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Edge is Nice, But Wild Need Scandella on Ice

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The Wild defenseman has come under scrutiny for his chippy play, including two checks to the head in the last two weeks.

Marco Scandella may get suspended by the NHL for his actions in last night's game.
Marco Scandella may get suspended by the NHL for his actions in last night's game.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of the usual signifiers of toughness, the Wild don't have much.

Do the Wild have an enforcer? Nope, unless you count "F***ing" Stu "I've played in 3 games this year" Bickel. Do the Wild have guys that play super physically? Not really, Charlie Coyle's team-leading 52 hits is tied for 86th in the league, and the Wild are dead last in the league in hits. With Matt Cooke gone now, is there anyone on this team that can put the fear of God into the eyes of opponents?

Actually, maybe.

Marco Scandella has added some new wrinkles to his game, most notably his shooting and goal-scoring. But still significant is that Scandella has added some edginess to his play. After getting just 20 penalty minutes in 76 games, Scandella has almost doubled that in only 26 games, earning 38 penalty minutes, which lead the Wild. What demonstrates this newfound edginess most are two hits- one to the head of TJ Oshie against the Blues last week, and another to the head of Brock Nelson last night.

Scandella was fined for the Oshie incident, with the Department of Player Safety presumably determining the hit to merely be incidental contact. What fining Scandella did do, however, is giving him status as a "Repeat Offender", should a similar incident happen again.

Which as we said, did happen a mere 10 days later. In addition, Scandella hit John Tavares with a big slash that could have potentially earned a penalty shot (it earned only a two-minute minor). The DoPS has Scandella scheduled for a phone hearing, giving them the option to suspend him up to 4 games. And my guess is they will indeed suspend Scandella, if nothing else, to say "Hey, dude. Chill out."

And chill out, Scandella should. I don't mind seeing edgy play from Scandella, I think the Wild would benefit more from play that skirts the lines of acceptable play. But it can't hurt the team, and right now, Scandella's putting the team at risk more often than I'm comfortable with.

An example of this that comes to my mind was in the Wild's 3-0 loss against Ottawa, where Marco Scandella took exception to a hit on Jason Pominville from Mark Borowiecki, and fought him. This earned Scandella an instigator, a fighting major, and a 10-minute misconduct. 17 minutes in the box for Scandella. This was more than enough time for Ottawa to rack up two goals, and with Spurgeon already out of that game having to play a period with no other Top-4 options than Suter and Brodin crippled the Wild's ability to comeback.

The Wild's defense has stopped being plagued by the mumps (for now, knock on wood), but their defensive depth issues haven't gotten any better since early November. Scandella being suspended even one game will mean the Wild are down a Top-4 defenseman when they play at San Jose, a team the Wild are chasing in the standings. Get ready to see Justin Falk log playing time against a tough opponent on the road.

Again, I appreciate Scandella adding some edge to his game. It's an element of the game that the Wild don't really have, and combining that edge with a player of Scandella's caliber is an improvement over more mediocre physical players that they've employed in the past. But when you look at some of the best "edgy"/"dirty" players in the league- the Gabriel Landeskogs, the Dustin Browns of the league- they manage to be subtle enough to evade enough penalties to stay on the ice. If Scandella is going to continue this play, he needs to strive to accomplish this in ways that are under-the-radar. Checking guys in the head and exaggerated slashes on superstars aren't the way to stay unnoticed.

This may be the one drawback to losing a guy like Clayton Stoner, a player who plays just capably enough to provide minutes and grit for a team. With the absence of a Stoner, it may be possible that Scandella is looking to fill that void. When that happens, the guy going off the ice for two minutes, five minutes, even a game isn't someone you can't afford to lose. Scandella is arguably the best defenseman the Wild have, the Wild need him on the ice as much as possible, and by dialing back the edginess a little bit, Scandella can help his team.