Dean Evason Hot Seat Check: 6 Questions for Minnesota Wild Entering 2023-24
The Minnesota Wild drop the puck on ’23-’24 this week and the goal is playoff success. New President of Hockey Operations, Bill Guerin, has preached that his version of the Minnesota Wild are about winning and winning only. That includes playoff games.
With that in mind, here are 5 questions facing the latest edition of Bill Guerin’s Minnesota Wild:
1. Is head coach Dean Evason’s on the hot seat?
Dean Evason & Co have shown that they can and will compete in the regular season, as long as they play “their” game. Question remain, however, on the Wild’s ability to win in the postseason as currently constructed.
Because that hasn’t been the case during the Bill Guerin, Dean Evason era, up to this point. Last postseason, Minnesota led Dallas 2-1 in their opening series, and Game 4 was at home.
But poor play and dumb penalties cost the Wild a 3-1 1st round lead and they never recovered, instead losing three-straight for another insufferably early playoff exit. So if Evason, now in his 3rd season as head coach, can’t lead the Minnesota Wild to postseason success, Guerin may have to start a search for someone who can.
I think Dean Evason has done some good things and been very steady over the past couple of seasons, but do wonder if he’ll be on the hot seat given Guerin’s public call-out last season that the special teams need to improve. https://t.co/MYkc0BKhuY— Brandon Mileski (@BMileskiKFAN) April 26, 2023
2. Will investing in veterans pay off?
The Wild have been very careful about where they are spending their dollars, over the last couple of years, including when and how to extend the contracts of aging veterans who provide just as much locker room stability as they do effectiveness on the ice.
But all that went out the window on Friday, when Bill Guerin inked Mats Zuccarello to a 2-year contract extension hours before giving Marcus Foligno four more years too. Both guys got $4 million per season. The Wild GM made it clear, however, that it’s just a matter of time before Ryan Hartman gets a new deal of his own.
GM Bill Guerin indicated that Ryan Hartman is next to get extended. They’re in talks and it’s “heading that way.” Not sure if it’s coming in next few days or a week, etc. “He’s an identity player for us.” #mnwild.— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithNHL) September 29, 2023
Foligno claims he is healthy, after a significant fall off to his game in 2022-23. Guerin is betting on that being the case. If Marcus returns to his 2021-22 self, the next four years will look like highway robbery.
3. Can Minnesota Wild new faces make needed contributions?
The Minnesota Wild added a couple of pieces this off-season via trade as well as free agency. The Wild acquired Pat Maroon and Max Cajkovic from Tampa Bay for a 2024 7th round pick. Tampa Bay also retained 20% of Maroon’s salary in the deal.
The 3-time Stanley Cup Champion will bring experience to the dressing room as well as knowing what it takes to not just win a series but go on a run in the postseason. There is no doubt those teams in Tampa were special, but as we saw with the Panthers in ’22-’23 sometimes you just the right group of guys with talent mixed in and you find yourself in a Stanley Cup Final.
Excelsior, MN native Vinni Lettieri found his way back home after spending time with the Rangers, Ducks and Bruins. Lettieri spent most of last season with the Providence Bruins where he played in 48 games scoring 23 goals and adding 26 assists. Lettieri has shown in the AHL that he can find the back of the net. The Wild are hoping that can translate to the NHL where he has played in 83 games, with 7 goals and 11 assists.
4. Can Filip Gustavsson be a reliable No. 1 Goalie?
Filip Gustavsson was rewarded with a 3 year $11.25 million dollar contract this off-season after posting a 22-9-7 record 3 shutouts with a .931 SV% and a GAA of 2.10. Gustavsson also appeared in 5 postseason games and was in net for their 2 wins in the opening round series against Dallas.
There are a few questions about how the Wild will use both him and Marc Andre-Fleury in 2023. Gustavsson started 39 games last year, and given his overall numbers it makes sense to think that the Wild are going to stretch him out a bit more this season. Marc Andre-Fleury remains on the roster, and is a guy who can start here and there, but I believe the Wild are better off letting Gustavsson dive in, and see if he can sustain those numbers as a true number 1.
5. Can Kirill Kaprizov be even better?
As the Superstar Kirill Kaprizov returns for his 4th season in Minnesota the question is what else can he do. Kaprizov comes in looking for his 3rd consecutive 40 goal season, for a franchise that doesn’t have another player with more than one.
It’s not so much about if he can keep up this pace, but more about what can the team do with this consistent production. An injury slowed him last year, and it seemed to something that he was laboring in the postseason.
If the Wild are able to get another 80+ game season from the Superstar, we could see a 50 goal scorer for the first time in franchise history. Bill Guerin signed Kaprizov’s linemate and best friend, Mats Zuccarello to a contract extension on Friday, which probably doesn’t happen if those two facts weren’t in play.
6. Is Marco Rossi a bust?
Marco Rossi is a player who everyone seems to keep waiting for to have that welcome to the NHL moment, including Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin. After being regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2020 NHL draft Rossi fell to 9th where he was selected by the Minnesota Wild.
Even though Rossi hasn’t found his footing in the NHL in 19 career games as he’s registered just 1 assist he has had no issues in the AHL playing for the Iowa Wild. In 116 games for Iowa Rossi has 34 goals, and 70 assists. The potential seems to be there, and the hope that Rossi is able to make that jump to the NHL.
It remains a big if for the organization. As the 9th overall pick, the Wild are hoping he is helping the club in St. Paul and doesn’t become a career AHL all-star.
2023 Minnesota Wild Expectations
ESPN came out with a Top 10 NHL Teams for the next 3 seasons the Minnesota Wild were listed as 7th. There is still the shadow of the Parise/Suter buyouts, but the Wild won’t be able to hide behind that.
As far as the regular season goes, I believe that we will see a very competitive team, and one that finds their way into the postseason. The regular season isn’t where the questions are. The postseason is when we will see if this team is ready to take a step forward and win a series and see what happens. It starts with a trip to Round 2.
Brian Heintz | Minnesota Sports Fan