Wild Hire Hynes
Minnesota Wild fire head coach Dean Evason, hire John Hynes.
ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Wild are on a season-long, seven-game losing streak. Goaltending has been sub-par. Goal scorers are not producing as they should. It’s become routine for the team’s penalty kill to allow goals.
In the words of Wild general manager Bill Guerin: “Something had to change.”
That something came in the form of coaching changes. The Wild fired head coach Dean Evason on Monday before later announcing former Nashville and former New Jersey coach John Hynes as the team’s seventh head coach in franchise history. He’s spent eight seasons as an NHL head coach with a career 284-255-63 record.
Wild assistant coach Bob Woods, who coached the team’s penalty kill, was also relieved of his coaching duties on Monday. The team announced Tuesday that Patrick Dwyer will be a Wild assistant coach and focus on defense and the PK. Dwyer has been an assistant coach with the Iowa Wild since July 5.
Though the list of problems for the Wild is much longer than simply stopping with the man behind the bench, it was Evason who took the fall for the team’s 5-10-4 start to the season.
“’We can’t trade 23 players,’ is the old saying,” Guerin said Tuesday, during a news conference introducing Hynes. “But I just had that feeling that it wasn’t going to come back.”
Guerin cited confidence, swagger, ability to make plays and the overall feeling that players will accomplish something when they step on the ice as pieces that are missing from the team. He didn’t feel like that list of things was headed in the right direction; it actually got worse.
Rookie defenseman Brock Faber said it’s the players who have underperformed and lost hockey games, but they need to look internally, play for the guy next to them and do what they can to win.
“We have a good hockey team in here,” Faber said. “We have a playoff hockey team in here when we’re playing the right way. I think this is a wake-up call for a lot of us.”
Players react to in-season change
This is the second time Guerin has made a mid-season coaching change. On Valentine’s Day in 2020, he fired Bruce Boudreau with the Wild three points out of a playoff spot at the time. Evason went from assistant coach to interim head coach that day.
“The one thing I really do like about Dean is his passion, his fire for the game,” Guerin said when he hired Evason as head coach. “I am hoping that that translates to the players. I think these guys really like Dean a lot.”
A few seasons later, this was a move that seemed to be written on the wall, with the ink becoming more permanent as the losses mounted. It didn’t seem to be a matter of if but a question of when Evason would take the fall for an extremely underperforming Wild team.
Evason was first hired by the Wild as an assistant coach in June 2018 under then-general manager Paul Fenton. Previously, Evason was the head coach for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL for six seasons.
Wild players Tuesday mentioned the respect they have for both Evason and Woods. Marcus Foligno used the word “shocked” regarding Evason’s firing while also recognizing the frustrating start to the season turned into a bad snowball effect.
“Losses pile up, this is what happens,” Foligno said. “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 – and we’ve had enough of these this year to understand what’s needed and we need to get out of it.”
Players had a brief meeting with Hynes before Tuesday’s morning skate ahead of the evening’s home game against the St. Louis Blues. Hynes has some familiarity with a few players. He knows goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh days, and coached Jon Merrill in New Jersey and the national development program. He also coached Patrick Maroon and Marcus Johansson in New Jersey.
“I think you have to come in and, first and foremost, get to know the players,” Hynes said. “It’s on the fly, but I believe that when you come into this situation, everybody’s hurting.
“I think it’s important to really come in and connect with those guys, connect with the coaches, get feedback – particularly from the players on some of those things that they’re seeing and feeling.”
With a new voice leading them, perhaps the team will get back to finding its identity.
“I think we’ve had spurts of it,” said captain Jared Spurgeon. “But we haven’t put it together in full games. There’s a period of half periods where I think we’re getting back to it, and then we get away from it and start chasing games. I think that comes with consistency and obviously holding each other accountable.”
Hynes, Guerin go way back
Players should expect consistency behind the bench for a while, too. Guerin said Tuesday that he and Hynes settled on contract terms, though he wouldn’t give any specifics to the deal except to say: “This is not a one-year thing.”
Guerin and Hynes have a long relationship, going back to Guerin’s days working in player development and his time as an assistant general manager in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Guerin made it clear he believes in Hynes with the detailed and passionate way he has coaching hockey.
Hynes was the Predators head coach starting on Jan. 7, 2020, just a few weeks before Evason took over the Wild. Hynes coached the Devils from 2015-19. He was previously a head coach in the AHL for five seasons, leading the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins to a 231-126-27 record and five consecutive appearances in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
A Boston University player with four Frozen Four trips and a 1995 NCAA championship, Hynes made two stops as an assistant coach with Mass-Lowell (2000-01) and the University of Wisconsin (2002-03) along with his nine seasons behind the bench for USA hockey’s National Team Development Program as an assistant coach from 1998-2000 and 2001-02, and head coach from 2003-09.
The coaching change didn’t come down to one game, according to Guerin. He added that he thought the team played well during its Global Series games (a shootout and overtime loss) in Sweden recently. But things still just “didn’t feel right,” Guerin said.
“There’s kind of that ‘it’ factor, and you feel that and you know it,” Guerin said.
Any ‘it’ factor for Hynes won’t include, as Guerin put it, reinventing the wheel or making wholesale changes. Instead, both Hynes and Guerin acknowledged it will be some little tweaks.
“It’s important to be able to play a fast game, and come in and have some plans to get out of our zone with speed, get on the attack, get north, be able to hem teams in the offensive zone,” Hynes said.