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Joel Eriksson Ek
ST. PAUL – Yessir! I can name that Minnesota WILD tune in three notes Tom! Offense, defense and special teams! But once again the team didn't have enough of any of those to break through their first-round malaise that has now extended to seven straight playoff appearances. On Friday night the club's annual first-round exit came to be after a 4-1 loss to our former NHL team in a 4-2 series loss.
I can't say I was stunned at game's end on Friday night. Like many media and fans alike I thought the Dallas Stars would prevail. In studying the series before it began most of the basic stats aligned with the Stars.
In particular the Star's power play destroyed the Wild's penalty kill and that was that. (9 PP goals in 6 games).
In a strange twist of events, there were no power play goals scored in the elimination game by either team and only two minor penalties per team were called. For the series the Star's PP was at an astounding 37.5% which dropped the WILD PK to 62.5%. The Stars owned the WILD on the faceoff dot by a 56.3% to 43.7% margin. The WILD took 121 PIMs to the Stars 100.
The WILD quest for a series win took a hit with a late-season injury to their best all-around player Joel Eriksson Ek. He tried to come back in the series which lasted a total of nineteen seconds. DAL dealt with a G1 injury to veteran star and leader Joe Pavelski but weathered that better than the Wild did Ek's loss. I could dig through the statistical and analytical carnage of the series, but there are bigger questions to be asked.
For perspective the club is now 4-13 all-time in playoff series. They are 2-10 since the 2011-12 season. Consider that in 9 of the team's 22 seasons of competition they did not even qualify for the playoffs. They are in their second ownership group and their sixth Head Coach. Let's begin there. Dean Evason became the sixth Coach in franchise history on the heels of Bruce Boudreau's dismissal. He has posted a decent regular season win-loss record but the playoffs are another story. If you count the 2020 pandemic year qualifying round, Dean is 0-4 in playoff series wins. (8-15).
In my opinion he blew his best chance at a series win last year when he erred in his choice of playoff goaltenders, starting Marc Andre' Fleury over Cam Talbot. I simply felt that Talbot played better down the stretch and deserved to begin the playoffs between the pipes. We know how that went. In this year's series he went with the hot hand of the young Filip Gustavsson. That paid an early dividend when the WILD won G1 in DAL in 2OT by a 3-2 score.
He lost the series in my book when he decided to bring in Fleury for G2 instead of staying with the hot hand of Gus. Fleury played poorly and so did the team in front of him. The team never recovered from the 7-3 loss IMO. They went 1-3 after G2.
It was preached to me in my teenage years that you stick with the hot hand in the NHL playoffs until they are no longer hot. There was no reason for the change. Dean stated that he was staying with the staff's regular season approach to their goalie rotation. Mistake number two. The regular season and the playoffs are two distinctly different beasts. And if you apply regular season theory in this tourney you will be toast. At this point I don't feel that Deano has the proper mentality and approach to win in a Stanley Cup tourney. I see no reason to think that will change in the future.
I opined before the season that I had concerns with the roster as constructed. I also mentioned that the dead cap space restrictions upon the team from the Suter-Parise buyouts would make it challenging to compete for the foreseeable future. I took some heat for that and I have even seen comments on social media and from those that post on hockey news websites that say that isn't a problem. I do not know what the general fan feeling is on the topic, but offering up a roster with about $15mil less talent on it than almost every other team in the league would be an obstacle to success in my view.
Neither does it bode well for the next handful of seasons. GM Bill Guerin will have two more seasons of dead cap space to deal with and piecing together a competitive roster will be more than hard to do. As usual the top six to eight veterans on the team that are considered to be upper-level players will get paid and consume a good deal of the available cap space. It should be clear by now that this group doesn't compare to, or have what it takes to compete in the playoffs with or without injury issues.
To successfully fill out the rest of the WILD roster in a fashion to allow you to compete for a Stanley Cup is akin to a spin of the roulette wheel. You are hoping to find skilled veterans that might have something left that will take a lesser contract to come to your team, or some young players on ELCs that are playing lights out and can elevate your team. On the upside the team's prospect pool has been one of the most highly rated in the league in the recent past, and the club will be dependent on a handful of them being able to translate to the NHL quicker than expected. Right now I do not see anyone that is NHL-ready in that group.
And what about GMBG? There is little doubt regarding what he walked into when he arrived in the State of Hockey. The Suter-Parise situation along with a potential coaching replacement was among the first tasks at hand. The buyouts of the "Big Two" have been dissected to the hilt. I've concluded that there was no way possible for Guerin to win in that matter and the organization has likely been better off without them in St. Paul. One of the results of that was the loss of star forward Kevin Fiala. Think what you want, but losing 85 points of offense is a body shot that few clubs could sustain.
Guerin did experience some good fortune when Talbot's attitude went a bit south after Fleury was re-signed and pushed Guerin to move him to OTT. Getting Gus in return turned out in the team's favor after he got settled in with the team. He played well and the fans love him.
Questions abound now about Guerin's flurry of activity at the trade deadline. It gave hope at first which was tempered pretty fast by the time the playoffs arrived. I also feel that giving Matt Boldy a big extension this early in his career was premature. Does he have big potential? Yes. Has he proven anything yet? No. He also just no-showed in the playoffs. So did KK#97. Another postseason. More questions than answers.
Welcome to the WILD. PEACE