Struggling Wild turn to Hynes to try to restore their confidence, identity
Bill Guerin didn't want to fire Dean Evason. But the way the Minnesota Wild have been playing, the general manager felt he had no choice but to switch head coaches to try to get them back on track.
“I think it had just gotten to that point where almost no matter what they did, the guys were having a hard time executing and generating offense. Something had to change,” Guerin said. “ 'We can’t trade 23 players,’ is the old saying. But I just had that feeling that it wasn’t going to come back.”
Guerin replaced Evason with John Hynes on Monday, the second time in five years on the job he has made a midseason switch. Evason, who was promoted to the main spot on the bench on Feb. 14, 2020, when Bruce Boudreau was fired, went 147-77-27 in 251 regular season games and 8-15 in the postseason without winning any series.
The Wild went 5-10-4 under Evason this season.
“It’s the confidence, it’s the swagger, it’s the ability to make plays, it's the feeling that when you step out on the ice you’re going to accomplish something," Guerin said at a news conference to discuss his decision on Tuesday before the Wild hosted St. Louis. “It just didn’t seem like that was coming back.”
To attempt to restore those traits the Wild showed often the last two seasons under Evason with largely the same roster, Guerin turned to Hynes. The eight-year NHL head coaching veteran has a 284-255-63 record, plus 4-15 in the postseason. Nashville fired him on May 30, six weeks after missing the playoffs. He was previously with New Jersey.
“I’m excited to coach this group. I think when you look at the dynamic of the team. There’s skill. There’s size. There’s speed. There’s good goaltending. I think it’s a group that you can win with,” Hynes said.
Matt Boldy, who had 31 goals last season, scored just once 12 games into the first season of his $49 million, seven-year contract. Kirill Kaprizov, the team’s highest-paid player at $9 million per season, has also struggled to produce. Evason had been critical of both of the young stars, imploring them to elevate their performances. The Wild are 22nd in the league in goals per game (2.95) and second-to-last in goals allowed per game (3.95). Their penalty kill is last with a woeful 66.7% success rate.
“There’s usually two or three points that makes every player who they are, particularly at this level, and trying to get back to those, reinforce those, help them understand what those are,” Hynes said. “And I think gradually you can do it. It might be, to be honest, easier in-season because you’re coming in directly with them.”
Hynes signed a contract for longer than just the remainder of the season. Guerin declined to divulge details beyond that. But clearly he targeted him for more than simply an interim role.
The Wild also hired Patrick Dwyer as an assistant coach to replace the fired Bob Woods. Dwyer had been serving as an assistant this season for the Iowa Wild in the AHL.
“Over the last couple years, we’ve created an identity. I think maybe right now we’re not quite playing to it. We’ve lost it a bit," Guerin said. "That’ll be one of John’s big tasks is to get the players back on that track because when we are playing to our identity, we’re very good and we’ve proven that in the last couple years. But it’s not something that you can take your foot off the gas.”
The Wild took a 2-6-2 mark this month into the game against the Blues, their worst November record in franchise history.
“We were pretty optimistic when the season started and, you know, it’s not like from Game 1 it was bad. It was just a little bit of a snowball effect, and things got out of hand," alternate captain and left wing Marcus Foligno said. "Losses pile up. This is what happens. Unfortunately, there are coaches that have to take that fall on the knife for players like us. It’s not fair. But at the same time, it’s a wake-up call.”
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