WILD updates and what do the early returns say about the fresh NHL season?

Marc Elliott

Brad Hunt celebrates the tying PP  goal vs Montreal on Sunday
Brad Hunt celebrates the tying PP goal vs Montreal on Sunday

RAINY RIVER…. As reported last week the Minnesota Wild finally notched their first win of the season on the road in Ottawa with a nice 2-0 victory. The next night the team was in the “mecca” of hockey as it’s known in Canada to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Wild scored first on a tally by Luke Kunin. That would hold going into the 1st INT. The Leafs then rattled off 4 straight scores in the 2nd to gain a 4-1 advantage and never looked back. Gerry Mayhew got his 1st NHL score late in the 3rd but by then the game had long been decided for a 4-2 final. A couple of days later and in the final tilt of an Eastern Canadian road trip the Wild faced the Canadiens in Montreal. It was not pretty to say the least.

The final of 4-0 belied the futility of this game. Two Canadien rookies got their 1st NHL goals, All-World netminder Carey Price got a shutout, Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek blocked 3 consecutive Shea Weber bombs from the point on a Canadien PP, putting him out of the lineup for the foreseeable future (JEE is in a walking boot) and all of this led to a players only meeting at games end that lasted around ten minutes. Wild Captain Mikko Koivu reportedly had some harsh things to say about the teams performance as well as some individuals play that was not up to snuff in his view. This isn’t unusual to see this happen within team sports when things aren’t going as expected, but what were the Wild expecting anyway? 

The biggest story though came when in a post game, post meeting interview Wild forward Jason Zucker was quoted as saying “Bruce (Head Coach Bruce Boudreau) has got to be better, we’ve got to be better, everybody’s got to be better. That’s it.” Well, the stuff hit the fan after that got out into social media land. Zucker was pressed for clarification and as much as he tried it all led up to an eventual clearing of the air between he and Boudreau before yesterday’s return bout with the Canadiens in St. Paul, which the team won 4-3 with a strong effort and a rare goal off of the rush on a nice play with Zucker feeding a nifty pass out front to Zach Parise who chipped it home for the GWG. 

To me, Zucker’s thoughts and quote post-game in Montreal were hardly anything to get excited over. I knew exactly what he was trying to get across and honestly, it wasn’t a quote worth all the attention it got. It is rare for a player to issue a quote like that with the full knowledge of who you said it in front of and that it was likely to go public. Players just do not publicly say anything that can be construed as negative against a coach unless they are looking for a trade and a new home. I mean, I saw the infamous dugout bout between the volcanic Billy Martin and Yankee star Reggie Jackson years ago and compared to that, this wasn’t a blip on the screen of issues to get excited about. What is worth getting excited about though is that even after a two-win week, the team is 2-6-0. Yesterday the game did not sell out, the first time in 251 games that has occurred. 

It is that phenom that seems to be owner Craig Leipold’s kryptonite. It seems that that factor is what makes him twist and turn whenever he hears the “rebuild” word and why he avoids ever using it like the plague. It is that word that whether he wants to or not, he is finally going to have to learn to embrace after this mess of a season concludes. He won’t have a choice. I even heard two prominent analysts stating the same thing on an NHL Network radio show this afternoon. I’m not them, but I’ve seen my share of hockey over 58 years now and they basically validated everything I’ve been saying and writing about this team for the last two seasons. I’m not proud. But Mr. Leipold, you need to step back from the hockey hookah my hockey brother. I get the pride and so on, but I don’t understand the inability to honestly evaluate the team here. And your magnificent arena might not be full again until you do….

THE SEASON IS young, but there has been no shortage of excitement thus far. As is the case at the start of every new year, there have been surprises, and some not so surprising things to consider. I love the daily ranking services from The Sagarin and The Athletic and both are designed to consider many factors such as team stats, opposition, injuries, travel situations, back to backs and just about all you can factor in. I don’t always agree with their conclusions, but I understand these are based on statistical/mathematical projections, and until something better comes along, these are what I study at the start of each day. 

Of the data I’ve read thus far the top contenders for Division titles and/or Cup contention are thought to be Tampa Bay, Boston, Colorado, Carolina and Las Vegas. That is the top tier according to most. Some have predicted a Vegas-Carolina Cup Final with the VGK as the eventual winner. I might add that I have seen every team play at least once, some multiple times and as I said there are some surprises. COL, TAM, BOS, VGK and WAS are the top five in the Sagarin. The actual league standings have EDM, COL, BUF, WAS and BOS as the current top five. Of course, that’s based on an unequal number of games played. The Sagarin has FLA with the most difficulty of schedule right now and they are at 14th in the rank. COL, TAM and BOS are 4, 3, and 2 in schedule difficulty, the VGK at 4th in the overall rank are showing the 20th rank in schedule. I have seen them 5 times, once in person, and I’m not seeing a Cup win there at the moment. But it’s early. The Wild? It’s ugly. Weekly stats next…. PEACE

THE ATHLETIC, (10/21) 26th, trending for 85 points w/a 23% chance at the playoffs. THE SAGARIN, (10/21) 28th based on a 2-6 record, 0-3 vs top 10, 0-4 vs top 16, 5th ranked schedule. NHL STANDINGS, 7th of 7 in the Western Conf Central Division on a 2-6 record, 4 pts, 18 GF, 32 GA, -14 Diff, 1-1 @H, 1-5 @A, 2-6 in L10, 1W streak. 26th in GF (18), 29th in GA (32), 21st on PP @ 16.7%, 19th on PK @ 75.9%, 17th in PIM’s @73. 9th in WC wild card race of 9 teams. (2 qualify) 15 of 15 in the West, 30 of 31 in the league. OVER & OUT!