Minnesota Wild On Analysts Couch

Marc Elliott

BIG SANDY… Well, the information is downright ugly, and the outlook isn’t much better. The Minnesota Wild are 3-13 since the New Year commenced and aren’t showing any signs of breaking out of this trend anytime soon. Worse yet, if you were to take an in-depth look at opportunities for a quick, engineered turnaround, via trade or AHL call-up or even finding the missing hockey link lurking about somewhere in the Superior National Forest skating daily on the magic hidden hockey rink somewhere near Finland or Isabella, it’s looking grim fans.

I wish I could say different, and I don’t want to write a mostly negative harangue about players, coaches or management involved with the team, but an honest look at the team as currently configured can yield most, if not all of the answers. Question marks abound in the State of Hockey. As far as having the ability to make a move or two and perhaps gain a fortuitous change of direction for this team, it’s options are few. There aren’t many tradable players at this time, at least one’s that other clubs would want or could afford, and of the un-tradable players, most of them are fairly expensive for what the trading partner would get in return. The Iowa Wild is having an incredibly poor season, and the future pipeline features no single person that could come in and save the day or season.

What in the H-E-double hockey sticks happened Baba-Louie?? That is the million dollar question at the moment. How could a team/roster with seemingly so much promise make such a sudden downward turn? December was a decent enough month for the team with a 9-5 record, featuring 3-1 wins over Detroit and STL before the end of the calendar year. The team did get spanked by the Dallas Northstars (6-3) and did not look good in a 3-1 loss to Pitt in St. Paul. The New Year began with the ill fated Florida trip with two losses, then a win versus the hapless CBJ, a loss to the Flyers, an impressive win over the Northstars in the Big ’D’, then 3 consecutive home losses,  2 road losses, a rare road win versus the Kings no less, before a final road loss followed by a home loss.

The once invincible team at home is now 14-11 at the ‘X’, and their 9-18 road record is quite telling. The team is 1-9 in their L10 and on a 5 game losing streak. They are 23-29 with 30 games left in the regular season. Today they sit at 17th in the Sagarin NHL ranking down from a high of 4th a mere 3-4 weeks back. They are in 6th spot in the Central division and are 3 points out of a wildcard playoff spot with ARI 1 point back and VAN 3 points back with CAL and WIN within 6 points. I wish I could say that I see something in the teams game that will turn them around and push them toward another late season run to propel them into a playoff spot but I can’t honestly state that with any type of confidence right now.   

Beginning at the top, GM Chuck Fletcher grew up in a hockey household. I am certain he learned quite a bit from his father Cliff Fletcher. Chuck is bright, well educated and admired and respected around the league by his peers. Right now, team owner Craig Leipold has to be taking a long look at Chuck. The club is losing, and has few if any options to change that now or in the near future. This team has been painted into a corner. Head Coach Mike Yeo? I have defended Yeo on many a blog from the fan angst that he gets exposed to quite frequently. He has a Stanley Cup ring from his time on the Pittsburgh Penguin staff. Those don’t come easily.

He was a journeyman player and at his highest level, the AHL, he only got 19 games in there. Still, I never thought that could preclude one from learning the craft and coaching “up” at higher levels. I defended his hiring, but also stated at the time that I thought he could get the team to an upper level, but wasn’t sure he had the stuff to get the team into that elite, 3 to 4 club level. I still think he is a good coach, but I also still believe my original thoughts on him. We may be seeing that play out now, perhaps he has taken the team as far as he can. Why did Zach Parise seek out former player/coach Adam Oates as a personal consultant before the season rather then get advice from Yeo?

The offensive game as coached by Yeo, the chip it in, chase it down, try to grind down the opposing ’D’ by making them turn and chase the whole game seems to be taking as much toll on the Wild as on their opponents. They play too much perimeter hockey because they simply aren’t a big or tough enough club to play more in the paint. And the PP suffers for the same reasoning. The club would be a bit better positioned if they had a tough guy or two on defense, or anywhere on the roster for that matter. Even in today’s NHL where the enforcer is on the way out of the game, you still need a player who will protect your skill players. This roster is void of anyone who can perform that role since the departure of Kyle Brodziak and Chris Stewart. When Stewie came on board last season, you could see the change in the demeanor of the team immediately.

If you thought Devan Dubnyk would play goal at the same pace as last year you would have been wrong, to me he has been equal parts brilliance and letting in the odd softie goal. Darcy Kuemper gives me more confidence then Duby right now. I haven’t even got to some high paid veterans who aren’t pulling their weight, thus making them poor signings. Please balance my current indifference by knowing that I have been waiting for a Cup here since 1967. If the Wild Cup “window” was open at the start of this year, it has been slammed shut, and I think some panes may have been broken out in the process. Based on the current condition of the team and franchise, I can’t even say “wait till next year”, the wait is going to be longer then that…..  PEACE