Among the Wild’s final moves of the offseason is one of its most significant.
After firing Paul Fenton as general manager last month, the team’s unusually late search for a replacement ended Wednesday when the organization hired former Penguins executive and NHL standout Bill Guerin as the fourth GM in franchise history — an acquisition that installs someone described by former colleagues as a charismatic, determined and experienced leader at the helm of the Wild.
Guerin will be introduced Thursday at Xcel Energy Center at a press conference scheduled for 11 a.m..
“He understands players,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said. “He understands what they go through. I think that’s a big thing. It’s not long ago since he played, so he understands today’s game and today’s players.”
With its roster nearly set, the Wild created a gaping hole at the top of its organizational depth chart when it dismissed Fenton on July 30 — an abrupt departure that capped a tumultuous, 14-month tenure that included the team missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Barely three weeks later, the Wild selected the 48-year-old Guerin from a robust list of candidates that was vetted by owner Craig Leipold, team President Matt Majka and executive adviser Mike Modano (a former teammate of Guerin’s). Former Flyers GM Ron Hextall, Canadiens assistant GM Scott Mellanby and Hurricanes GM Don Waddell were among those who interviewed for the vacancy, a league source said. The team announced Guerin will receive a multiyear contract.
For the previous five seasons, Guerin was the Penguins’ assistant GM and served as GM of their American Hockey League affiliate for the past two. Although Seattle ultimately tabbed the experienced Ron Francis to become its inaugural GM earlier this summer, Guerin was on its radar — a nod to his growing profile.
“Really good person. Really passionate person,” said Oilers bench boss Dave Tippett, who coached Guerin when the two were with the Stars. “Got along so well with his teammates and [is] obviously committed to winning. … I think that’s a really good pick for Minnesota.”
Before joining management, Guerin was Pittsburgh’s player development coach and helped guide some of the prospects who went on to be part of its 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup championship squads.
Those weren’t Guerin’s first titles, however. He captured one as a player with the Penguins in 2009 and his first in 1995 with the Devils, only two of the highlights of an illustrious playing career that spanned eight teams and 18 seasons and landed the Worcester, Mass., native in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
In 1,263 NHL games, Guerin racked up 429 goals and finished with 856 points as one of the game’s elite power forwards after playing two seasons at Boston College and getting drafted fifth overall by New Jersey in 1989.
But his production wasn’t the only impression Guerin made. He emerged as a binder, pulling the locker room together with a friendly disposition, funny personality and even-keeled outlook.
“He never seemed like a young guy,” said former Devils teammate and current Coyotes assistant coach John MacLean. “He fit in so seamlessly with everybody, and that’s basically how he’s went about his career and his playing career. He just seems to meld with everybody, young or old. People are attracted to him.”
When he joined Dallas in the early 2000s, Guerin was a bona fide leader. He didn’t shy away from sharing his opinion and was “larger than life,” former Stars goalie Marty Turco recalled, even dressing up in costume for a Halloween flight during the 2003-04 season. Guerin and his wife, Kara, have four children.
“When he was playing, he was always involved — whether it was NHLPA stuff or just our locker room,” Turco said. “Always being entertaining, and the whole family was involved. Bill and Kara, they’re good people.”
His former teammates aren’t surprised Guerin has ascended to the GM chair. Former Wild forward Matt Cullen, who crossed paths with Guerin when Cullen played for the Penguins in recent years, believes Guerin is well-suited for this role in Minnesota.
“He’s kind of been through everything,” said Cullen, explaining that Guerin was accessible to players who wanted to pick his brain and that players respected his reputation. “He’s won it. Those experiences become really valuable when you put yourself in a general manager position when you’re trying to relate to all your players and try to figure out the best way to use everybody.”
There’s little left to do with the roster with training camp only three weeks away.
Winger Kevin Fiala and defenseman Louie Belpedio are the only remaining restricted free agents unsigned after the Wild re-signed center Joel Eriksson Ek to a two-year, $2.975 million contract Wednesday. But defenseman Jared Spurgeon is eligible to sign an extension, and coach Bruce Boudreau is in the final season of his four-year deal.
What’s also looming for Guerin is the opportunity to stabilize the Wild after a year-plus of adversity, a transition that could determine expectations for years to come.
“He’ll have an understanding going in what he wants to do,” Rutherford said, “and once he gets into it and training camp, I would suspect that he’ll do what he feels is going to make the team better.”