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Zulgad: Time is on his side: Wild GM Bill Guerin able to be patient at trade deadline

Bill Guerin traded Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Last week, he offered Mikko Koivu the chance to waive his no-move clause so the veteran center could be dealt to a team that had a chance to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline hours away, it was reported that veteran Zach Parise had agreed to waive his no-move, if the Wild could complete a trade with the Islanders. There also was speculation that Guerin might deal a defenseman, Matt Dumba or Jonas Brodin, to a contender.

Ultimately, the last three things did not happen. Koivu declined the opportunity to pursue a championship, the Parise talks with the Islanders fell apart and Dumba and Brodin stayed put. On a day in which 30-plus trades were made around the league, the Wild and Guerin ended up sitting on the sideline. Was this reason for panic? Far from it.

Guerin did not take over as the Wild general manager until late August — stepping in after Paul Fenton was fired following one season on the job — and thus he has the one thing many executives in professional sports covet: The gift of time. The Wild were about ready to start training camp when Guerin was hired and that meant the first-time GM had plenty to learn about the Wild organization and the players in it.

Guerin’s two biggest moves have come in recent weeks with the decision to trade Zucker for an expiring contract in Alex Galchenyuk, a defensive prospect and a 2020 first-round draft pick, and then firing Bruce Boudreau as coach and naming assistant Dean Evason as interim replacement.

Walking out of the Wild’s locker room following a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on Sunday night, you had the feeling that changes were coming as part of the retool for the future. That wasn’t the case.

“I didn’t want to do a deal today just to do a deal, and nothing really made sense,” Guerin told reporters Monday after the deadline had passed. “The players that we stuck with, I’m extremely happy about, and I expect the same effort.”

But the fact Guerin didn’t make any trades doesn’t mean he is going to stand pat. What it does mean is he likely didn’t get the significant return he wanted for either Brodin or Dumba. The Parise trade fell apart for any number of reasons, including the fact Guerin couldn’t get what he wanted in terms of draft pick compensation from the Islanders or the complex salary-cap issues involved in moving him got in the way.

Parise, who along with defenseman Ryan Suter signed matching 13-year, $98 million free agent contracts on July 4, 2012, wants to finish his career with a winner and you can’t blame the 35-year-old for no longer feeling the Wild is the right fit.

“Zach and I have a good relationship,” Guerin told reporters. “We’ve talked over the last week about certain possibilities. We were both completely up front with each other and honest with what was going on or feelings or anything like that. The fact that nothing happened today is fine. We’re just looking forward now. Zach’s a big part of the Minnesota Wild and he’s going to be, and we’re excited to still have him.”

Guerin almost certainly will make another attempt to relocate Parise this offseason in what figures to be a very busy summer for the GM. The concern has to be that with Parise’s age and contract situation (five years left at an annual cap hit of $7.5 million) that a contender won’t be interested in a guy who projects as a third- or fourth-line wing. Also, will the Minnesota-born Parise decide to veto the next trade that Guerin is closing in on?

Nonetheless, the fact that Guerin came close to trading Parise has to give him hope that a contract that some considered to be unmovable actually can be shipped elsewhere to create more cap room and give Minnesota’s roster a younger look.

If Guerin swung and missed in any way on Monday, it wasn’t in failing to complete the Parise trade and it certainly wasn’t in hanging onto Brodin and Dumba. Dumba is having a rough season — despite his offensive talent he has only four goals (none on the power play) in 61 games — but the asking price on him still should have been very high. What was a bit surprising was that Guerin kept center Eric Staal and the recently obtained Galchenyuk.

The 35-year-old Staal is a great guy in the locker room and a true pro, but he is being asked to do too much in Minnesota and his play has suffered. Staal leads the Wild in scoring with 42 points and has 17 goals, or four fewer than Parise’s team-leading total. The issue is he has only two goals and eight assists and is a minus-7 in 20 games since New Year’s. He is averaging 17 minutes, 59 seconds of ice time per game in his 16th NHL season.

Staal signed a two-year, $6.5 million extension with the Wild at the trade deadline last season and has the ability to block a trade to 10 teams. But Staal could have helped a contender in a lesser role — one would figure there had to be a contender that wasn’t on his no-trade list — and if Guerin could have gotten a draft pick back for him it would have been a win for both sides.

Galchenyuk, meanwhile, is in the final season of a three-year, $14.7 million contract and also could have landed the Wild a draft pick. The 26-year-old has a goal and two assists in six games with the Wild, he also scored the winning goal in a shootout last week in Vancouver, but it’s unknown if Guerin has any interesting in keeping him. Moving him would have created more room for younger players to get top six minutes in the remaining 21 games.

Guerin continued to talk Monday about getting the Wild into the postseason. Minnesota will enter Tuesday night’s game against Columbus five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and with a 2-2 record under Evason. Does the Wild belong in the playoffs or have any real hope of advancing if they do get in? The answer is no.

But Guerin knows that no matter what happens with this team he has plenty of time to change the look and eventually the expectations for this franchise.


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