LOS ANGELES – As the games have piled up this season for the Wild, so have the mixed signals sent out by the team.
While there have been lulls where the group has looked completely adrift and dysfunctional in both zones that made this start the worst in franchise history, the Wild also has earned reprieves because of timely scoring, tighter checking and an enough-is-enough brand of resiliency — moxie that has spurred two comeback wins in its last three games.
This progress hasn’t lifted the Wild from its current station near the bottom of the NHL, the consequence of a 6-10-1 record, but first-year General Manager Bill Guerin still is giving the team time to prove itself.
Eventually, though, that window to cement a reputation will close.
And when that happens, if it makes sense for the Wild to struggle in the meantime to be more successful in the future, Guerin is willing to take that approach.
“We have to do what’s right for the organization as a whole, not grasp at straws,” Guerin said Monday while the Wild practiced at the Toyota Sports Performance Center ahead of its four-game road trip finale Tuesday against the Kings. “We don’t want to talk ourselves into something that we don’t really want to do or think we’re something that we’re not.
“We have to be very honest with ourselves and then move accordingly.”
Nearly six weeks through the schedule, Guerin is very much still evaluating the Wild.
He likes the chemistry and camaraderie, describing the roster as a close-knit group — which is contrary to what he heard when he was hired in late August as the fourth GM in team history. The hire came after a rocky, 14-month tenure for predecessor Paul Fenton was cut short in the middle of the offseason.
Guerin also has been encouraged by the work ethic and attitude of the players, and he believes a structured, competitive and unified style is key for the team. When the Wild hasn’t played like that, the ramifications have stung.
“It’s just disappointing because we’ve left a lot of points on the table,” Guerin said. “You look back at a lot of the games, we’ve been in most games. There were a couple stinkers, but everybody’s got those. But for the most part, I feel like we’ve been in most games.
“We need to be more consistent with our effort. … The game starts at 7, and sometimes we show up at 7:45. Part of that is a little more consistency in putting together 60 minutes and things like that. You very rarely have everybody playing their best hockey at the same time, but we’re waiting for certain guys to take flight and get going, and that’ll create some more depth for us.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau and Guerin communicate daily, and their rapport has developed smoothly. But with Boudreau in the final season of a four-year contract, his role is also under the microscope.
“He’s our coach,” Guerin said. “I have a ton of respect for him and what he’s done in his career and what he’s doing right now, and how we’re working together — I really like it. Just like the players, we’ll see where we are. But as of right now, everything is going really, really well with Bruce and I like Bruce.”
Although Guerin said, “It’s very hard to trade your way out of problems,” he has had plenty of talks with other GMs and tweaking the lineup is an option on his radar.
“If there’s an opportunity for me to make the team better, I’ll do it,” Guerin said. “That hasn’t presented itself. I still want to give this group an opportunity. They deserve it. They earned it.”
A dynamic forward tops Guerin’s wish list, but that caliber of impact is typically acquired through the draft — a reality that could be available to the Wild if doesn’t start to climb up the standings and opts to regroup with a high pick.
Taking that direction would be a departure from the philosophy that’s been on the masthead of this franchise for most of this decade, a year-after-year pursuit of the playoffs with a veteran-laden roster assembled to win now.
But after failing to advance last season and sputtering early in this one, the team could reach that crossroads sooner rather than later.
“It’s my decision to make,” Guerin said. “Players play, coaches coach, and managers manage. We will see where we are. … I’ll have to make some hard decisions, but I hope this team keeps getting better like we have been.”