According to the experts, the Wild were supposed to finish dead last in the NHL. I guess they showed them, eh?
The 2011-12 Minnesota Wild are that kid who goes to college after pulling a 2.13 GPA because they were bored, getting to mid-terms with straight A's, and then getting ahead of themselves and not doing any homework for the rest of the term. The results? Failure on a scale never before seen in the NHL.
Leading the NHL in mid-December, the Minnesota Wild became the first team in NHL history to hold that honor and completely miss the playoffs. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to be your "History Will be Made" commercial. Of course, the stat folks all knew this was going to happen. Which, of course, is why all of them are now in Vegas collecting their winnings and never working again in their lives, right?
So. What happened? Is it as simple as the save percentage dropping a few points and the Fencorscomp numbers not being good enough? Or is there something more? Let's take a look. After the jump.
The Season in Review
The Wild started hot. Despite the inability to score, the defense and goaltending were good enough to keep the team in games long enough to get points. Then, the injuries started. At one point, the Wild were down four of their top six forwards, plus two of the guys called up to fill in were hurt. When the forwards started coming back, the defensemen started dropping. When the defensemen came back, the forwards were re-injured and the goalies got hurt.
But, injuries don't matter, we are told. The players in front of the goalies don't impact save percentage, we are told. Replacing Mikko Koivu with Warren Peters and Pierre-Marc Bouchard with Jed Ortmeyer doesn't matter, we are told. It doesn't matter that two 20 goal scorers being out of the line up the entire year. It doesn't matter that the forwards called up to replace the injured top 4 totaled 20 points combined. Forty extra goals this season wouldn't have mattered though, right?
It doesn't matter that Dany Heatley averaged .71 PPG with Koivu in the lineup, and just .58 PPG without him. No big deal. Not like the Wild had a -49 goal differential this season or anything.
So, we watched as the Wild fell apart, turned away from the teachings of their coach, and started losing. We all figured they would find a way to win again. It never happened. In fact, they lost to the Blue Jackets. Twice. In the same week. If ever there was a point when people who follow this team knew it was over, that was it.
The team fell into a revolving door of injuries, used 47 total players, no one was playing the system, and that spells losses. Of course, none of the numbers really changed, except the part where the Wild scored more goals than the opposition. Oh, and that save percentage thing. But, again, it doesn't matter who the team is in front of a goalie.
Injuries ate the team alive, and by the time they could get healthy, they had forgotten how the system worked, and had zero faith in themselves. That resulted in just 15 wins after December 10. Not exactly good enough in the NHL.
But hey, as long as no one is bitter. I'm sure the numbers all show a much better picture about how the Wild season went. Though, you won't get that here. The story we see is one of a team that was playing well as a team and then fell victim to the one thing no one is willing to accept as a reason. Accept it or not, but it is what happened.
The trades made didn't help much, the call-ups mostly fell flat. Once again, we look to next year for hope.
Nathan - First place in the NHL in December 13, fighting to stay out of the bottom five at the end of the season. A collapse the likes of which has never before been seen in the NHL. Sure, they were playing above their heads in the 2011 portion of the 2011-2012 NHL season, and we knew they wouldn't win a President's Cup, but to fall this far? Nobody saw it coming. Regression to the mean would've meant the Wild ending up exactly where we thought they would before the season started, fighting to finish between the 7-10 spot in the conference. Nobody on the planet could have seen so many missed games by top six forwards or top four defensemen. Nobody could have envisioned winning only 7 of the final 52 games in regulation. Nobody.
Yes, there were many positives this season; the play of Kyle Brodziak, the improvement of Marco Scandella and the continued solid play of Jared Spurgeon. However, these were all offset by a less than stellar year by newcomers Dany Heatley and the (unknown to the fans) injury riddled Devin Setoguchi, not to mention continued concussion problems plaguing Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jared Spurgeon and even Jarod Palmer. 47 different men took the ice for the Wild this season, including nine rookies. No team can absorb those kinds of injuries and live to tell the tale. Nobody.
Even so, this is professional hockey, and the dollars spent dictate success. We knew this was a transition year. We knew that it would be tough to make the playoffs with a thin lineup and first year coach, but four years in a row out of the post-season was more than we could bear. Yet, here we are, facing another long summer on the outside looking in. But the future looks bright, young as it may be. I'm still holding out for 2013-2014. That's the payoff folks. Bear with us.
Final Grade: F
Bryan - Since I already wrote above, let's just say that any team that sets NHL history for all the wrong reasons doesn't get a passing grade.
Final Grade: F
Jesse - Oh, where to being with this season. There were some high highs and some low lows. I don't think I've ever watched two halves of a season so diametrically opposite as this year. The fanbase (including myself) was flying high as the Wild marched their way to the top of the NHL mountain. But as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and oh boy, did the Wild fall hard. The fall from grace was tough to watch on the best nights, and flat out depressing on the bad nights.
What went right: The defense was pretty good defensively. Considering how badly the Wild were outshot and out possessed on most nights, I think a very young blueline held up fairly well. The blueliners fought through early-season injuries to remain a Top-3 Defensive unit. 14th in goals allowed sounds pedestrian, but the defense had to be the cornerstone of the team the entire season. There wasn't enough scoring to help alleviate the pressure.
What went wrong: As it has been the case for so many years, the Wild could not score goals. The offseason acquisitions didn't make a positive difference. In fact, (statistically speaking) the Wild were offensively worse with their "scoring upgrades". I'm not going to name names and call guys out in this particular post, but it's pretty damning to realize that a guy who only played 55 games finished 2nd in scoring, only 9 points behind #1 (who played all 82 games).
Looking towards next season: It's always darkest before the dawn. The fans and team are just waiting for the blue chip prospects to start their professional careers. The fanbase got a taste of the future when Jason Zucker made his debut. The small sample of Matt Hackett also should be looked on as a positive. Now it's up to Granlund to help the franchise take the next step. While I don't think the Wild will make the playoffs in the 2012-2013 season, getting some of the prospects integrated with the big club has to happen soon for two reasons. The fanbase needs something to get excited about, and while it's not likely that Parise will be that man, Granlund and his silky-smooth hands could put butts in seats. The other reason is that Chuck Fletcher's seat has to be getting warm. The team has missed the playoffs 3 straight years. Fletcher can't keep falling back on patience when professional sports are driven by a "what have you done for me lately" attitude.
Overall Season Grade: F Yes, the Wild came flying out of the gate, but falling that hard can't be just swept under the rug. Missing the playoffs shouldn't happen when a team is #1 in the NHL in the middle of December.