With all due respect to Captain Mikko Koivu and fellow $98 million man Ryan Suter, Zach Parise is Minnesota's best and most important player, and has been since his arrival in St. Paul. Parise really does it all for the Wild. He scores, he defends, he's often the only good thing on the power play, he performs in the playoffs, he brings all the intangibles. Parise is the engine to this team, giving everything of himself to will this team to victory.
As of this writing, the entire State of Hockey is holding their collective breath about the status of Parise's knee, which was injured last night by Predators forward James Neal. The severity of the injury is not yet known, but with Justin Fontaine's 6-week timetable after a similar knee injury fresh in our collective minds, it's tough not to be nervous.
To combat this feeling of dread, I tried to take a step back and try to get a sense of what his impact really is for the Wild. Parise's a great player, but even one great player can't make that massive of a difference, right?
Yes and no. The Wild have been able to live without Parise before, limping along with a 9-14-0 record without him in the past two seasons. Not good, but this might not be enough to torpedo the Wild's season if Parise can come back within a month.
But just because they have lived without Parise before won't make this hurt any less. The timing, for one, isn't great. Minnesota has 14 games in the next 31 games, and 8 of them are against Central Division opponents. Given how tight the Central is, those 8 games are likely going to have an impact on the Wild's finish in the standings.
Parise's absence will be felt not just on the Wild's top line, but on every other line as well. One of Minnesota's strengths was that they had an elite offensive threat on each line (Parise, Zucker, and Vanek) that opponents had to account for. This depth ensured that whenever one line got cold (like Parise's line has been most of this season), one of the other ones would be able to exploit a favorable match-up and carry the team for the night. With Parise not there to take attention from defenders, you can expect more teams to attempt to hard-counter Zucker and Vanek.
The power play also seems poised for a big drop-off. Since signing with Minnesota, only Alex Ovechkin and Joe Pavelski have more power play goals than Parise's 36- a feat that's even more impressive once you note that during most of that time, the Wild as a team were terrible in that regard. This season has been different, as the Wild have started running their 5th-ranked power play through Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. The Wild were able to inspire hope by scoring twice on the man advantage once Parise separated entirely from last night's game, but it's hard to believe that losing a Top-3 PP scorer will be painless.
How can the Wild counter-act these losses? It's going to take contributions for these three players in new roles.
Zucker is the only player on the Wild whose skill-set rivals that of Parise. Like Parise, Zucker is blazing-fast and a relentless shooter. With Parise out, Zucker's going to be identified as Minnesota's primary offensive threat, and teams are going to start game-planning around slowing down him and his linemates. Is he ready for the defensive attention? How about the increased minutes? We'll find out shortly.
Coyle had appeared to have found a home in the middle of the Wild's third line, where he's been productive at for the last year or so. But with Parise out, Coyle finds himself starting tomorrow not only with new linemates (Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville), but in a new position, moving from center to right wing. Coyle's not only being asked to adapt, he's also being asked to jump-start a slumping duo in Granlund and Pominville.
"What new role is Dubnyk in?" you, the observant reader, may be asking. "He's been the starting goaltender all season!" That's very true, but without one of their key offensive threats, Dubnyk's role has indeed changed. The cap hit that Dubnyk was given is that of a decent, but not great goalie. When healthy, Minnesota is a team that doesn't need to rely on their goaltender. Their defensive structure and scoring are usually enough so that they need their goalie to not lose games for them, rather than steal wins.
This isn't the case anymore. The Wild are worse off for losing Parise, and that loss will be felt until his return. Until then, Dubnyk is going to be depended on more than he has been in these last 12 games, and for the team's sake, he needs to step up. A hot goalie cures many ails, and if Dubnyk can stop allowing the soft goals that are plaguing him this season, it would go a long way to treading water until their Alternate Captain returns.