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BEAR RIVER… As I write it has been a scant 77 days since the dismissal of former Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton. That doesn’t mean that the scrutiny of Fenton and his ill fated tenure have been left behind. Rather, considering how the fresh season has begun for the boys in Green, the actual hard core analysis is probably only beginning. Since last week’s column the team dropped two more games, losing a 5-2 decision in Winnipeg last Thursday eve, and then a harsh 7-4 facewash of a game in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Up in the Peg’ the Wild actually scored
first before giving up two tallies to the Jets, but did come back to tie the contest at 2 early in the 3rd frame before the Jets reeled off two quick scores in the middle of the period 28 seconds apart to effectively doom the Wild and their chances at a win. The Jets finished up with an ENG by Patrick Laine to finalize the outcome.
On Saturday night the club had their home opener against the Pens and after falling behind 1-0 in the 1st on a Patrick Hornqvist score, and then 2-0 early in the 2nd on a Sid Crosby goal the Wild got one back 32 seconds later on a Jason Zucker tally. The Pens rattled off 3 straight goals to take a 5-1 lead before Jared Spurgeon scored to make it 5-2 later in the period. At this point though, the game was effectively over. On a side note the Pens third marker was scored by Hibbing native and former UMD star Adam Johnson and it was his first NHL goal. He would later add an assist for a 2 point game. St. Pauler Jake Guentzel would make it 6-2 for the Pens in the 3rd before two quick tallies by the Wild in the mid-period 21 seconds apart deceptively made
it 6-4, but the Pens finished the scoring with an ENG late for a 7-4 final and an 0-4 start to the Wild’s season.
This afternoon (Monday) as Canada celebrated it’s Thanksgiving the team competed in Ottawa and came away with their first victory in a 2-0 decision over the Senators. Former UMD netminder Alex Stalock got the shutout. Much maligned and normally healthy scratched Victor Rask got the GWG in the 3rd frame and Zach Parise added an ENG for the final score. This was Rask’s second consecutive tilt and I would have to say he has acquitted himself well. He made it onto the lineup card due to a LBI to Mats Zuccarello, who was left back in the Twin Cities for the eastern road trip. Without this situation I can’t say if Rask would have got playing time or not. The guy is certainly the underdog here though, so I am happy for him that he had a good game. He also won a crucial faceoff later in the game.
On Tuesday eve the club will play the Maple Leafs in Toronto before engaging Montreal Thursday night there. The Leafs aren’t fully on their game yet, and the Canadiens, at 2-1-2 aren’t either, but are faring better then the Wild and have shown some tremendous resiliency in two of their games. I feel as if the Wild would be lucky to achieve a split in these two games. The team will complete the week with a matinee return match with the Canadiens in St. Paul on Sunday. The Habs will be on the tailend of a back to back after meeting the Blues in STL on Saturday.
The Wild are 1-4 for 2 points of a possible 10. Is this how the season will play out? I think the team will play better as the season progresses, but how much better is a huge question. They likely aren’t going to score a lot, they have shown inconsistency on defense which leads to problems between the pipes. And this leads us back to Fenton. I believe that when owner Craig Leipold entered into the hiring phase post firing Chuck Fletcher that he had already made up his mind that Fenton was the guy. The interview process and window shopping a couple of other candidates was a frivolous formality for the public and the media. He stated that he would not entertain a person who wanted a “rebuild” believing that the team was mere “tweaks” from competitive nirvana and Cup heaven. Since Leo and Fenton already had a pre-established relationship, I believe he told Leo what he wanted to hear, likely
knowing in the back of his mind that tweaks weren’t going to cut it with this roster. And then he went about turning this team into the losing bottom dweller they are probably going to be this year, and for who knows how many afterward.
Since then, the teams core veterans suddenly got real old and slow looking, Fenton gutted the middle of the roster via trades that he got little back for in the likes of players or picks, and through years of poor draft position, or from the results of his trades, the bottom six forward group quickly became inexperienced and lacks any real scoring punch. After Marcus Foligno and the now often scratched Nick Seeler, the team lacks anyone who is going to scare other teams from taking physical advantage of the club, so some teams are doing just that. Devan Dubnyk and Stalock are adequate in goal, but aren’t stars and do depend on the team playing some defense in front of them, which has been spotty thus far.
The team is last in their division, and next to last in the Western Conference, 30th of 31 in the NHL’s overall league standings. It’s early, but it’s late. Too late to probably change the course of what this season is going to be. A stink bomb-ola. Whether on purpose, or through blind luck, maybe that’s what Fenton had in mind. Because if you want that top lottery draft pick and the chance to get a player who will alter your team’s future for the next decade, you have to be eligible to be in it. I think the Wild are going to succeed at that… PEACE
THE ATHLETIC, (10/14) 22nd, trending for 86 points with a 29% playoff chance. THE SAGARIN, (10/15) 27th on a 1-4 record, 0-3 vs top 10, 0-4 vs top 16, 4th in difficulty of schedule. NHL STANDINGS; 7th in the CENTRAL, 1-4 overall for 2 points. 12GF, 21GA, -9 Diff. 0-1-0 @H, 1-3-0 @A. 1-4 in L10, with 1W streak. 24th in GF, (12) 22nd in GA, (21) 20th on the PP, (17.6%) 10th on the PK, (84.2%) and 19th in PIM’s @ 46