I tweeted this out the other day. With how this Wild season has fallen apart, I feel as if I haven't seen a meaningful game of hockey in quite a long time. With the All-Star break over the weekend, and this teams track record the past couple months now, what is there to get excited for? Even the conversation around this team has grown stale. Fire this person, rip that letter, stop playing that guy where he is, fix the power play ... SHOOT!
I feel like we've been having this conversation for a long time now. The team gets just good enough to stir the fan base into a frenzy, raising expectations to levels we don't see from the men's professional sports around these parts (stick tap to the Minnesota Lynx for showing this state what winners look like). I'm not going to lie to you Wilderness, I'm struggling right now to keep my happy thoughts flowing around this squad. Even something as small as my man-crush on Alex Tuch is falling apart at the seams as I learned he started following Tony Dean on twitter and not me! I mean, did he not get the memo? Does he need a "Deantervention"? (I kid, I kid. Nothing but love for The Dean)
Since we're being honest here, I do have to say the idea to write a piece singing Tuch's praises in a jealous attempt to right this wrong has been very real in my mind. Yet, a "Suck Up to Tuch" headline just doesn't feel right. Nothing about this team feels right these days. Finding optimism in a sea of despair is tricky business. A lesson we should all take from our favorite squad for this season, this team hasn't produced a damn thing. They have made progress, but in the grand scheme of things, what have they done? Made the playoffs a couple years in a row? Oh boy! When's the parade!? They haven't won the Stanley Cup let alone the Conference, and our last Divisional title is so far removed now it's hard to count it as more than a one-time fluke.
This is a team that took a couple steps forward over the last few seasons, and taken one massive step backwards this season. Chuck Fletcher has made some great moves to bring in pieces in an attempt to build a winner, yet it's his misses that haunt us just when things are looking the brightest. It's those missteps and inaction that have played a big role in how this season has played out. Fletcher, ever looking towards the future has failed to see what was right in front of him, he has failed to live in the now.
Even his move to acquire a decent goaltender leaves much to be desired. Devan Dubnyk is very likely the Wild's best option between the pipes right now, but even he can't be expected to save a season that has been as destructive to the organization as any in recent history. The move, orchestrated by Fletcher, was simply put, window dressing on a terrible store front. The trade cost him essentially nothing he can't get back when the Wild officially become sellers in the next week or so for the looming trade deadline, and was made just so he could say that he tried, that he did something.
Coach Mike Yeo has shown glimpses of what he can do with this squad, changing up line combinations and giving some of the kids a chance to shine, and though they prove inconsistent at times, some have shown they're up to the task. Then the rug gets pulled out from under them as Yeo seems inclined to defer to the more seasoned guys, or start a Stu Bickel in place of Matt Dumba. Coming up with excuses like a players +/- rating, yet failing to apply that same logic on the elder statesmen of the squad. He seems more conscious about not rocking the boat than he does actually rolling out the best team possible.
I'm not asking Coach Yeo to call out his players publically either. That would be foolish, that's what we're here for and that's what the fans are for. Yeo singling out anyone for public flogging accomplishes nothing for the team but raising the tensions in the locker room. If Nate Prosser wants to get pissed at me for saying he's about as useful on the ice as a 2-ton anvil, so be it. Frankly, with how he plays I'm not sure I'd have much to be afraid of if we ever crossed paths in the mean streets of Elk River.
This is Mikko Koivu's team. That fact is plain and simple, and I'll argue that fact to the moon and back. Does this mean he deserves free reign on the team? Not a chance. There is a reason teams have a coach and not a player/coach. He's paid his dues, and his opinions of where to take this squad should not be thrown out with yesterdays garbage. He is not the guy calling the shots though. Coach Yeo cannot be afraid to run this team the best way possible, with no fear of hurting a players feelings. While stripping the "C" from Koivu is not the answer, changing how he is used needs to be considered and should be explored to its fullest extent.
This same logic and reasoning should be applied across the board right now with the Wild. Ryan Suter has struggled terribly in recent weeks, yet he's still pocketing 30 minutes a night. Sure, he scored a goal in the All-Star game, but so did everyone else. Suter is a workhorse, no doubt about that. Just because you can play 30 minutes a game though, doesn't mean you should. Save that kind of thought for the playoffs. Next year I mean, next years playoffs (maybe).
Thomas Vanek has struggled to gain any meaningful momentum. Mikael Granlund has been a bust this season. The goaltending situation between Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom and a guy you may have forgotten existed in Josh Harding has been an utter disaster. For much of the season Charlie Coyle has been a disappointment. Even Nino Niederreiter has slowed as this team spirals down the toilet before our eyes. Aside from a couple notable bright spots in Zach Parise or Jason Zucker, most of this roster seems to have simply stopped caring for big stretches of play throughout the season.
With so few bright spots left on this team what is it we really have at this point to look forward to the remaining 30-odd games of the season? More of a lackluster power play and shoddy passing? More of Anthony Lapanta and Mike Greenlay word-vomiting the company line on how this team plays its best hockey with its back against the wall? Breaking News guys, this teams back has been pushed through several walls now.
Yet we'll hear it again and again tonight as the Wild will in all likelihood get a gift wrapped win from our favourite (I spelled it wrong, just for you Canada) neighbors northwest of the wall in the Edmonton Oilers. Any sense that a win tonight is somehow a "big win" can be cast aside like Bill Bilichick deflecting away questions about his ball inflation techniques. Any sense that a loss tonight is, deflating, well .... that joke is just too easy.
We have, for the most part as fans of Minnesota sports, been indoctrinated to the ineptitude and downright awful play we get out of most of the major players in the sports culture around these parts. There is a reason high school and college hockey is so popular in the State of Hockey. It's because our professional squads just fail to fire on all cylinders consistently. It's disheartening to sit back and watch something you can do absolutely nothing about. I mean, I could savage this team till I was blue in the face but what good would that be? Nothing changes, or if it does the change is so short lived you soon forget anything was even attempted in the first place.
I grow weary with this team. From the top down the excuses are plentiful. From Chuck Fletcher's far-sighted view of the team to Mike Yeo's irrational explanations for player deployment, to the players themselves speaking of how they need to play better as a team yet not putting together a complete game in so long, I can not for the life of me even recall when they last were able to do so. If they were able to put together a solid 60 minutes a game and still come away with a loss I could at least say "Hey, they tried. Right?"
All of this has led me to draw the only logical conclusion one should have about the Wild. Nobody is without blame here, and nobody should be losing their jobs over it. In the end, it's one more bad season in a local professional sports culture that seems to breed such things. Let the team, from the top down, take their licks, hopefully learn something if not about the team then about themselves. Take this seasons experience and learn from it, apply your newly found knowledge to next season, and grow as an organization.
There's always next season, right?