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“I never said we were rebuilding” – Twin Cities

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With fewer than 20 games on the schedule this season, Bill Guerin made two trades and changed head coaches, introducing John Hynes on Tuesday to replace the fired Dean Evason.

“I always said if I could make the team better, I would,” the Wild general manager said. “I would really like to give this group the opportunity to do that.”

In mid-November, Guerin traded defenseman Calen Addision to San Jose for a low-end prospect and draft pick, and replaced him with veteran Zack Bogosian, whom he acquired in a draft deal with Tampa Bay.

Both decisions were made early to prevent the Wild from slipping away in the 2023-24 season. Minnesota entered Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center with a 5-10-4 record and a seven-game losing streak.

That’s why Evason was fired Monday, hours after a 4-1 loss at Detroit.

One thing Guerin can’t trade or trade is the Wild’s small salary cap space, which according to capfriendly.com was only $39,855 after the team recalled forward Vinni Lettieri on Tuesday.

That’s just 5.2 percent of the NHL’s $755,000 minimum salary.

The main reason, everyone knows by now, is that the Wild suffered a loss of $14.7 million linked to the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It will be more of the same next year, although the team should have some cap space to make a free agent deal or two this summer.

For now, however, not only does Guerin have no chance of signing a new player, he can only call up an Iowa player who meets the league minimum. Further crippling is a list that includes eight no-trade or no-move clauses.

Largely the same team finished last regular season with 46 wins and 103 points.

“But I also said that the expectation is for this team to win, and it will stay that way whether the cap is empty or not,” Guerin said. “That’s our goal, to win.”

Among the players with restricted movement clauses are struggling forwards Marcus Johansson (one goal in 19 games) and Freddy Gauedreau (no points in nine games), as well as two other veterans who could help a team at the deadline exchanges, such as defender Alex Goligoski and goalkeeper Marc-André Fleury.

Guerin, however, does not plan to sell at the deadline. And neither did Hynes.

“I’m excited to coach this group.” Hynes said. “I think when you look at the dynamic of the team, there’s skill, there’s size, there’s speed, there’s good goaltending. I think this is a group you can win with.

Five players on the roster will be unrestricted free agents after the season: Fleury, Goligoski and forwards Pat Maroon and Brandon Duhaime. The rest of the team has largely been done for some time after forwards Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Johansson and Ryan Hartman signed contract extensions this fall.

That means the Wild are tied to the current core, which also includes promising young players such as defenseman Brock Faber and center Marco Rossi.

“I never said we were rebuilding,” Guerin said. “If we do that and get rid of players, things like that, then you’ll have to rebuild your team – and you take the risk of having guys you don’t like as much.

“I like these guys. I think they have been great contributors and will continue to be. We’re going to continue to filter through the younger players as we go along and you need some veteran guys. If you have a team full of young people, it’s a rebuild.

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