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Wild General Manager Guerin sees a challenge overcome, ‘not a failure’

The Wild were sacked from the playoffs in their first series for a seventh consecutive time.

They haven't moved on to the second round in eight years, and what's stalled them previously is still holding them back.

But General Manager Bill Guerin does not consider the Wild's performance a failure.

"Did we reach our ultimate goal?" Guerin said. "We did not. But the season's not a failure."

Although the franchise hasn't advanced in its seven postseason appearances over the past eight seasons, this current lineup wasn't involved in all those early exits.

That's the distinction Guerin made Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center when he reflected on the team that was eliminated Friday by Dallas in six games.

"We have a lot of new players," Guerin said. "We have a lot of young players who are just getting going, and they weren't a part of that. We're going to write our own narrative, but that's not the narrative for this team.

"I understand it is frustrating, but I refuse to hold our players that are new here responsible for what's happened in the past."

Guerin referred to not playing past the first round as disappointing but stressed that getting to Round 2 isn't the goal and that winning one series doesn't seal a Stanley Cup.

"It'd be awesome to get to the second round," he explained. "It would. But that's not what we're building towards here.

"We're trying to build something bigger than that, and sometimes there's pain involved."

What irked Guerin about the playoffs was that the Wild's mistakes weren't new.

Their penalty kill and power play undermined the team in last year's playoffs against St. Louis, and they remained detrimental vs. Dallas in that best-of-seven. Offense also returned to the hot seat, with the Wild's top three point-getters in the regular season — Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello and Matt Boldy — combining for just three goals.

"We took too many penalties, and when we did we struggled on the kill," Guerin said. "We didn't have our top guys scoring. It's tough."

Still, Guerin felt the players and coaching staff deserved credit for "fighting with one hand tied behind their back," which is how he described the team's salary-cap limitations.

This season was the first in which the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter ate up a significant chunk of the Wild's payroll, almost $13 million, and the team is going to lose even more flexibility in the upcoming offseason when the cost of those buyouts increases to nearly $15 million.

"We don't apologize for it," Guerin said. "It's fine. We're fine with it, but I think our players and our team have done a fantastic job of just ignoring that and just kind of moving on and playing hockey."

If the Wild had that money available to spend on players, "we'd be a better team," Guerin acknowledged, but he pointed to the budget-friendly acquisitions the Wild made before the NHL trade deadline as the type of spending they'll have to do in the meantime.

After already re-signing one of those in-season pickups, the team announcing a two-year, $4 million contract extension for Marcus Johansson on Tuesday, the Wild have around $8 million in cap space to work with, according to CapFriendly.com. That's with only 15 regulars signed and the likes of goaltender Filip Gustavsson, defenseman Calen Addison and forward Brandon Duhaime up for new deals; Matt Dumba is among the group eligible to test free agency.

Team brass has salaries in mind for certain players, and those on cheaper contracts — whether it be a rookie like Brock Faber or a veteran — will be key to assembling the Wild's roster.

Even so, the Wild still may have to make decisions to free up more money.

These circumstances are the Wild's reality and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, but that's not the only business on their radar.

"We're going to move forward and keep trying to get better and continue to try to build a team that can compete for a championship," Guerin said. "I think we're doing a lot of good things on and off the ice, and one day we'll get there."