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Evason will remain coach of Wild if season resumes, GM says

'Doesn't seem the time or place' to interview potential candidates: Guerin

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Dean Evason will remain coach of the Minnesota Wild if the NHL resumes play this season, general manager Bill Guerin said Wednesday.

Guerin said he has no plans to interview candidates or conduct any kind of coaching search with the 2019-20 season paused because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

"Other people can do what they want, but to me personally, it doesn't seem the time or place to do that," Guerin said. "If we come back (this season), hopefully we do, we already went through one coaching change. I want to give the guys the consistency of Dean's thoughts and give Dean that opportunity too. And I'm very happy with him."

When Evason replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach Feb. 14, the Wild were 27-23-7, three points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Minnesota had shown signs of improvement, going 7-3-1 in its final 11 games under Boudreau.

Minnesota continued to improve under Evason, a 55-year-old former NHL forward, going 8-4-0 to climb within one point of the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks for the second wild card in the West before play was paused March 12.

"He's done a great job and the guys have responded well," Guerin said. "He's got good communication with the players. He's got an ability to see it as a former player. I like the passion that he brings, but also the detail in the game that he brings. Dean's a good coach."

Guerin said there will be time to decide who will coach the Wild after this season is completed, even if it runs late into the summer, or, if necessary, after the remainder of this season is canceled.

"I'm going to figure out afterwards," Guerin said.

Guerin, who is in his first season as an NHL GM, laughed at the suggestion that there is nothing in the guidebook on dealing with a situation like this.

"But I think most of the GMs could say that," he said. "They haven't been involved in a pandemic like this. But it's my first year and, hopefully, I'll never see it again."

Guerin, who was hired as GM on Aug. 21 after serving as assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past five seasons, said he talks to Evason a couple times a week and has communicated regularly with Wild players to keep them informed. Most opted to remain in Minnesota, but a few returned to their offseason homes.

"The last couple days I've been making calls and just checking in with them personally just to see how they're doing, mentally, physically, how their families are holding up and all that stuff," Guerin said. "It's just something I want to maintain the communication and the contact with them. I just think it's important."

Guerin said he hopes the Wild will get the chance to finish the regular season and qualify for the playoffs. It remains uncertain if there will be enough time to play regular-season games and, if the NHL jumps directly into the playoffs, if more than the traditional 16 teams would qualify.

"It's really tough to say because I'm sure there are a million different ideas," Guerin said. "I just want us to, honestly, have a fair shot of getting in. We don't want any favors or anything like that, but we were right there playing our best hockey and I have confidence in our group. So, whatever it is, we just want the opportunity to be able to play in the playoffs."

Guerin acknowledged "it would be tough" if there isn't time to play regular-season games and the Wild miss qualifying for the playoffs by one point.

"It really would, just because I know what the players and the coaches have put into it and how they've fought back," Guerin said. "But we're not really thinking like that. We're thinking that we're going to get in. Like I said, I don't know what the format will be, but if we have an opportunity, we're confident we can let our play speak for itself."

If the season resumes, Guerin said he expects the Wild to have a healthy roster. Defenseman Carson Soucy was out with an upper-body injury before the pause, but Guerin said, "By the time we get back, he'll be 100 percent." 

Guerin would love to see forward Kevin Fiala pick up where he left off. The 23-year-old has 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) in 18 games since Feb. 4 and leads the Wild with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games this season, surpassing his previous NHL career high of 48 points (23 goals, 25 assists) in 80 games with the Predators in 2017-18. 

According to Guerin, Fiala was driving the Wild's 5-on-5 offense and their power play, which is second in the NHL at 28.8 percent since Jan. 14, trailing the Edmonton Oilers (30 percent) 

"I think kind of the light went on and he just started to see how good he can be," Guerin said. "It was almost like he had this weight taken off of his shoulders somehow and he just started to play. And he wanted the puck more than ever, he wanted the game on his stick, and his confidence was really just through the roof. When you have that, and the skill that he has, it's a really good combination."

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