The Minnesota Wild have now won four games in a row, all regulation wins, by a combined score of 18-5. This came on the heels of a seven-game losing streak, at the end of which the team fired Dean Evason and hired John Hynes as coach.

Now, perhaps the tweaks that Hynes has made - which seem to include slightly more aggressive power-play coverage, and more offensive involvement from the defensemen - have really been game-changers. But the simpler explanation is this: man, the Wild must have HATED Evason.

This is not exactly a unique situation. This happens approximately three times a year in every hockey and soccer league on the planet; there seems to be something about “put the ball/puck in the net” sports that sometimes requires a change in the manager’s office to unlock the team. (I would love to know whether, say, handball teams have this same trouble.)

But the truth of the resurgence is probably summed up in this quote from winger Marcus Foligno, on what the difference is: “Guys away from the puck working twice as hard.”

I simply cannot get over this quote from Foligno, who also said last night after the Wild beat the Flames 5-2, “I give a lot of credit to John.” Foligno is an assistant captain, perhaps now the loudest voice in the Wild locker room, and he - at least mathematically speaking - is saying that his team was giving half effort under the previous coach.

Now the Wild are dominating 5-on-5. They’ve killed 13 of 14 penalties under Hynes, an improvement from previously, when they had the worst penalty kill in the history of professional hockey.

Dig into the numbers, and it would seem that the main message that Hynes has communicated is that the Wild should finish their chances at an above-average rate, while also having their goaltenders stop pucks at an above-average rate. Which does seem to point to a coaching change being necessary; I guess it’s possible that sometimes a team just needs a kick in the butt, a reminder that something is on the line.

Still, though, it’s a lever that can be pulled exactly once. If the Wild don’t keep the ship moving in the right direction, Bill Guerin isn’t just going to be able to fire Hynes and bring in someone else. At that point, there are other levers to pull, most of which are labeled something like “start over entirely.”

MNUFC announces plan to eventually have a plan

Minnesota United FC fired manager Adrian Heath with two games to go in the 2023 regular season. In retrospect, the club was just trying to let Heath leave with some dignity; they’d already decided to make a change, playoffs or no playoffs, and making him coach out the season - and potentially bear the opprobrium from Loons fans at the final home game of the year - seemed slightly unfair.

At the time, though, I thought they might simply be getting a jump on what is a very short offseason. MLS Cup is Saturday, and preseason training begins approximately five weeks from now; I thought they might be ready to execute on their backup plan, to get a new soccer structure in place as quickly as possible so that they could hit the ground running in 2024.

That is… not what’s happening here. The Loons hired Khaled El-Ahmad to be their new director of soccer, but agreed to let him continue working in his current role, as the boss at third-division Barnsley FC in England; they just announced yesterday that he’ll finally be done there in mid-December, and will start with Minnesota after the holidays.

Which is nice staff management and HR work - I like having the holidays off too! - but doesn’t exactly slap you in the face with a sense of urgency for next year.

The Loons also announced that interim head coach Sean McAuley will continue as interim coach into next year, which makes some sense given that El-Ahmad will be hiring the permanent head coach, and hasn’t started his job yet.

Whether any of this makes logistical sense or not, though, you can’t help feeling like the Loons have bungled this one. Heath was fired two months ago today, and yet the Loons have made zero actual progress towards their needed rebuild in 2024. They’ve still got an interim coach and an interim director of soccer (though Manny Lagos is not exactly inexperienced in this role), two months after blowing up everything about the front office, and now they’re already admitting that they won’t have time to get a new head coach in before next season - or at least next preseason - begins.

The Loons do look like they have a lot of pieces in place for next season. Depending on how you feel about Kervin Arriaga and Hassani Dotson as central midfielders, they could probably roll out just their current guys under contract and feel pretty good about their potential. Assuming that Emanuel Reynoso actually shows up at the beginning of next season, and they can integrate Caden Clark into the squad, you can argue that they might already have enough talent to be favored to be a playoff team.

Still, it’s hard to feel too comfortable about this. MNUFC is trying to pull off the same “competitive rebuild” that the Vikings are attempting, and that the Wild have been pushing towards for the last two decades; those franchises, though, didn’t try to do it without actually hiring anyone to be in charge.

PWHL Minnesota: it’s actually happening!

Not only does the league’s website finally seem to work, Minnesota’s pro hockey team actually has a schedule!

It’s a 24-game schedule, beginning in early January and running through the beginning of May. Minnesota will be playing its home games at the Xcel Energy Center; season tickets are on sale now, and for the moment, they seem to be selling the ends of the ice and one entire side of the lower bowl. I would assume that this could expand, based on demand.

Minnesota even is playing some exhibition games this week, in the hockey hotbed of - um - Utica, New York. The home team beat Ottawa 8-4 and Toronto, in scrimmages that include overtime and shootouts no matter what the score. Taylor Heise has three goals in two games, so let’s just go ahead and give her the PWHL Rookie of the Year award, assuming that such an award exists.

It still drives me crazy that this team doesn’t have a name, but at least their website works now, and I can do stuff like looking up box scores. And they have a schedule, and a place to play. So: progress! As league launches go, this one is going pretty well!


Wednesday: WOLVES vs San Antonio, 6:30pm, BSN and also ESPN somehow
Thursday: WILD at Vancouver, 9pm, BSN
Friday: WOLVES at Memphis, 7pm, BSNX
Friday: WILD at Edmonton, 8pm, BSN
Sunday: VIKINGS at Las Vegas, 3:05pm, FOX
Sunday: WILD at Seattle, 8pm, BSN