ST. PAUL -- For the first time in well over a year, Wild coach Dean Evason and General Manager Bill Guerin met with the Twin Cities media on Thursday morning in person, which may be the most prominent, noteworthy development to come from the session.
That step towards normalcy is the first of what most hope are many this summer and towards the beginning of the 2021-22 season, and a full 82-game season with old divisional rivalries re-established.
In terms of putting a bow on what was the 2020-21 campaign, both Evason and Guerin commented on what they liked and what they hope for the future as the offseason commences.
In a normal offseason - something that hasn't been experienced for the Wild in a couple of years now - the team would be more than a month into implementing its offseason plans. We'd be coming up on the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL Draft and the start of unrestricted free agency on July 1.
All of those dates have been pushed back because of the late start to the season.
Video: Season Wrap Up: Dean Evason
With the Wild now out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs following a seven-game loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, Guerin's attention has turned to re-signing his restricted free agents, including Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala, and deciding what he wants to do with his unrestricted free agents, a list which includes Nick Bonino, Ian Cole, Nick Bjugstad and Marcus Johansson.
But there are other complications.
The Seattle Expansion Draft, scheduled to take place on July 21, will likely prevent the Wild from re-signing any of its UFAs before they reach free agency, because signing them would force the Wild to either protect that player or expose them to the Seattle Kraken.
Judd Brackett and his team of amateur scouts have been hard at work in a very non-traditional year working to prepare for the NHL Draft, where the Wild will be busy.
The first round will take place on July 23, and Minnesota has two picks in the opening round. Rounds 2-7 take place the following day, and as of now, the Wild has nine picks in all, the most it has had in a single draft in the seven-round era, which began in 2005, and it's most since it had 11 selections in the 2004 Draft, which was nine rounds.
Of course, Guerin could choose to use those picks as capital to move up in the draft, in trades for established veterans or he could simply use them the way they are designed - to replenish a prospect cupboard that has continued to improve the last several years.
Video: Season Wrap Up: Bill Guerin
Free agency begins on July 28, and the Wild has upwards of $22 million in salary cap space, but that doesn't count new contracts for Kaprizov, Fiala or Eriksson Ek, a trio that will likely eat up a large chunk of that space.
Once the calendar flips to August, things are expected to calm down a bit for Guerin and his staff ... but that will be short-lived, as training camp and the preseason is expected to begin in mid-to-late September.
Here are some of the highlights from Thursday's media session:
On where to start with the amount of work that needs to be done in a short offseason:
"We've already started. I mean, we're already starting to plan. These things don't just come up after the season ends. We've planned for each guy. Each guy that needs a contract, we have that planned out. We have it planned out for a couple years and what our cap will look like and who fits in where, who's going to get what, all those things, so it's just a matter of getting the process rolling with the players' agents and hopefully getting things done sooner than later."
On his biggest priorities of the offseason:
"The biggest priority is signing Kaprizov, signing Ek and signing Fiala."
On upgrading the center position this summer:
"How do you go about it? You make a lot of phone calls and see what's available, who's available and if you're willing to go down certain paths. Do we have to do anything? No, we don't have to do anything. I think we proved this year that if you play asa a team and you have people on each line driving offense, that you don't need that number one guy, you don't need ... like we had success this year. Eventually, yeah, but we're not going to overextend ourselves just to satisfy a public perception that we need a number one center. We're not going to do that."
On his willingness to make trades:
"Like I've said all along, if the right deal comes across the table and it makes sense for our team where we are right now, we'll do it. If I feel it doesn't make sense, I don't feel it's going to make us better now, or more importantly, in the future, to make us a good team for a long time, then we won't do it."
His philosophy on unrestricted free agency, especially in a flat-salary cap world:
"If you get to free agency, it all depends on the deal that you sign the player to. How much money it is, the term, all those things. You can also make some big mistakes if get fixated on something and you have to have it and you'll do whatever it takes to get it. Well, there's a good chance you're going to make a mistake. Like I said, we're preparing for that, we're gonna try not to make any mistakes, we're gonna try to do what we really need to do for right now and for long term. I just think the focus on playing as a team is just as important as going out and getting the sexy free agent."
An update on Wild 2020 first-round pick Marco Rossi:
"He started working out. He's going to start skating Saturday. He's doing very well. Things are looking really good. He seems to be incredibly health and very positive."
On the Expansion Draft:
"We're going to do what we have to do to protect everybody we want to and can and are able to. Of course, we're going to lose somebody that we like because we like everybody and we're going to do the things that we need to do to preserve what we have here and to make our team better for next year and for the future. Side deals are real. I don't know what's going on. I haven't talked to [Kraken General Manager] Ron [Francis], but I'll talk to him and see what they have going on, what their ideas are for us. But, yeah, there's a lot of planning involved and a lot of strategizing and a lot of going through our options."
On Kaprizov's nomination for the Calder Trophy:
"I think just dealing with him he's a lot like we're trying to build here with the franchise. It's great to get recognized but his ultimate goal is to win and win a Stanley Cup. He says all the right things and does all the right things. I'm not surprised that he's extremely humble with that. That's what our group has tried to instill and we've made steps with that this year."
On the high number of postseason awards Wild players/coaches could be named finalists for:
"It means we made a step right? I'm extremely proud of our coaching staff. We are proud of the stuff that we've started to instill in our group. Whenever those things happen -- the individual awards or whatever -- it means that you're doing the right things as a franchise. There's so many different pieces to getting an award and the same with a coaches award. There's so many people that are involved in that. But it says that we did some really good things this year. We're excited about what we did this year as far as the regular season. Extremely disappointed that we're not still playing. Every season when we go in our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That's it. So in that sense it was a failure. But we had a good regular season and we can build on that. We're looking forward to that next year."
On what must happen for the Wild to take the next step:
"The players just need to continue to grow. We've seen the individual growth in so many players. That just has to continue to get better and better. The way that we played as a group and as a team on a nightly basis, with a team first mentality, was very exciting to us as a coaching staff and as a franchise. We just want to continue to build on that."
On rookie goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen:
"We had a real good meeting with him. The exit meeting was great. It was a learning experience for him, too, right? He comes in. Didn't play a whole lot and then all of a sudden he played a ton in a row. Just the learning process that he went through and the development of being a goaltender, either being a starting goaltender or being a backup goaltender. But we were very comfortable with either guy that we put in. Obviously, Cam played majority down the stretch. But we would have felt very comfortable if Kahkonen did get in."
Photo by Brandon McCauley