When you fall below the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL standings, something has to be done.
On Monday, GM Bill Guerin pulled the trigger on a move that’s intended to light a fire under the struggling Minnesota Wild. He fired head coach Dean Evason and assistant Bob Woods.
Evason, 59, leaves with a record of 147-77-27 over 321 regular-season games since he was elevated from an assistant’s role to replace Bruce Boudreau behind the Wild bench on Feb. 14, 2020. His points percentage of .639 is the best in Wild franchise history and makes him the second coach with a winning record to be relieved of his duties this month. Jay Woodcroft was at .643 over 133 games when he was fired by the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 12.
Though Evason’s salary has not been publicly disclosed, CapFriendly reports that he was in the second season of a three-year contract extension that he signed with the Wild on Dec. 30, 2021.
As well as getting the Wild over 100 points in each of the last two seasons, Evason led his team to the playoffs in all four years that he was in charge. That’s no small feat in a 32-team league, but the closest the Wild ever got to advancing past the first round was their Game 7 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights following the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign.
Despite running things back with mostly the same lineup as last season, the Wild have stumbled in the early going. Their challenges begin in net, where rising star Filip Gustavsson posted a .931 save percentage last season and beloved veteran Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t far behind at .910.
This year, those numbers have dropped to .881 for Gustavsson and .875 for Fleury as the Wild are allowing 3.95 goals per game, second-most in the league. Meanwhile, they’re scoring only 2.95 goals per game as their power play has reached its lowest effectiveness of the Evason regime, and their penalty-killing rate of 66.7% is the worst in the league.
By current standards, the Wild had some success when they travelled to Stockholm to take part in the NHL Global Series earlier this month. They gave up just five goals over two games and picked up single points in both their games: a shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators and an overtime defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the losses continued to pile up once they got back stateside — a 3-2 defeat by the Colorado Avalanche last Friday, then a 4-1 loss in Detroit on Sunday.
Heading into Monday night’s games, the Wild sat 30th in the NHL standings with 14 points. A team’s position at U.S. Thanksgiving is often considered to be a barometer of its playoff prospects. When Evason was relieved of his duties on Monday, Minnesota sat seven points out of the second wild-card spot in the West.
Early Monday evening, the Wild confirmed earlier reports that John Hynes will take over as the team’s new head coach.
This will be the third head job in the NHL for the 48-year-old native of Warwick, RI. After starting his coaching career in the NCAA and with USA Hockey, Hynes eventually parlayed a six-year stint with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins into an opportunity to take over the New Jersey Devils in 2015.
Over the next 354 games, Hynes coaches the Devils to a record of 150-159-45 for a .487 points percentage before he was relieved of his duties on Dec. 3, 2019. He was barely out of work for a month before he was tapped to replace the fired Peter Laviolette with the Nashville Predators on Jan. 7, 2020.
With the Predators, Hynes amassed a record of 134-96-18 and guided his team to three playoff appearances — also all first-round losses. After Nashville went through a trade-deadline sell-off and failed to reach the post-season in 2022-23, new Nashville GM Barry Trotz opted to replace Hynes behind the bench on May 30 — with Andrew Brunette taking over the following day.
So once again, Hynes hasn’t had to wait long to snag another top job.
Hynes was named the AHL’s coach of the year for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2011. That fall, Guerin began his post-playing career as a development coach with the NHL Penguins. That kicked off several years where he and Hynes would have been working together to develop young players for the Pittsburgh organization.
As we’ve seen with Edmonton over the past few weeks, a new coach typically fuels an improvement in team performance, at least in the short term — whether that’s because of new systems and strategies, or because underperforming players sit up a little straighter when they see someone lose their job.
The Oilers are 4-3-0 since Knoblauch took over on Nov. 12 and Connor McDavid has started to look more like his usual dominant self. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s first star of the week thanks to 12 points in his last four games.
The Wild will be hoping that Hynes can deliver a similar spike. But no matter who’s behind the bench, Minnesota has one unique handicap that no other team faces: because of the club’s 2021 buyout of the last four years of the matching contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild are currently in the midst of the two worst years of salary-cap implications from that decision. This season, they’re missing a total of $14.74 million in space under a cap ceiling of $83.5 million, or nearly 18 percent of their total cap space.
In the current flat-cap world, most other NHL teams also have dead cap space due to buyouts and bonus overages. But no other organization is carrying more than $8.8 million this year. That’s significant, but it’s barely half of Minnesota’s burden.
To their credit, the Wild have managed to stay out of long-term injured reserve, so they are accumulating a small amount of daily cap space, which could prove valuable closer to the trade deadline. But of course, that only matters if they’re in a position to add talent as they push for a playoff spot.
The Wild’s new era begins with a visit from their division-rivals from St. Louis on Tuesday. Then, they’ll return to Hynes’s old stomping grounds in Music City to face another Central Division foe, the Predators, on Thursday.