The Wild surged when their best pure defense, Jonas Brodin, was sidelined.
With top scorer and most valuable player Kirill Kaprizov absent, Wilde performed well.
The driving force behind their move to the top of the Central Division standings, and to the top of the NHL overall, was their doctoral-level research in team building.
Wilde has a gritty, deep, and unified roster.
Dean Evason’s coaching is always demanding, but never harsh or unreasonable.
Above all, Bill Guerin has once again proven that he is a Room Whisperer, a Sultan of Subtlety.
Remember last July when Wild traded Cam Talbot for Philip Gustafson?
It felt more like a move to remove Talbot from the awkwardness of being kicked out of the starter role by Marc-André Fleury than Gustafsson was a quality player.
Now Gustavsson is competing with Fleury to become the Wild’s Game 1 playoff starter. In his last 13 games, he’s 8-1-4, averaging 1.75 goals and a .946 save percentage. Who saw it coming?
At the trade deadline, Guerin have been plagued by salary cap issues and cautious on major asset deals, signing forward Marcus Johansson, who has been in the league for the last few years and hasn’t scored 20 goals since the 2016-17 season. bottom.
Guerin liked his speed and skill and thought playing with Kaprizov could deepen and energize the wildlines he wasn’t getting.
Johansson’s arrival left Matt Boldy on caffeine. Boldi has scored his 40th in his first 62 games this season. He has scored 14 goals in his last 11 games.
The arrival of power forward Ryan Reeves has made the Wilds bigger and tougher, with Reeves contributing occasionally as a scorer. He has scored his 0 points in his 12 games with the Rangers this season. He has 14 points in 53 games with Wild.
Without Kaprizov, Wilde is a unique trick, not hopeless.
Take a look at the player Guerlain dumped: Zach Paris. Ryan Star. Kevin Fiala. Jason Zucker. Alex Starlock. We can say that all are talented and popular.
Somehow, under Guerin, Wild is better off without them.
“I think he knows what works,” Reeves said of Guerin. “He’s played for some really good teams. He knows it’s not just a lot of first-round players that make up a team. It’s grit. It’s skill. It’s Has good defensive defense and some good offensive defense.
“Obviously, we’re doing good goaltending. I think it’s a good blend of everything you need to be a good team.”
Including what hockey folks call a “good room.”
“Everyone in this locker room took me in so easily,” Reeves said. “They made it easier for me to express my individuality. I’m not shy about it, but in the locker room it’s easier to be yourself and then you can go to work.”
Guerin has built the hottest team in the NHL despite having Kaprizov out and likely not coming back until the playoffs and being limited by the contracts of Paris and Suter.
He’s a chef who takes expensive culinary leftovers and creates award-winning stews.
“We have a team,” Evason said. “We don’t have one man. We have a team and the teams play hard for each other. [Kaprizov] There he plays a team game. So I didn’t have to change anything when he left.
“We remained the same. No one is trying to step up and become Kirill Kaprizov. No one is trying to score goals like him. As a collective, we are by nature I will play the way of
Kaprizov’s injury looms. With improvements in goaltending, team defense, and offense, this may be the best recent vintage wild team to make a playoff run.
They’re doing well in the regular season without Kaprizov. Whether they can win the playoff series without him is a question they’d rather remain unanswered.