Baseball season is in full swing and heading towards the playoffs, football is just starting to get rolling which is a reminder to hockey fans that their season is just around the corner. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman once said, “Hockey fans are special,” and he’s 100% correct, hockey fans are a different breed and even though they still may be enjoying the pleasant outdoor weather they can’t wait to get back to the rink.
One of the great privileges of having a platform is the opportunity to give others a chance to speak and share their views. Some of the most insightful commentary on sports that I’ve ever heard has come from fans, the people who follow their team as close as anyone and put their blood, sweat, tears and money to support their favorite club.
In what has become an annual tradition for my blog is when I ‘pass the mic’ so to speak to a panel of 7 Wild fans to hear what their thoughts and expectations are for the upcoming season. All of their responses have not been edited and they will not have seen the responses of the other participants until I publish this article.
One of these days I promise to invite them down for a beer at Tom Reid’s Hockey City pub or some other place like that and do this in person. I would like to thank all of them for their time, effort and passion for the game to participate in an article like this.
To start it off, let’s meet the respondents who have provided a short bio of themselves so you get to know who they are and then we’ll start with our first two questions.
Johan (@mnjohan) ~ My name is Johan Gumaelius, a native of Sweden but a starter Minnesotan when I attended St. Cloud Cathedral as an exchange student in 1985-86. I then became a full time Minnesotan after I went to college at St. Cloud State and graduated in the mid 90’s and have lived here ever since. I’m a Wild season ticket holder since the beginning. I’ve been involved with hockey basically since I could walk/skate both as a player, youth coach and even dabbled in the equipment area for a bit. My active playing career ended when I was cut as a walk on at St. Cloud my freshman year in the fall of 1989. I continued to play in bar leagues both in St. Cloud and later in the Twin Cities area. I’ve been blessed with many friends that have made hockey their career which have given me an opportunity to peak under the hood so to say of this great game at its highest level both on the player and coaching side. When it comes to the Wild I’m mostly an optimist but try to stay as level headed as possible.
Jodi (@jodi_halvy) ~ My name is Jodi, I have been a Minnesota Wild season ticket holder for the last 16 years with my dad. We share a passion for hockey, and even through the ups and downs of cheering for a franchise that tends to disappoint, we are still huge Wild fans! We both fall in to the trap of consistently being overly optimistic about this team and then watching them unravel at different points throughout the season, we will continue to show up for the State of Hockey though!
Aaron (@AngryFinn)~ Former host of the podcast 3 In The Box. Currently spend his time making music under the name ZMODEM and dabbling in AI-generated Art.
Joey (@joeyawaijane)~ My name is Joey Awaijane, I’m a 43 year old, born and raised in Golden Valley Minnesota. I’ve loved hockey my whole life, but didn’t become a full-time fan until approximately the 1990-1991 season, when the Minnesota North Stars coincidentally went on their Cup finals run. The North Stars leaving in 1993 scarred me for life, as I’m still one of those old timers wanting the Wild to adopt the old name, or at least resurrect the original green and gold color scheme. Despite the North Stars leaving, my love for the game just grew, and when the “ Minnesota NHL Team” was approved in 1997, I went berserk! Many years later in August 2008, I started the Brave The Wild podcast, things didn’t start out all so well, as I learned the hard way that there’s more to talking hockey on a podcast than just being a “knowledgeable fan”, and the numbers stayed low for years. In time, I got better, as did the Wild with the signings of you know who, so the numbers went up gradually ever since. I also have dabbled a bit in writing with “Gone Puck Wild” but have been M.I.A. for awhile in that department. One of these days I’ll dip my pen back in the ink dispenser, if it hasn’t totally dried up by then.
Tim (@Timnado) ~ I’m a thick-skinned 40-something Wild fan perpetually waiting for ‘Next Year’ since 2003. I maintain a foxhole at Summit Brewing along West 7th in the event that a Parade ever materializes. Drop me a line at @Timnado if you like your hockey takes with a healthy dose of satire. Cheers!
Justin (@deast2004) ~ My name is Justin Bakke. I am a lifelong Minnesota sports fan and huge hockey nut. As a kid I grew up with the North Stars. My time with them was brief though, since I was 7 when they left. From that point on I was mainly a UMD Bulldog fan. Growing up in Duluth that was the closest thing and I went to many games. The pro team I became a fan of between Minnesota franchises was the Colorado Avalanche, Joe Sakic was my idol as a hockey player. I not only was a huge hockey fan, but I also grew up playing through the Duluth East system through Bantams. Currently, I am a huge Minnesota Wild fan and run or help run multiple pages. Most commonly are the Sound the Foghorn Podcast, Kaprizov Kountdown, and MN W Young Guns. My wife and I get to as many games as we can. I am a hockey dad of 2 hockey players and have a third that seems primed to play when he is older, too. Needless to say, hockey is deeply entrenched in my family and life.
Brian ~ I’m Brian Felska and have been a long time hockey fan at all levels. Growing up in out state Minnesota in the 50’s and 60’s where it was tough to participate in hockey as a school sport. The only school teams were in the metropolitan area or in northern Minnesota. We did spend a lot of time at the rink skating, shooting, and playing pickup games. We had very little formal coaching but did have rec. teams from junior high on. Seasonal high school sports took the spotlight but I did manage to play some hockey in my senior high years. When I was in college the St. Cloud State program was in its infancy just switching from club to a varsity sport. Even then the players shoveled their own rinks. I was lucky enough to coach some peewee teams before starting a family. I have always enjoyed the speed and physically of sports so hockey was I game I loved.
Minnesota Wild Fans Speak: 2022-23 Pre-Season Edition, Part 2 of 3
Minnesota Wild Fans Speak: 2022-23 Pre-Season Edition, Part 3 of 3
1. How confident are you in the Minnesota Wild organization at this point in time? Are they on the right track or not? What is your biggest concern for this team in the next 2-3 years?
Johan ~ I’m very confined in the current Wild organization and absolutely think they are on the right track even with the current cap crunch due to the #11&20 buyouts. Their talent pool is well stocked and seem to have the right people in place to be able to usher these young players to the next level. I do think managing a NHL hockey team is a little like steering a canoe down a river through the rapids, you need to have the right person in the back to put the canoe in the right direction and try to avoid the challenges that the rapids throw at you and you never truly know what you will encounter. My biggest concern the next 2-3 years are serious long term injuries to any of out most important players. Without the cap space it might be hard to pick up any reinforcement if it’s needed. On the other hand it might give younger players the opportunity to surprise us before we think they are ready.
Jodi ~ I feel pretty confident in where this Minnesota Wild organization currently is, and in the direction we are headed. I like that the front office seems to have a clear idea of the direction they want this team to go in. I actually believe that this management group could get us further in the playoffs and maybe, dare I say, a legitimate Stanley Cup run!?!? My one concern is that the coaches and front office give these young kids a fair shot. We all know we are in salary cap hell for a couple of years still, and I’d rather see young players get a shot instead of random bottom 3 guys getting signed just because they have experience.
Aaron ~ I think in general, Wild General Manager Bill Guerin is doing what he can to get out from under the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter contracts, and this not only hamstrings him financially, but also just in terms of trading partners and who he can keep. My biggest concern would be surrounding Kirill Kaprizov with the talent needed to make him the most effective player he can be.
Joey ~ I am fairly confident in this organization, considering who is at the helm, from GM Bill Guerin to Judd Brackett. Guerin has shown guts, time and time again in tough situations, and doesn’t panic, where as in multiple cases has come out much better off than previous admistration’s would have, particularly in the past three trades involving Jack McBain (2nd round pick), Fiala (Brock Faber and Liam Ohgren, 19th overall pick) and even Cam Talbot (Filip Gustavsson, 11 years younger). Judd Brackett is another huge asset in the organization, as a super draft scout, as the athletic has regarded the Minnesota Wild prospect stable as one of the best in the entire NHL, compared to where it was just a few years ago, under the checkered past of Chuck Fletcher. The biggest concern I have going forward the next few years would be a combination of the salary cap, along with certain players staying healthy, as a few of them have certainly had some repeated bad luck at the very least, ala Daemon Hunt, Marat Khusnutdinov, and Carson Lambos to name a few, who in my opinion are crucial to the future of this team.
Tim ~ I am very confident that the Wild are on a successful trajectory. My biggest current concern is our goaltending situation, specifically for the upcoming season. The squad has made a sizable investment in a tender that is on the back 3 of his career. Additionally, the immediate backup has proven nothing more than TBD at this point. Looking beyond next year, I am not 100% sold on Dean Evason and his support staff. He may have just been in the right place at the right time, reaping the accolades that come with the best Wild regular season to date. He needs to demonstrate that he can make effective course corrections when adversity strikes.
Justin ~ I am generally an optimist that can also see where things are. I am very confident in this organization at this point in time. I do feel they are on the right track. I will say cap hell is something that is going to make the next 2-3 years tough. We have already seen some cap casualties because of it, most notably Kevin Fiala. I do however feel that the return we got will pay dividends in the future. My confidence comes from management. We are seeing a different culture than we have ever seen. I feel like we are not only building a good front office, but also good scouting (Judd Brackett), prospects, and roster. We have some great young players in Kaprizov and Boldy. We have a lot of young talent set to hopefully make impacts. Marco Rossi and Calen Addison seem to be the more recent ones set to be infused. One thing that also came to mind was how well we are off cap-wise considering the buyouts. We are in a better position than a lot of teams even with the penalties. It gives me lots of hope for when we are out of this, too. I would say the concern I would have in the next 2-3 years would be prospects not panning out since we are counting on them, especially once cap hell is over. Some consider us to be very competitive on paper on the other side of this. I truly think it will happen, but until we get there we won’t know.
Brian ~ Last year they were at a point where they needed to re-calibrate and I thought they did. I thought most of their moves were positive. Obviously, signing Kaprizov long term was a gem. We have never had such a dynamic player, who does everything so well and doesn’t disappear in the playoffs. To me, the biggest blunder was to bring in Marc-Andre Fleury and let him play most of the first round. It was almost like Guerin thought he’d bring us instant success in the playoffs. Cam Talbot got you there and he was playing well!
2. Last year, the Wild finished with a franchise best 113 points and for the first time ever they had a player reach 100 points with Kirill Kaprizov. Did their season last year vindicate Wild General Manager Bill Guerin‘s decision to buyout Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? Did it prove culture was holding this team back, why or why not?
Johan ~ First of all I don’t at all believed that last seasons results and Kirill’s great season was needed to vindicate Billy G in any way. The uncertainty of the potential claw back cap hit alone made this decision really a no brainer when you think of it. To me it just seemed that there was a different more “loose” attitude among the team last season. Was this the reason several players had career years, I’m not sure but I don’t think it hurt. Now if they repeat it this year again I’m more willing to say the culture might helped in improving this teams performance.
Jodi ~ Absolutely it vindicated Bill Guerin’s decision to buy them out. We knew that these contract were always going to feel like a ball and chain near the end of the term, especially without this group making a serious cup run. I don’t like exclusivity and elitist behavior and I feel like Parise and Suter are prime examples of guys who did their jobs well, but did not lead this club at all. It’s fine if you’re not a rah rah guy, or a team bonding guy, but then you better not be wearing an A on your jersey. Obviously we are not in the locker room, but if you’ve played on a competitive sports team you can kind of get a feel for the dynamics when the leadership in your locker room doesn’t really care about anyone but themselves. I feel culture was definitely holding this team back. Again, I’m not in the ‘room’, but the people I trust that are around the players all felt, and reported that there were issues in the locker room with exclusive behavior. I also never liked that Suter had the GM in his back pocket, and I am very happy we are not trotting out #20 on the power play anymore.
Aaron ~ It totally justifies it and any of the hand wringing over the extension to Kirill Kaprizov. As for culture, I’m not sure that that was what was holding the team back, but in hindsight it’s obvious now that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were no longer good fits, whether due to culture or just overall play.
Joey ~ I do believe buying our Ryan Suter and Zach Parise was the right move for this franchise, the sad truth is, the Wild would be on the hook with their cap hit anyway for a long time, this ultimately got some toxic behavior out of the lockeroom and off the ice, once and for all (especially Suter). It was amazing how many times Dean Evason took shots at what was going on previously, with guys worrying about ice time and stats, in many a post-game press conference. We all have put up with some ridiculously selfish/self absorbed co-workers in the past, so imagine this in an NHL franchise. Evason made sure to say that none of that BS was going on anymore, and that there was a true team atmosphere.
Tim ~ Yes, for the time being, Bill Guerin’s plan to buy-out the $98 million Wonder Twins looks like a stroke of genius, especially in this era of the Flat Cap. Also, while I do think the aging duo were a hindrance to a healthy locker room culture, I don’t think last year’s success had much to do with the buyouts/culture change. Alternatively, I think KK’s ascendance to super-stardom (1), the emergence of the GREEF line (2), and the immediate dividends of the Fiala-Boldy pairing were the dominant factors. Less important was the fact that new leaders were able to take the Conch in the locker room.
Justin ~ I am a firm believer that buying those 2 players out was a good move whether we finished with the 113 points or not. More so Ryan Suter than Zach Parise. There are a lot of rumors that he wasn’t great in the locker room. It was a move that bought us another year of Kevin Fiala, which turned out to be the 2nd best season in Wild history in terms
of points. I think it did vindicate Bill Guerin’s decision with the culture change alone. It was the most fun I had watching a Wild season I can remember since the WCF run. Last year’s team was obviously much more electric than that WCF team. It didn’t end how we wanted it to, but it sure was a blast to watch. I do feel culture was one thing holding this team back. There were rumors that the old regime of players basically had the locker room divided. The young guys were trusted much more now. It was great to see how much fun that locker room had. The new leadership makes players that come in comfortable. We saw young players in roles that may not have been in the past. Heck it
seems like the social media, fan relations, and in game experience were more involved and better, too. There is such a different vibe and I am a fan of it.
Brian ~ I think there is no doubt that culture improved dramatically last year. You could hear it anytime the players talked about team chemistry. You could also see it on the ice with the improved play without those two players. I don’t think that happens with Parise and Suter on the roster. Now the tough part starts, when you try to compete and improve, without any cap space.
What are your thoughts on the Minnesota Wild this season? Tell us on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!