Wild Fall To Blackhawks 4 Games To 1, Ending Season! The Post Mortem Is… Here! (Part One)

Marc Elliott

EAST BEAVER BAY… The Wild’s season came to an unceremonious end last Thursday eve at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks won the game 5-1 and punched their ticket to the second round of the Stanley Cup tourney. The Wild put up a fight in Game 1 before ultimately losing in OT 2-1. If not for a pesky crossbar in the extra session, the Wild could have won that tilt. The Hawks came back with a 5-2 drubbing before the Wild took Game 3 in St. Paul by a 3-2 score. The Hawks wrapped up the series with a 3-0 shutout and then the 5-1 finale.

The Wild had their work cut out for them from the start. Netminder Niklas Backstrom went down in the Game 1 warm-up with what was later diagnosed as a sports hernia, forcing the club to bring in backup Josh Harding. Most fans are aware of Harding’s MS diagnosis from last fall and his struggle to get his medication levels right. Harding has played some brilliant hockey for the club in the past, but I can’t imagine he is at 100 percent at this juncture. I admire him and count myself a fan, but both he and the Wild were outmatched in this series.

But oddly enough, if the club had got the upset in Game 1, thus negating home ice for the Hawks, things may have turned out a bit better for the locals. In the end, this was just not a good matchup for the Wild at this point. Instead of going over play-by-play analysis relative to single games, I would rather take a different viewpoint of the club based on a roster breakdown. At the end of the day, you have got to have the personnel to get your , team into its “Cup window,” and in my humble opinion this club, while in a better place than they were a year ago, has made minimal progress.

My comparisons extend to a ten-player “core group” (6 forwards, 3 defense and 1 goalie), an exam of the 1-6 forwards, the 6-12 spot forwards, the 1-6 defensemen, and the 2 goalies on the big league roster. Additionally, since the NHL is in a “Cap era” and that number is going down next season, finances are important. From here on out, player “values” are going to be more and more important, at least until the owners figure out how to game the new CBA rules!

If Chicago and Pittsburgh are the gold standards of roster quality right now, then it is reasonable to state that the Wild, in barely making it into the tourney this year, would rank in the neighborhood of 15th to 20th in overall roster strength. I say that because they could have just as easily been out of the tourney as in. Remember they didn’t make it in until the final day of the season, and I believe that the next two teams in each conference that didn’t get in were at least as good as the Wild.
So, I would consider a team with a roster quality placing them in the top six teams to be in their Cup window. I’ll use a depth chart from a popular hockey web site as my comparable. They have listed the Wild’s 1-6 forwards as Parise, Coyle, Bouchard, Zucker, Koivu, and Clutterbuck. While I don’t necessarily agree with that order, let’s go with it. Bear in mind that Bouchard has played out his contract. He got $4.3 mil this season, tallied 20 points in 43 games (8G & 12A), and was a plus 3. I feel that PMB didn’t represent value (that is, production for the contract amount), is somewhat of an undersized forward, and seemed to play tentatively, perhaps due to his history of head trauma.  

Clutterbuck got 10 points in 42 games and was a minus 5 for a $1.7 mil contract. Again, no value, and I don’t see him as a 1-6 forward, not even on this roster. Koivu? I like Mikko. He is one of the strongest two-way players in the game today. However, he has a $5.4 mil contract per year, has time left on it, and totaled 37 points in 48 games on 11G & 27A. He was a plus 2 player. I see Mikko as a number-two center at best. On a real Cup contender, I don’t think he would be a 1-6 forward, and I have always been uncertain about his strength as the team captain. If it were my call, I would offer him up for a trade and see what I could get. That leaves only Parise, Coyle, and Zucker as the club’s true 1-6 forwards right now.
In the 6-12 spots, the list has Veilleux, Cullen, Setoguchi, Heatley, Brodziak, and Pominville. Veilleux spent the bulk of the season in the AHL; Cullen just played out a $3.5 mil per contract and got 27 points in 42 games (7G & 20A) and was a plus 9. I would see if I could get him back on a one- or two-year deal at a price that works for the team. He would be worth it, but might not be around when the club does get into a Cup window. Setoguchi at $3.0 mil this season got 27 points in 48 games (13G & 14A) and was a plus 5. Is there value there? I’m not sure.

Heatley missed the last 12 games with a nasty shoulder injury. He got 21 points in 36 games (11G & 10A) but was a glaring minus 12. Add to the equation that he had a $6.0 mil salary with another year left and there is no value rendered. The Heater was one of the game’s best at one time, and still is a big body with a strong shot, but he has lost a step and it shows. Might be a great candidate for a compliance buyout. Brodziak? Yikes! $2.5 mil salary, 12 points in 48 games (4G & 8A), and was a club high (or low!) minus 18. Trade or buyout, but this guy isn’t a forward on a Cup contender.

I’ll pick up with Jason Pominville for next week’s edition, and the Red Wings just went up on the Ducks 3-1 in a “seven heaven” elimination game. There will be two seven heavens tomorrow eve with the Rangers-Caps and Leafs-Bruins. Can’t hardly wait! PEACE.

Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.