Wild fans already knew that this was going to be an interesting offseason for the team. It was scheduled to include the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, would be GM Bill Guerin’s first time running a draft and free agency and would include the hiring of a new head coach. The timing of all of these things has been thrown off by the NHL’s decision to suspend games indefinitely during the COVID-19 global pandemic. (Full disclosure: nothing in this article is meant to imply that the biggest impact that COVID-19 will have is on the offseasons of professional sport teams. Hopefully that didn’t need to be said, but people tend to get angry on the internet so here we are.) Now it seems like the Wild and the entire NHL are headed for an offseason unlike anything we are used to. So, what impact might that have on the Wild’s search for a new head coach?
Impact on who the Wild hire as head coach
If the suspension of the current NHL season has any impact on who will be the next head coach of the Minnesota Wild, that impact is likely limited to Dean Evason.
It appears that there are three possibilities for how the remainder of the NHL season unfolds. Option one, after some delay, the remainder of the regular season is played followed by the entire playoffs. Option two, after some delay, the NHL skips ahead to the playoffs based on the current standings. Option three, the remainder of the regular season, as well as the playoffs, are canceled, and the NHL turns its focus to the 2020-2021 season. Option one seems unlikely. (Even more unlikely given that, as this article was being written, the CDC announced it was suggesting an eight-week ban on gatherings of 50+ people.) So, if the remainder of the NHL season plays out under scenario two or three, then the season is over for the Wild.
The reason for laying this out is that Dean Evason’s chances of being hired as the permanent head coach seem unlikely if the Wild are in fact done playing. The Wild were 8-4-0 in 12 games under Evason and played pretty solid hockey aside from a lackluster 2-0 loss to San Jose in his first game and the recent 7-4 shellacking from the Kings. This solid run brought the Wild to within one point of a playoff spot at the time of the season being suspended. If Evason had been able to lead the Wild to a playoff berth and a series win or two, that success surely would have carried plenty of weight when Bill Guerin made his decision on the next head coach. The more success the Wild had under Evason, the more reason Guerin would have had to keep him as the coach.
If the season is in fact over for the Wild, Evason’s 12-game run as the head coach was probably too small of a sample size to leave a lasting impression on management.
Impact on when the Wild hire a head coach
If the suspension does have any impact on the hiring of the next Wild head coach, it is likely that impact will be on when the hiring is made.
The NHL is currently on a roster freeze, meaning that no players can be called up or sent down to the AHL. If that were not the case, the Wild could hire a head coach tomorrow if they really wanted to. But given the current situation that we are all in, it’s unlikely any face-to-face interviews would take place at all.
The most likely scenario is that Guerin will begin to consider head coaching options once everything settles down. Gary Bettman has stated that he hopes next season will be a normal season. That would seem to imply that the season will start on time — or, at the very least, be slightly delayed with a slightly shorter offseason during the summer of 2021. If that is the case and the current season is resumed, that means there could be an incredibly short offseason this summer. It seemed like the absolute best case scenario was a 30-day pause in the season followed by a short “training camp” to help players get ready and then beginning the postseason about two weeks behind schedule. More likely, any scenario involving more hockey being played this season will result in the season ending later than normal, meaning the offseason will be condensed if next season really does start on time.
This all means that Guerin will need to act quickly in order to bring someone into the organization, especially if he wants a head coach in place prior to the draft and free agency. It does not seem like an ideal situation to have a first-time GM make his first head coaching hire under rushed circumstances, although Guerin does have this time during the suspension to do his research and conduct some phone calls with potential hires.
It seems possible that, despite what is written above, an abbreviated offseason could increase Evason’s chances of being hired. If Guerin does not feel he has the time to conduct a full search and to give the new hire time to get familiar with the organization and his new players, he may value the continuity that would come with keeping Evason. Perhaps he would hire someone like Mike Vellucci, a coach he has hired before and who Hockey Wilderness wrote about back in February. Guerin, as the assistant GM in Pittsburgh, hired Vellucci to be the head coach of Pittsburgh’s AHL team. If Guerin feels like he needs to hire someone quickly during an abbreviated offseason, it is possible that he would turn to someone he is familiar with. Or would he quickly turn to someone like Gerard Gallant, and hire someone with an impressive resume without much of an interview process?
As of right now, it is impossible to know for sure exactly what will happen with the rest of the season and how it will impact the Wild’s offseason, including their search for a head coach. What is known right now is that Bill Guerin’s first offseason as GM of the Wild will certainly not look the way he expected it to.