It has been 4038 days since the NHL awarded a franchise to the state of Minnesota. After watching the North Stars leave for Dallas, I never thought I would live to see the day the NHL returned, so when the announcement was made, I put an entire lifetime of hockey passion behind the team. I watched the expansion draft, the first entry draft, and I watched as the team slowly built some momentum.
I flew to Denver to watch game 7 against the Avs. I nearly plopped the Visa down to go to Vancouver too, but was reigned in at the last minute. I have, for 4038 days, given the benefit of the doubt to Doug Risebrough and the Wild brass. I have always made the assumption that they know more than I do, that they have information at their finger tips that I could only dream of having.
They have scouts around the world that do nothing but watch hockey and report back. The team has offices full of interns and seasoned vets at processing and crunching numbers that tell Risebrough exactly where the team sits for talent today and tomorrow.
Something happened this offseason to put a chink in the armor. The mishandling of the Brian Rolston negotiations made a small scratch. The inability to land a handful of big name free agents added a couple other small scratches.
I listened as Risebrough told us that the youth movement was on. Benoit Pouliot was given a roster spot, and I thought, "He hasn't been good enough to make the jump yet, but hey, Doug says he can play, he must be able to play."
I gave Risbrough the benefit of the doubt when he let so many vets walk this offseason in favor of Pouliot, James Sheppard, and Colton Gilles. Eric Reitz was given his chance after toiling in the AHL for years. Again, I gave the benefit of the doubt to the guys being paid millions a year to run the organization. After all, they know what they are doing. Right?
I have always given the benefit of the doubt to Jacques Lemaire. He is a hall of fame player and coach. His pedigree is beyond reproach. Who can argue with past success, right?
As the season started, I still had the Wild picked to challenge for the Northwest title. I was convinced that Koivu would step up (which he has), Nolan and Brunette would easily replace lost goals, along with some new help on the blue line. I had faith that the young guys would help out and progress quickly.
After just passing the half point, the armor is falling off. There are so many holes in the armor that every weakness is now completely apparent. The benefit of the doubt is gone. The faith is gone. It is difficult to look at the present situation and call for heads. However, there are only three time frames to look at: the past, the present, and the future.
The past is at best adequate. One long post season run that was a complete fluke. A handful of first round exits do not a dynasty make. There has been success in developing players quickly, such as Gaborik, Bouchard, Koivu, Schultz, and Burns. The team certainly made progress, and became competitive quickly.
The present is a question mark. Can Lemaire continue to pull wins out with a menagerie of less than stellar talent? Possibly, but is that even the best plan for the team? The Wild are very unlikely to suddenly become an offensive force, so winning will become very difficult as defense tightens around the league as it does every spring.
The future is a joke. Talking with Ms. Conduct, she is defensive about her boys in Houston, but admits there is no truly NHL ready talent in Houston, let alone a savior. Looking at the draft doesn't help much either. The Wild have no second or third round pick this summer, and even if they did, the scouts for the team have shown they have shown little ability in the past four drafts to find true NHL talent. Can Sheppard still be a solid player, sure he can. Is he going to be a piece to build around, like Koivu or Burns, doubtful.
The Wild have no pieces left to trade, unless they want to trade Backstrom, which I still believe is the wrong thing to do, but if it helps long term, maybe it needs to be done. The Gaborik situation did more to alienate fans and cripple the future of the team than almost any move Risebrough has made thus far.
So, put the pieces together. The past is gone, the present is ugly, and the future is brutal. The shine is gone, the benefit of the doubt is gone, and the faith has evaporated.
It is time for heads to roll. I have respect for Risebrough and Lemaire. I just don't trust that they can get the job done anymore. Fire Risebrough, fire every scout in the organization, and let Lemaire walk at the end of the season. Spend some big time money to steal some high quality scouting in Europe and the US, and bring in a big name GM who can then bring in a big name coach with a new system.
Now that is change we can believe in.