How big of a mess has this offseason been for the Minnesota Wild?
That question was answered early in Bill Guerin’s introductory press conference on Thursday morning at Xcel Energy Center. As owner Craig Leipold provided his opening statement, the barking sound of a dog could be heard from just off stage. (And I was watching on television.)
That, of course, was the Wild’s loveable new pup, a 12-week-old Labrador Retriever named Breezer, and, well, geez, before we heard from Guerin we had to meet Breezer. Let’s make one thing clear: I love dogs. We have a dog and I’m as pro-dog as the next person. Let’s make another thing clear: You don’t turn a press conference into a dog and pony show unless you are trying to distract people from your problems.
Remember, when Norm Green paraded his pups, Charles and Rupert, around Met Center? Nothing to see here, right? Just a couple cute dogs. That taught Minneosta hockey fans to beware of the doggie distraction.
That’s what Leipold seemed to be trying to do. Guerin looked about as uncomfortable as one can, even as he told Leipold he had no problem with the fact Breezer had just taken lead billing over the new general manager.
When Guerin did get a chance to talk, he tried to say all of the right things, but it’s impossible to judge anyone who is one day into the job and has been hired as late in the process as the 48-year-old was when he agreed to move from being assistant general manager in Pittsburgh to running the Wild.
Guerin sounded good — “I have to be at my best when things are at their worst” — but he also wasn’t in a position to say what he really thinks about a franchise that missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years last season and then saw first-year GM Paul Fenton get fired on July 30 because he proved to be such a bad fit.
What will be interesting is to see what Guerin does in the coming weeks to make his mark on a team that plays in the incredibly tough Central Division and has a coach, Bruce Boudreau, entering the last season of his contract. Guerin played 18 seasons in the NHL after being the fifth-overall pick in the 1989 draft by the New Jersey Devils. He won two Stanley Cups as a player and knows what it takes to have success in the NHL.
He also likely knows that even if he doesn’t think he’s running a playoff team right now that it’s going to be up to him to establish a new culture at Xcel Energy Center. The chance to make any major deals likely has passed until the trade deadline but that doesn’t mean Guerin can’t start shaking up things immediately so the Wild locker room realizes there’s a new boss in town.
One thing I threw out on “Judd’s Hockey Podcast,” was making a change at captain. Mikko Koivu, entering the final season of his contract, is coming off a serious knee injury and likely will begin the season as a third-line center, provided he has no setbacks. Wouldn’t now be the perfect time for the veterans in the Wild’s locker room to be told that a hard reset button is being hit and that the focus isn’t on 2019-20 but rather the potential for success in the coming years?
My co-host on the podcast, Declan Goff, didn’t like the idea of giving the captaincy to someone else but rather suggested there not be a captain in 2019-20. You know what? That’s a great idea. That would send a message that Guerin and Boudreau want to find out which younger players are going to emerge to lead this team.
It would be fair to ask if the Wild doesn’t need stability after Fenton but that’s not entirely true. The Wild front office staff deserves far better than what they got, but the roster itself needs to be a work in progress and making players comfortable, for the sake of it, is the last thing this team needs.
Ultimately, Guerin’s words aren’t that important. It’s what he does as he works to clean up the mess created by Fenton that will be important. This needs to be Guerin’s show and if he wants to involve new Wild exec Mike Modano all the better.
Breezer will be far more adorable if he is associated with a winning team. Right now, his presence feels like an attempt to distract us from this team’s obvious problems.