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Zulgad’s Roundup: Wild’s success should result in significant payday for coach Dean Evason

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild
Nov 26, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild head coach Dean Evason looks on during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Wild general manager Bill Guerin will not only have to address the contracts of a few players after this season. The two-year deal Dean Evason received when he had the interim label removed from his coaching title in July 2020 also will expire after the season.

Evason was named the interim coach in February 2020 after Bruce Boudreau was fired and went 8-4 before the pandemic put the season on pause. Guerin had planned to conduct a search for Boudreau’s replacement but was impressed by Evason and decided to stick with him. Evason led the Wild in the 24-team tournament that was part of the NHL’s return-to-play in Edmonton. Minnesota won the opener before being eliminated by Vancouver in the qualifying round.

I questioned whether picking Evason without conducting a search was a good idea, but he has made Guerin look like a genius. Evason guided the Wild into the playoffs last season — they lost to Vegas in seven games in the first round — and was a finalist for the Jack Adams award as NHL coach of the year.

This season, Evason has the Wild atop the Central Division and tied for the Western Conference lead in points with 35. The Wild’s 92 goals are tied for second-most in the league and they had won six in a row entering Tuesday night’s game in Edmonton.

Guerin gets a lot of the credit for the Wild’s success. He has reshaped the roster and was willing to buyout Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to get a fresh start on and off the ice. But Evason is doing a fantastic job and will be rewarded for it. He deserves a significant raise and his next contract figures to be in the range of four years instead of two.

When will this happen? Guerin and Evason both played in the NHL and were team-first guys. That means neither is going to sweat the coach’s contract during the season. Don’t be surprised if nothing is made official until after the Wild season is complete.

  • Look for Wild captain Jared Spurgeon to return on Thursday when the team plays in San Jose. The defenseman suffered a lower-body injury in a Nov. 20 loss at Florida. The Wild are 6-0-1 since Spurgeon was forced out of the lineup.
  • The Timberwolves are 2-4 since guard Patrick Beverley suffered a left adductor strain on Nov. 24 in a win over the Miami Heat at Target Center. Minnesota was 9-9 after that win but has fallen to 11-13 after consecutive losses to Washington, Brooklyn and Atlanta. Beverley’s veteran leadership and defense is definitely missed.
  • Former Wild coaches Bruce Boudreau and Mike Yeo ended up being selected to run NHL teams on back-to-back days. Boudreau, who had been working for NHL Network, was named coach of the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday after the team fired Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning. Boudreau received a two-year contract. In Philadelphia, former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher fired Alain Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien on Monday and promoted Yeo from assistant to head coach. The Flyers had lost eight consecutive games and were 8-11-4. An eight-game skid is what got Yeo fired by Fletcher in Minnesota in February 2016.
  • The Canucks beat the Los Angeles Kings, 4-0, in Boudreau’s first game behind the bench, while the Flyers lost 7-5 to Colorado in Yeo’s first game on Monday. Boudreau, who will turn 67 in January, is coaching his fourth NHL team (Washington, Anaheim, Minnesota and Vancouver), while the 48-year-old Yeo is coaching his third (Minnesota, St. Louis and Philadelphia).
  • The Vikings’ defensive collapse against the previously winless Lions on Sunday has gotten coach Mike Zimmer a lot of attention and overshadowed what is one of the most curious moves made during Zimmer’s eight seasons in Minnesota. That was the decision to change three-fifths of the offensive line instead of having backup Rashod Hill start at left tackle in place of injured rookie Christian Darrisaw. Hill started the first five games this season in place of Darrisaw and while he’s not great, he’s on the roster for a reason. Instead, the Vikings moved struggling right guard Oli Udoh to left tackle, center Mason Cole to right guard and put Garrett Bradbury back at center after he had been benched in favor of Cole. Udoh is naturally a tackle, but that’s a big ask to move him to protect Kirk Cousins’ blindside in Week 13 after he played guard all season. Cole also had been solid at center and should have been left there.
  • One name to keep an eye on if the Vikings made a coaching change is Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who was interviewed for the Falcons coaching job last offseason. Hackett will turn 42 on Dec. 19  and has been an assistant in the NFL since 2013.
  • UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers of Hopkins will miss six to eight weeks because of a fracture in her left knee suffered on Sunday. Bueckers has a tibial plateau fracture that occurred while she was bringing  the ball up the floor with 40 seconds remaining in UConn’s 73-54 victory over Notre Dame. The good news is the injury isn’t expected to be season-ending and the recovery timetable means Bueckers should be back, if UConn qualifies for the women’s Final Four on April 1 and 3 at Target Center in Minneapolis.
  • It will be interesting to see if Gophers right tackle Daniel Faalele will play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against West Virginia on Dec. 28 in Phoenix. The 6-foot-9, 380-pound Faalele is expected to go in the top 75 of the NFL draft this spring and, like many draft-eligible players do now, he might not want to risk injury playing in a bowl game.
  • While SKOR North Scoops guy Darren “Doogie” Wolfson reports Adam Thielen is doing everything in his power to get back on the field, the Vikings wide receiver reportedly has a high left ankle sprain and could miss three weeks. The injury is not expected to end Thielen’s season, but means K.J. Osborn and Dede Westbrook should see expanded roles in the receiving game over the next few weeks.