Dean Evason sounded more exasperated than ever after Sunday’s loss in Detroit, the Minnesota Wild’s seventh straight loss.
His team was running out of answers. He too.
“We have to change something,” he said.
In the end, the change was Evason.
The Wild fired Evason on Monday afternoon, hoping to provide a jolt to a club that has lost 13 of its last 16 games, plummeting to near the bottom of the NHL standings. Assistant coach Bob Woods was also fired. Woods, in his seventh season in Minnesota, was in charge of defense and a penalty kill that ranked last in the NHL, having allowed 23 goals.
Evason, who replaced the fired Bruce Boudreau at the end of the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, finishes with a record of 147-77-27 in parts of five seasons with the Wild, a .639 points percentage that is sixth best among active trainers. with over 200 NHL games coached. He went 8-15 during the playoffs, losing in the first round three straight years and once in the qualifying round of the Edmonton bubble after missing the interim tag.
The Wild blew series leads in all four of their postseason runs.
Evason has one more year left on his contract (until 2024-25) for just under $2 million.
“I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the Minnesota Wild organization, especially the incredible fan base over the past few years,” Evason said.
While the Wild have yet to name a successor with the St. Louis Blues coming to town Tuesday night, multiple league sources say John Hynes, former coach of the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators, will replace Evason and will become the seventh coach in Wild history. He was let go a month after he finished the Predators’ 2022-23 season with one year remaining on his contract, also for just under $2 million.
It was a logical replacement. Wild team president and general manager Bill Guerin was Hynes’ general manager during much of Hynes’ time coaching Wilkes-Barre, and Guerin’s senior advisor Ray Shero was New Jersey’s general manager when the Devils hired him.
“It’s hard to see Dean and (Woods) go,” alternate captain Marcus Foligno said. The Athletic. “They are both great people and did a lot of good with their time here. At the end of the day, it’s up to us and it sucks to put coaches in this position. We need to be better and we work to achieve it every day. I wish them the best, both guys were very influential in my career and I have them to thank a lot. Our job as players is to keep moving forward and win the next game… that’s what we’ll try to do tomorrow against the Blues.”
John Hynes 101: A crash course on the new Predators coach
In 602 NHL games over nine seasons with the Devils and Predators, Hynes is 284-255-63 (.524 points percentage) with a 4-15 playoff record and no round wins. In the AHL, he went 231-126-27 in the regular season with a 33-31 playoff record and two trips to the conference finals, and was once the league’s coach of the year.
This entire scenario seemed unlikely as the Wild entered the season, despite the lack of playoff success. After all, Guerin said in May that Evason was coaching with one hand tied behind his back because of the $12.7 million in salary cap hits last season from buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. That Evason led Minnesota to back-to-back 100-point seasons despite that was certainly an accomplishment.
And if acquisitions were a hurdle last season, this season’s $14.7 million in salary cap hits made things even more difficult.
Even last week, with the Wild reeling, Guerin gave Evason a public vote of confidence in a Nov. 19 interview with The Athletic. Guerin at the time was not willing to blame Evason for the fact that Kirill Kaprizov had (now) two even goals this season, Matt Boldy was a shadow of what he seemed in March, the role players were not producing or canceling out penalties and Goalkeepers Filip Gustavsson and Marc-André Fleury are simply not up to the task.
“It’s an old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” Guerin said at the time. “I think Dean is doing a good job. And you know what? He can’t go out and play for the boys. He can’t have them executed. They have to do that.”
Guérin echoed the same sentiment following Evason’s firing. “Dean did an excellent job during his tenure with the Minnesota Wild, especially as our team’s head coach,” he said in a statement. “I am very grateful for his hard work and dedication to our organization.”
But as much as it seemed like Guerin was willing to let this season play out, perhaps giving the team a chance at a top-five pick in next year’s draft, the mountain of losses became impossible to ignore. The Wild have a ton of winnable games ahead of them and the West is so down right now that even putting up enough points to get into the low 80s could be good enough to make the playoffs.
That’s still doable for the 5-10-4 Wild, who have 63 games remaining, and something Guerin hopes and hopes a coaching change can spur.
Remember, owner Craig Leipold said during the preseason, “I think we’re going to have a better team than last year.”
There was reason to fire Evason, as the same problems continued to plague the team throughout the season. “That’s what bothers you,” Evason said Sunday. It has been the porous penalty kill, which was part of the team’s downfall in the last two playoffs and is at 66.7 percent this season. There are the undisciplined and ill-timed penalties, which have crushed a Wild team that has had nights like Sunday in which it controlled the five-on-five game.
Long-time NHL coaches generally benefit from good goaltending, and that’s another area that has faltered this season for the Wild, with a .878 save percentage that’s third-worst in the league, only better than Carolina (.873) and Edmonton. (.877), who fired his coach Jay Woodcroft earlier this month.
Plus, you’re only as good as your best players, and the Wild haven’t been much of a factor this season. Kaprizov, the two-time 40-goal scorer, has just six goals in his first 19 games and is a -10. Boldy, scorer of 31 goals last year, has only one goal in 12 games. “Some guys aren’t doing their best,” Evason said Sunday.
Evason was more publicly critical of his best players this season than he was previously during his tenure in Minnesota. It was a sign that he was reaching the end of his rope, both in terms of patience and his work. Some of these meetings were behind closed doors, such as when Evason and his staff challenged his three captains – Kaprizov, Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek (when he used an “A” for the injured Jared Spurgeon) – before practice on the 10th. of November. for a 5-4 win the following night at home against the Rangers, a moment that Foligno said afterward felt like a “season change.” Minnesota also won its next game, on the road against the Islanders on November 7, but has not won since.
Guerin then gave the team what the players called a “kick in the butt,” a “get your sh*t together” speech on Monday before their trip to Sweden for the Global Series. The former Cup champion as a player and manager attacked them, both individually and as a group.
“The most important thing is our level of competition,” Guerin said. The Athletic on November 19. “And look, the guys work hard every night and they care. I know that. But it’s a different kind of competing and focusing. I just don’t think we’ve had he.
“It’s everything from faceoffs and 50-50 puck battles to pure execution, being in position, being in the right spots and tape-to-tape passing. “Everything has to be better.”
The Wild are 0-2-2 since then.
It’s much easier to change a coach than a roster, and that’s especially true for the Wild, who have a group of veterans locked up with no-trade or no-movement clauses. Guerin’s decision to re-sign Foligno, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello in September, in retrospect, looks even worse because of the timing. They could have been valuable chips at the trade deadline if the season had continued to take a nosedive. Now all Minnesota really has left is waiting for unrestricted free agents Pat Maroon and Brandon Duhaime, waiting for restricted free agent Connor Dewar and maybe an underperforming player with a mandate like Jake Middleton.
Firing Evason was Guerin’s last move before the attention focused, and should, on him. Guerin inherited Evason as an assistant coach, but removed the interim head coach tag from him without searching for a coach and ultimately gave him a three-year extension. The acquisitions of Parise and Suter were expected to buy Guerin some time, knowing his roster would be limited due to salary cap impacts. But the coaching change indicates that both Leipold and Guerin are still focused on making this a competitive team. A playoff team.
For a group that hasn’t been able to pull off a win lately despite playing better, that seems like a long shot. It’s not just about the losses, it’s also about how the Wild look and what they say afterward. When a three-time Cup champion like Maroon says Sunday that the team needs to play with more “pride,” that’s a red flag.
The Wild will now play for a new coach. This season-opening slide wasn’t entirely Evason’s fault. This may not seem fair. But to save this season, Minnesota needed more than just line tweaks or exclusive player meetings.
Does hiring Hynes move the needle enough? That’s the card Guerin is willing to play.
(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today)