there’s an age imbalance – in addition to the 37-year-old Fleury, Minnesota’s defense corps has four players in their thirties, two members 28 and 29 years old, and no D-man younger than 26 – that is going to mean more roster tumult sooner than later.
Perhaps the Wild catch lightning in a bottle and can go on a deep playoff run, but it doesn’t seem probable. Instead, it’s more likely than not we see them eliminated from the post-season early on once again. And if that’s how the near-future unfolds, it remains to be seen whether ownership will continue entrusting their immediate road ahead to Guerin.