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EAGLE MTN… The Stanley Cup has been won and hoisted and I got a slight sense of relief, along with a few laughs, when my total guess of a headline last week did come true. The STL Blues commandeered last weeks Game 7 with a dominating performance besting the Boston Bruins 4-1 for a 4-3 series win. There was a parade down in the Gateway City Saturday and while I haven’t seen an official crowd estimate yet, I have heard that between 300 to 500k fans were in attendance. I have already outlined that I am neither a Blues or Bruins fan based upon prior team allegiances, but I must state here that I was going with STL all the way and I am quite happy for them that they finally won themselves a Cup. It was another scintillating tourney and now I am looking forward to about a 3-month break (only to avoid burnout so I will continue to love the game) and have taken in a few baseball games since the season has concluded. I still long for the day that I can say a Minnesota based NHL team has won the greatest trophy in the World.
But that day will have to wait. At the end of the Minnesota Wild season I wrote that I would get around to a post season review of them and of their just ended campaign and honestly, as the SC tourney went on I got into that so deeply that thinking about the Wild and their crash landing of a season became less and less of a priority or even a want. I didn’t have the will to examine them and offer up an opinion on them. And now, two months plus after their season ended, I can’t say my ambition to dissect them has grown any. But they are my team and the ones I follow the most in-depth in the league, so I have tried to muster up the juice to dig into them. As far as last season went, at this point I don’t see a lot of reason to pick through all their stats and individual performance data and the like. Rather, I feel more of a desire to look ahead and I must tell you folks, it isn’t a pretty picture, at least at the moment it’s not. And the concerning part is that it might not be good for several seasons into the future.
The reality is that the team went from needing only “a couple of tweaks” to crash landing over a scant few months. When owner Craig Leipold dismissed former GM Chuck Fletcher after the team was knocked from the playoffs by Winnipeg in a 4-1 series beatdown, he specifically went about finding a GM candidate that would embrace his theory that the team was closer to Cup contention then further from it. He found him in old acquaintance and former employee Paul Fenton. Fenton worked for Leo when he owned a piece of the Nashville club. Fenton was Dave Poiles assistant with the Preds and perhaps he wanted his first crack at a GM position so badly that he forgot to tell Leo the truth in the interview process; your team needs much more then tweaks Craig. That would have been the proper thing to do. But, the “tweaks” mantra carried forth.
Fenton came in and there weren’t any earth-shaking changes to the roster prior to the start of the season. There were some low-level free agent pickups, but no one that was going to alter the direction of the team. The Iowa Wild roster was filled out and bolstered a bit and that was that. The season kicked off after a 2-4-1 preseason and the team was 7-3-2 for October. It wasn’t until later in the month that the team picked up steam. November was a 7-6 showing. An emotional Thanksgiving win over the Jets was followed by two stinging defeats at the hands of Arizona and Columbus. The club stood at 14-9-2. Then the fateful month of December and the start of the end of the season and of the team as we knew it. After two weakness exposing defeats in the province of Alberta, the team would come home and post two wins versus MON and FLA before a day that turned the season on its head. In a tilt that was being billed as a “revenge” game against CAL, Matt Dumba would be lost for the season from an injury incurred in a fight in the 1st period, and the game was lost as well. The month would end with a 4-8-1 record.
The club showed some resurgence going 8-4-0 in January ending the month slightly over .500 at 26-21-3. After the ASG break and the team’s bye-week they kicked off February with 3 straight losses, one of which would cost the team Captain Mikko Koivu for the season with a torn ACL. The team posted a 5-6-3 record ending at 31-27-6, under .500 now. In addition, Fenton concluded that it was time to part ways with longtime roster occupants Neidereitter, Coyle and Granlund, weakening the roster substantially. It was fair of Fenton to determine that the roster as constructed was not going to contend for a Cup. Any rational analyst or fan wouldn’t disagree. On the other hand, at least in my view, what Fenton mustered in return was weak to say the least. The only possible “player” he got back was 22-year-old Kevin Fiala, obtained from the Preds for Granlund, an established player for a guy who hasn’t proven himself yet. Worst of all it was a player for player deal. And Ryan Donato, obtained in the Coyle trade, might turn into a player, but he appears to be quite streaky and my jury is out on him.
It was at this point that the buildup I was feeling about Fenton being in over his head came to a crescendo. Without belaboring the entire matter much more, when he selected Filip Johansson with the teams 1st round pick (#24) last summer, I had a feeling the future of the team may be in jeopardy. Johansson, a good young man by all accounts was the 10th ranked Euro skater, but on most combined lists (Euro/NorthAmer) he wasn’t even in the top 60. This was my first red flag. I didn’t expect much in the free agent signing period, as always, the team was cap space poor. There were roster filler type signings before camp and away we went. Post trades the team became noticeably worse. The loss of Dumba hurt, he was on his way to perhaps his best season as a pro. I am a Koivu fan but the loss of a slow 35-year-old center shouldn’t torch your season. Next week, I’ll expound on the trades, what is at Iowa and what is in the pipeline. Warning; it’s not good. Wed eve, the NHL Awards, and Friday eve, the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, 1st Round. Can’t wait! PEACE