So here we sit, on the cusp of the Wild's 32nd game of the season and Christmas eve, and the Wild are sitting on the outside looking in at the playoffs like a child peering through the glass at that new toy he wants Santa Claus to bring him. As of this posting, the Wild are 6 points out of a wild card playoff spot, in a season that started off so promising. With expectations on the rise in the State of Hockey, this leaves a lot of fans wondering just what is going on.
Being it is the holiday season and all, I thought it would be fun to compile a little 'who's been naughty, and who's been nice' list of the organization. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, this is by no means falling under any standard scientific process. Let us start with the bad news first.
The mumps have been going around the NHL faster than Debbie getting around Dallas. It has been a thorn in the side of the Wild through much of the first 30-odd games the organization has played, and has played a very special role in SFB getting ice time. Bad mumps! I said no! Even a lump coal may be too nice for a creature like you.
Speaking of Stuart "Dick" Bickel, how this guy even gets a sniff of the Wild's locker room is enough to make you want to punch yourself in the face. "That's OK Dick Bickel, I'll handle it this time." It would serve GMCF well if he summoned Gandalf and cast Bickel back from whence he came. (Sorry, not sorry, New York Rangers)
"But Noogie, Harding hasn't even cracked the Wild's lineup this season! How is he on the naughty list?" Sure enough, Harding hasn't cracked the Minnesota Wild's roster this season, on account he cracked his ankle kicking a brick wall. The stupidity of that alone will live on in Wild lore for ages. While were here, lets go ahead and throw MS on the naughty list too. Fuck you MS! Why do you have to break good things?
May as well pile on the goalies right off the bat. Darcy Kuemper came out of the gate looking like a brick wall that would make even Harding's ankle shake in fear. Just when we all thought Kuemper was picking up where he left off last season he went ahead and crapped the bed, and he's been crapping the bed for over a month now. Whatever it is, Kuemper has lost it. If he can find it again, he may make his was back on the nice list, but for now he's getting a lump of coal in his stocking, which he will probably mistake for a puck and let it get past him.
I struggled with this one, but I just couldn't stick him on the nice list. When he's on, he's on and it's almost unfair to the opposition. Then again, when he's on the ice, sometimes it feels like it's unfair to the opposition. With getting sent to the principals office twice in a very short span, Scandella bought himself a 2-game suspension for targeting the heads of golden boy T.J. Oshie and the Brock Nelson that did not take a shot at football before fighting in the MMA for a brief stint. Scandy get no candy in his stocking this year. Clean it up kid, we need you on the ice.
To further prove nothing great comes out of a river infested with Elk, Nate Prosser gets the nod more often than he really should. This certainly has much to do with the invasion of mumps and that pesky stomach bug, not to mention Scandella's new found liking of targeting heads. We can't just stick him on the naughty list for playing the game though. So Prosser makes the naughty list for his inability to crack another teams roster before coming back home. It seems we are stuck with this guy for life. Not sure I can get used to that.
Where to start with this guy. He hasn't done much, and maybe that is his problem. After coming through in big situations last season a lot of the fans were clamoring for this guy to rip the 'C' from Mikko "The Angry" Koivu himself. Haula centering the third line is much like eating a plain hot dog. Your not really pleased with yourself, but at least there's food in your belly.
When he's not waving to kids on the other side of the glass, he's not really playing much hockey. Of all the players to have spent more than a sniff playing top-6 minutes, Coyle has the least amount of goals (2) to show for it on the season. His 11 assists are enough to have him and FBJ tied with 13 points. All-in-all, something is missing from Coyle's game, he's playing timid and unsure of himself at times. Perhaps he needs to change his pit lube?
Speaking of FBJ, I'm not sure there is any other skater on this team right now that is having more of a disappointing season than this guy. His 3 goals and 10 assists on the year are keeping him on pace for a blister-inducing 8 goals this season. His 43 shots on goal the season are the lowest you will find for any skater in the top-6. Whatever it is, the instinct for this kid to shoot is just not there right now, and it's a shame. With elite hands like he has, he could be doing far more damage if he took a shot once in a while.
It's tough to harsh on this kid, especially in his first season in the NHL/AHL, but I'm going to do it anyway if for no other reason than to get Tony's blood boiling. Dumba has a goal and 3 assists in his 20 games with the Wild, but his mistakes on the ice have been detrimental. He needs to polish it up if he ever expects to be the impact player we are all hoping he'll become. For now, he needs to really just forget about pinching in. He's been caught in no-mans land on numerous occasions, and for this, he'll get a small lump of coal in his stocking this year. Barely enough to heat a room for an hour.
Asst Coach Andrew Brunette
HA-HA-HA! Not even the coaches are safe from this list! Brunette, I'm not sure what you're telling these guys on the power play, but stop it! Just stop! It's not helping. In fact it is likely hurting this team in ways you can't even fathom. All the good-will you earned with this team is evaporating, with no signs of getting any better. Santa, if you're listening, I'll leave it up to you. I'd say stick a lump of coal in Bruno's stocking, but I'm not entirely certain he would know what to do with it.
Head Coach Mike Yeo
I can sum up why Mike Yeo is on the naughty list with 2 simple words, mashed together with a number sign plopped in front of them. #FreeNino. Your deployment strategy just plain stinks, and your logic and reasoning behind your decisions sounds like something my 4-year old came up with.
But it's not all terrible. There has been a few bright spots on this squad as well. Not always shining as bright as the sun on a clear summers day, but in these dark days of winter we'll take all the shiny nice things we can get.
Last season, it was "All-Aboard the Fontrain!" This season, the Fontrain seems to be shuttling around under capacity. Fonzy is quietly having a good season though in his limited roll. In players with over 100 minutes at 5v5 close, Fontaine is 3rd on the team in GF% at 60% with a CF% just north of 50%. For a guy in the bottom 6, you can't get too upset with him for his shooting percentage dipping under 5%.
On the off chance you didn't notice, I left Backstrom off the naughty list. Sure, his numbers aren't great. His age along with his injury history have taken a toll on the veteran netminder, yet he gets all the new toys in his stocking for a very simple reason. He's the best goalie we got right now. Did anyone really expect him to even play this well this year? I mean, I did. I thought he would be a little better even, but beggars can't be choosers either.
With 859 minutes this season, Suter is leading the skaters in TOI by a margin wider than Kyle Broflovski's mom. The guy has 20 helpers and 1 goal, and is 3rd on the team in scoring. Mike Yeo consistently taps his shoulder to get him in games and he has for the most part lived up to the hype. Sure, he's had a couple gaffes. Those are definitely in the minority though, something I'm able to look past when you consistently perform at a high level.
All Mikko needed to do to make the nice list this season was to keep that 'C' firmly planted on his chest. With all the fans clasping and grabbing at it, it's taken a Herculean effort to keep that thing affixed to his sweater. He's also played pretty good hockey, but you already knew that.
With 26 points in 13 goals and 13 assists, Parise has brought exactly what everyone has expected he would bring. Honey Badger like effort, night in and night out. You can stick whoever you want on his line, he'll put in the work. Now if we could just clone him a dozen times...
Spurgeon has grown each season right in front of us. No, the 5'9" defencemen hasn't gotten any taller, but don't let his midget-esque stature fool you. The kid is tough, he's smart, and solid as a rock on the blue line. I just hope that Santa isn't confused when bringing him his stocking stuffers. As much as we all love toys, I'm sure Spurgeon would be happier with something a little more in his age range.
It's really very simple. Brodin is a stud. 5v5 close, nobody on the squad has a higher (or is even close) GF%. At 86.7%, chances are Brodin is slaughtering the competition. He's not lighting the lamp, but neither is the opposition. This season, nobody on the blue line is doing it as well as Brodin. Santa should just open his bag and let Brodin have his pick of presents this year.
3rd on the team in goals, 7th in points, and from a kid who came into this season with nothing but question marks surrounding his name. Jason Zucker is building a name for his young self this season with 12 goals in 31 games. Zucker right now is like the anti-Wild forward. He shoots the puck. His 71 shots are good enough for 4th on the team, his 16.9 Sh% is good enough for 2nd on the team in players that have played 10+ games (sorry Matt Cooke, your 28.6 Sh% is a bit of an anomaly). He's cleaning up his defensive game and becoming a more complete player. A very nice surprise from a guy we've all been waiting to see grow up.
El Nino is basically spitting in the faces of his naysayers, including his head coach who can't seem to figure out that it's probably wise to stick you best threat on the ice for more than 14 minutes a game on average. He's becoming everything the Islanders ever could have hoped for, including the jersey he wears today. He leads the team in goals, he leads in shooting percentage (sans the cookie monster), and he's 5th in shots. In his stocking, he should get a lineup card that features him getting top-6 minutes.
What a pleasant surprise Carter has been this season. I'll admit, I was a doubter right off the bat. He didn't impress me from what I had seen in his past, and he started off a little choppy. Carter has stepped up into a role on the 4th line and has been more than I personally expected. In his stocking, Santa should deliver him a video of me eating a bit of crow.
That's right Wild fans! Despite what the torch and pitchfork mob has been screaming (when not screaming SHOOT!), Thomas Vanek is having a great season and has earned his spot on the nice list. He's 3rd on the team in assists, 4th in points, and leading the team by a wide margin in unfounded criticism. OK, some of it might be founded, but just a smidge.
This undrafted free-agent quietly makes the nice list. Playing in just 14 games he's averaged around 15 minutes a night. 1 goal and 2 assists isn't something I'd post on my mothers fridge, but he's playing a serviceable roll when called on for the Wild's bottom D pairing. The difference between Folin and Dumba, Folin doesn't seem to be white-knuckling it. He's playing calm, he's mitigating any mistakes and overall, for a "rookie" is performing admirably.
Brodziak makes the nice list, simply for being a guy that continues to work his ass off and never get rewarded. I mean, I feel bad for the guy most nights. He puts in the effort and on his best nights gets a break-away and clanks one off the iron. He does have 4 goals on the season, and come the trade deadline he may find himself being actively shopped. I'd hate to pile on tell Santa to leave a massive lump of coal in his stocking, so for Christmas I think we get him some wider goals.
Another human lightning rod on this squad has been Jason Pominville. He is having some of his worst puck luck in regards to scoring goals this season, yet he's 2nd on the team in points. Despite all the criticism The Mayor is having a great season. If he can find that extra little bit of luck, watch out!
Medical Director Dr. Sheldon Burns
Dr. Burns and staff have had their work cut out for them this season, and we're not even half way there. This group of medical personnel don't get a lot of love or mention in the press, but having to deal with the mumps outbreak, the stomach bug going around, and numerous injuries including Keith Ballard with his scary situation. These are the behind the scenes guys who put in so much effort night in and night out to keep this team as healthy as possible. The hockey Gods have thrown them a mighty workload this season, and we are grateful they have been up to the task.
GM Chuck Fletcher
It's not easy to just sit and watch from afar, or from his suit where he likely has a throng of Santa's elfs catering to his every whim. Yet with all the distractions and the hustle-bustle of the busy life as Wild GM, he has managed to start locking up pending free agents without allowing his head to explode in watching how his team is being deployed on the ice. We don't have a long history of GM's here in the State of Hockey, but I think it's clear to say he's the best one we've had.
So that's it sports fans! There is your official, unofficial naughty/nice list for the Wild this season. You're welcome Santa. I've done your work for you. All I want in my stocking this year, some solid goaltending that leads to a Cup. The ball is in your court Santa, make it happen.