Minnesota Wild GM Guerin makes bold moves in St. Paul ... or does he?

Marc Elliott

ST. PAUL … Last week there was some minor seismic activity in the sandstone bluffs that the Saintly city sits upon. At least, that’s what some fans believe after Minnesota Wild General Manager Bill Guerin traded star centerman Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres. He then informed Captain Mikko Koivu that the club would not be re-signing him. In reading up on the Wild world’s blogosphere, many fans praised Guerin, especially regarding the Staal trade. Guerin was suddenly being commended for making a “bold move” by some posters. Guerin was “changing the culture” of the team by other fans. One fan stated, “Wily move by Guerin. This move confirms for me that we have the right GM for this team.”

There were more effusive, frosting coated words of love for Guerin, but I couldn’t help but think that these two moves were hardly earth-shakers from my perspective. Were these “bold moves” by Guerin? Not really in my book. Regarding Staal, look, he has been a great player throughout his career. Even closer than farther away from the end of it, he was still putting up decent numbers for the Wild. This past season he appeared in 66 games and had 47 points on 19G and 28A. That’s a .712 ppg average, which is better than quite a few players in this league. But my bottom line is that Staal will turn 36 before the next season commences. He skates like a battleship in a club full of speedboats. The Wild aren’t winning a Stanley Cup next season with him or without him. Simple as that. This was an easy, no-brainer type of maneuver for Guerin.

The return for Staal is centerman Marcus Johannsson. Apart from being younger and quicker than Staal, his contract will cost the team more. His offensive production is at a lesser level than Staals. By all accounts, he is a decent player, a great teammate, and so on. Still, he will do about the same for any Cup hopes the club may have for this upcoming season as Staal would, and that is nothing. I’m not trying to go full pessimist here, but realism is a good thing when it comes to analyzing pro sports. You can paint a barnyard hog gold, and it’s still a barnyard hog. Sorry.

So, are we still talking about a “bold” move here? Some have surmised that Guerin was ridding the team of the locker room “cancers.” I’m not a team locker room insider, but frankly, I’d be quite surprised if that included Staal. However, we don’t really know what we think we know, and reading between the lines can be sketchy most of the time. We will have to wait and see what sort of impact Johannsson has when he gets here.

As for informing the Captain that the team was not bringing him back, is this really a surprise? Not to me. Mikko is 37 and would be 38 before the next season finished up.

Like Staal, he has lost some speed in his skating, and he is at that point, I believe, where not even his “wily veteran” status can run cover for that fact. You can talk about a veteran player being able to take an angle on another player. But that only works if you can arrive at the proper moment to take that angle. I saw a few instances last season where Koivu just wasn’t there. But I have to say something about Mikko if this is it for his career in the National. As the team’s long time Captain and the leader in many individual records, this player-defined what it was to be a Wild player. He cared, his dedication to his game, and the team set the pace for others who have worn the green sweater in the State of Hockey.

I send him every bit of gratitude and thanks he should receive and deserves. I’ve observed the blogs and reader comments sections in the newspapers since the team commenced play. A subset of fans has long complained about Koivu and what he brought or didn’t bring to the team.

This has irked me ad nauseum for a long time. This fan angst is misplaced in my view. If you want to get a read on how good a player is or isn’t at this level, keep an eye out for comments from opposing players, coaches, GM’s and scouts. Then you can develop a good profile of what a specific player can do while on the ice. Koivu has had the universal respect of all of those four entities I just listed for you. They’ll say that he has been one of the top 5 two-way players in the game for years, that he is sneaky on offense, and you never know when he just might score one of his colossal shootout goals. I’ll take the word of these qualified individuals who know what they are talking about over that of some cranky fan from Hastings. Get real.

Sure, Koivu wasn’t all flash and dash. He possesses little of those in his game. He’s just a pretty good everyman type, a steady eddy supreme. Some fans have long complained about him being the Captain. OK. I get it. They whined about him having the typical Scandinavian reserve and said he wasn’t a rah-rah guy. Well, you are right. Those things are not Koivu’s style whatsoever.

If you wanted a guy who would carry the milk and deliver the mail, though, he was your huckleberry. There is often no glory or kudos in playing defense or killing penalties. Koivu did them both as good as anyone in the game in his NHL tenure. And if you want to win in this league, those kinds of players are imperative. If you have been a Koivu hater over the years, shame on you. You just might not understand the game as much as you think you do. I’m likely not at a genius-expert level when it comes to this game I love, but I’ve seen thousands of NHL games. I say Mikko Koivu was one of the outstanding players I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Thanks, Mikko; if this is it, enjoy your retirement. And if it was my call, your sweater would be the first in Wild history to go to the rafters …

WELL, AS I THOUGHT, the Dallas Stars meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. And as many others thought, based on the Stars getting some extra “rest” before the series began, the Stars took a 4-1 win to the bank in Game one. Tomorrow eve, we will see if that was just a bump in the Bolts’ road or if the Stars are for real! Don’t be surprised if Dallas takes a 2-0 lead into G3 … PEACE