The End For Evason?
Struggling Wild’s next move might be a change behind the bench.
The Minnesota Wild had lost their fourth consecutive game during a 3-5-2 start when coach Dean Evason called his alternate captains into his office for individual conversations. The Wild were coming off an ugly 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Xcel Energy Center and Evason felt it was time for Marcus Foligno, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek to take charge in the locker room.
It was no surprise that Foligno took the lead and the next night the Wild rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the visiting New York Rangers for a 5-4 victory in a shootout. The Wild then opened a three-game East Coast swing on Nov. 7 with a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
Folgino, and by extension Evason’s message, had been received or, at least, that was the hope.
But after losing the next two games of the trip, against the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, the Wild put on an embarrassing display in an 8-3 loss Sunday to the Dallas Stars. The team deserved every boo it received from its dissatisfied fan base.
The Stars scored five power-play goals on eight opportunities against the Wild’s atrocious penalty kill, and from top to bottom the Wild played like a checked-out group that had quit listening to its coach.
“I’m not going to call out a lot of guys in front of you guys, but there’s some guys that sucked tonight,” said Evason, who rarely criticizes his team.
He wasn’t talking about the fourth line either. Among those on Evason’s unnamed list was superstar winger Kaprizov, who hasn’t looked like himself all season.
There had been some thought that the return of standout defenseman Jared Spurgeon would help stabilize things, but the captain has been back for two games and the Wild have lost both of them.
So what’s next?
The Wild departed Monday night for a trip to Sweden and a nearly week-long break from games. They will play Ottawa and Toronto on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, before returning home and not playing again until Nov. 24 against Colorado. It’s exactly what the Wild doesn’t need.
The break between games will give other teams a chance to widen their lead in the standings, and it’s no secret that teams that aren’t in a playoff position at Thanksgiving often struggle to make the playoffs. The Wild also need to get their act together and sitting around a hotel room, touring Sweden and having a few practices isn’t the way to do it. It would be better for the Wild to get back into action and put the Dallas debacle behind them.
The other interesting thing about the Wild’s 5-8-2 start — their second consecutive slow start to a season — is how much patience owner Craig Leipold and general manager Bill Guerin will show with Evason.
Evason was a hard-working player during his NHL career and always has prided himself on having a team that is willing to do the necessary work to win games. But in his fourth full season in Minnesota, Evason isn’t getting the necessary buy-in from his players.
That’s a major concern because the reason the Wild find themselves in salary-cap hell is because of Guerin’s desire to get Zach Parise and Ryan Suter out of the locker room. Guerin wanted to establish a new culture and yet this team is showing many of the same signs that Guerin thought he had eliminated.
As far as Kaprizov, he has five goals and 15 points in 15 games but has become a turnover machine and is a team-worst minus-11. He was given practice off Monday morning for a maintenance day and Evason said he’s “a little banged up.”
That might explain some of why Kaprizov hasn’t looked like himself, but it doesn’t explain why wingers Matt Boldy and Marcus Johansson have only one goal apiece.
The Wild’s goaltending duo of Filip Gustavsson (4.64 goals-against average in eight games) and Marc-Andre Fleury (3.41 GAA in eight games) also has performed below expectations.
The list of underachievers is a lengthy one and Guerin has made a few moves, including dealing defenseman Calen Addison and acquiring veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian, in hopes of sparking his team. But only so many players can be moved and it’s unlikely there are any major trades coming.
That makes Evason the easy target if Leipold and Guerin decide a significant shakeup is needed. Both the owner and GM have made it clear they don’t see the Wild’s salary-cap issues as a reason to give up hope on a playoff berth or even a postseason run.
If that’s the case, you have to wonder how much longer they will tolerate watching losses and lifeless performances. Could two losses in Sweden spell the end for Evason?
In a season that is circling the drain, it has to be considered a possibility.