ST PAUL, Minn. — It's been an unusually long off-season for the Minnesota Wild.
After a six-year run of consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearances, the Wild stumbled late and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Minnesota finished 37-36-9 and last in the Central Division - the team's worst record since acquiring Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the 2012 off-season.
While players and personnel may say they've been looking ahead for months, tonight marks the first peek fans get into the Wild's future.
The puck drops on the new season - well, preseason - tonight at 7 p.m. against division rival Dallas at the Xcel Energy Center.
The team will have a much different look than it did a year ago after trading away some familiar names during the course of last season, which included Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, while adding players such as Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato. Minnesota also signed Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman as off-season free agents, but perhaps the biggest roster shuffle came in the front office.
After just one year, the Wild cut ties with General Manager Paul Fenton and supplanted him with Bill Guerin, a former Stanley Cup winning player and Assistant GM with a winning resume.
As with any change in personnel, optimism is met with plenty of speculation.
Guerin has never been a GM of an NHL team. He held the position with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - AHL affiliate for the Pittsburgh Penguins - but this will be his first time leading an NHL franchise.
He takes over a team that has plenty of NHL experience, but lacks much postseason prowess. The Wild haven't escaped the first round of the playoffs since the 2015-16 season, and haven't reached the conference finals since 2002-03.
What will it take to get back to the postseason, and sustain a run like back in 2003?
First, the Wild will need to stay healthy. Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu's season-ending injuries were too much for the team to overcome, especially in the long run. Dumba has said he's ready to go and Koivu is making positive strides for an early-season return, but maintaining their health is going to be key.
Another major factor will be how some of the new pieces fit with the team. Coming off a 28-goal, 61-point campaign a year ago - both team highs - Parise should be an offensive cornerstone for the Wild once again. According to The Athletic's Michael Russo, the Wild will debut their line of Parise, Donato and Zuccarello.
There will be plenty more to evaluate as the preseason progresses, and tonight certainly won't dictate how the 2019-20 season will unfold, but it will give fans a look at some of the new faces... and a reminder of what some of the more familiar ones can bring.