Chip Scoggins
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Local hockey fans discuss the Wild's lot in life as if they crave a magical way to teleport to the 2025-26 season when the franchise will emerge from salary cap hades and enter utopia.

Just wait, right?

The kids will be all grown up, seasoned NHL players or perhaps even stars. And simultaneously, the albatross buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will finally, mercifully, come off the books.

Sweet hallelujah, someone hit fast forward.

"We're not just going to wait," Wild President of Hockey Operations Bill Guerin said Friday.

That is the only correct answer. No team executive should ever purposely lower expectations on a season or accept difficult circumstances as a free pass to skip ahead to the future.

Winning matters all the time. Guerin, 18-season NHL player, knows this as well as anyone. And being more competitive next season by returning to the postseason is especially meaningful to the Wild because they have a superstar player in Kirill Kaprizov. Teams should always attempt to maximize every single season of a superstar's career.

It would be a mistake to treat next season like a layover.

"We have to find our swagger again," Guerin said.

The clock doesn't pause in pro sports. Kaprizov, who turns 27 in a week, is one of the NHL's top players and elite scorers. He has shown zero signs of being antsy in Minnesota, but he has two seasons left on his contract.

Superstars' legacies are defined by personal accolades and team postseason success. The Wild cannot afford to squander years of Kaprizov's career or fall into a losing rut that sours their franchise player on the overall direction.

"That's a guy we obviously want to keep happy and make sure that he's feeling comfortable here and knowing that it's a team that can get the job done," assistant captain Marcus Foligno said. "He's such a huge piece of this team. You need superstars to win you games and to pull you out of holes, but at the end of the day he wants to win a championship."

Said Guerin: "I do feel that we need to show him that we're committed to winning."

Not just winning but becoming a true, viable playoff contender.

The organization has been perpetually stuck in "good but not great" purgatory. The Wild have made the playoffs more times than not in their existence — 13 trips in 23 seasons — but they don't have a lot to show for it beyond that.

Their all-time playoff record is 34-62, meaning they have averaged less than three wins per playoff appearance. They have won only four playoff series total, and two of those came in that rip-roaring 2003 run to the Western Conference final.

They mostly have been one-and-done.

Guerin sarcastically noted at the beginning of Friday's season-ending news conference that "we didn't even get to the hump this year." It was a playful jab at a topic he doesn't care for much: the organization's bland playoff history and quick exits.

"I haven't been here for 25 years," he said. "I'm not as crazy about it as you guys are because I haven't gone through it. I'm doing what I feel is right as a general manager in building a team that is going to be built for long-term success. … I could care less what's happened in the past here. I wasn't here. Most of these players weren't here. We don't care. It's all about moving forward."

In that regard, his blueprint came into more focus this season, despite the disappointment of missing the postseason.

Kaprizov continues to be a superstar. Brock Faber had a breakout rookie season that pointed him toward stardom. Marco Rossi established himself as an NHL player. Matt Boldy took a step in his development. Joel Eriksson Ek remained a two-way stabilizer. A few young prospects flashed their potential.

I asked Guerin if what he saw from his young core reaffirmed in his mind that he has the right group to change the "get over the hump" narrative.

"I sure as hell hope so," he said.

He's not alone. The buyout penalties will end soon enough. A lot of important steps must take place in the meantime.