In recent weeks the Wild haven't left us with much to cheer for. With their recent surge back into
relevancy the world of decency, we find ourselves once again riding what looks like a hot goalie harder than a cowboy on a bull at the rodeo. This is not new territory. With the Wild's amazing run to the postseason a year ago, the road less traveled for this team seems to be the one that is less dramatic.
As Tony detailed for us yesterday using the ever so fancy "HERO" charts, the Wild are a team lacking in a complete first line. I'm still very much new to these alleged "HERO" charts, but with how things are looking for the Wild, lacking a "HERO" line doesn't sound very good. It's not overly surprising though. Sure, you can rifle through all the crazy numbers getting tossed around, each new analytic website popping up trying to provide another tiny nugget of information, another angle for you to view the games from. That, or you could simply watch the games and dissect the players yourself. The eye test is the tried and true method for evaluation of a player on the fly. Although it's old and antiquated, it's still just as good as anything out there.
You're a smart group of kids. You know what good hockey looks like. We've seen a lot of it over the past couple seasons. Not only from the Wild, but their regular season and playoff opponents as well. Okay, maybe not the Avalanche, but the Blackhawks are damn good team, and we've had this chance to view them live more than any other team in the league over the past two seasons. A "HERO" line on the Hawks? Take your pick kid. Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa, and Bryan Bickell, amongst others all hover around or well above that first line barrier.
You simply do not need any fancy charts to tell you the Hawks are far better team, or at the very very least, far better with how they deploy their players than the Wild have proved to be this season. We'll get another chance to see this tonight. Even if the Wild emerge victorious, the chances that the Hawks will go down without a fight are about as slim as 15 year old me. All the questions about the Wild have been bounced off the walls enough to put some carpenters to work patching drywall for a decade. And have we learned anything? Not especially.
Last season we saw that the Wild were a decent team, that rode some great goaltending in order to crack the top-8 and make a little noise in the postseason. This season, we've seen nearly the same team, sans anything resembling decent goaltending for much of the season. Is Devan Dubnyk capable of stabilizing a squad that has been on the brink of disaster for half a season? While he may be a band-aid at the moment, the chances that he can lead this team to the promised land much like Ilya Bryzgalov did last season are about the same as me actually enjoying a professional basketball game. That's a lie. The Wild have better odds than that.
For better or for worse, this is the squad we're stuck with. I cannot see Fletcher making a giant splash come the trade deadline. We know the likely candidates in Kyle Brodziak or Matt Cooke. Plenty of teams are going to be looking for some depth down the stretch. Anything splashy however we are just not going to see. It's simply not in Fletcher's DNA to trade for or trade away the big fish in the middle of a season.
In a recent episode of Wild Wednesday with Jeff Dubay a mudslide of dirt was flung about the organization, landing on nearly everyone, but especially the heads of Fletcher, Yeo, and Mikko Koivu. Much of this criticism is deserved. The team has been in shambles and a lot of this falls to the GM for sitting on his hands in the off-season or returning a cinder block like Nate Prosser to the team. You've heard the spin from management enough already and the arguments simply don't make sense if you have eyes and can see the game.
Calling for Koivu to get traded though, that really perked my ears up. It's not so much a matter that I'd be totally against it. For the right price anyone can be had. Hear that Stu Bickel? Not even you and your mountains of #gritz are safe!
Yet trading Koivu seems a bit reactionary and over the top to me. Sure his play is in decline but it's not as if he's worthless. The issue raised on the podcast was about the "culture" around the Wild and how Koivu's attitude towards the game is what has been the boat anchor holding the team down. Now I'm not in the locker room, so I couldn't tell you what culture is like. If you're looking for judgement purely based on how they play the game or how they conduct themselves when Kevin "The Midget" Gorg jabs a microphone in their face between periods, then I'm not sure where you're getting your idea that the culture is bad.
Do you expect fireballs to shoot from Yeo's eyes? Maybe have Koivu throw a flying elbow drop from the dasher like Randy "Macho Man" Savage on the next poor bastard to take a run at Mikael Granlund? Of course not, that would be just plain silly (as much as I'd love to see it happen). Allow me to make the argument though I believe they were looking for. Now I'm not a huge fan of getting rid of Koivu, but if I were to make the argument for it, it would fall somewhere along the lines of when he was drafted.
About the only reason I can get behind on trading away the Kaptain is purely the fact that he was drafted in the Jacques Lemaire era. Back in those days, this team was markedly different from what we see today. A defense first, no nonsense trap team that hovered in mediocrity from their inception. Koivu was drafted for what he could contribute to the Lemaire system. A solid two-way center with good size who has never been overly aggressive. His style of play fits perfectly into the system Lemaire had installed.
Fast-forward almost a decade and he has seen a new GM come in, the entire roster has turned over, and a couple new coaches have been behind the bench. While his style has remained largely the same, this team is not what it used to be. For Koivu to remain on this squad you might expect that he would begin to adapt parts of his game to better suit what Yeo is trying to do. This is not to say he's failing at playing the system, it's merely pointing out how adaptation is key in this league to keeping your job. Right now, Koivu is doing just fine. The kind of accountability he puts on himself as well as others should be envied around the NHL. He's never been an elite goal-scoring center, he's been accountable, and that may not be the role a lot of people want to see out of one of their top-line centers.
His age, combined with his cap hit, and don't forget the fact that he has a NMC attached to his contract make him virtually untouchable. The only way this guy is really going anywhere, is if he wants out. I cannot see that happening unless this team absolutely implodes and shows no signs of being relevant in the playoffs at any point in the near future. The chance to dump Koivu was virtually eliminated when he was signed to his current contract, and solidified further with the acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
So whats next?
With the Wild's chances to get to the playoffs slowly rising over the last couple weeks, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to see Chuck Fletcher consider the Wild as buyers as the trade deadline looms. I'm honestly not sure I'm a fan of him doing anything right now. Sure we look good at the moment, but we've also seen some competition that hasn't been the best either. Against the Hawks tonight will be a nice test, but win or lose it doesn't much change my opinion that this squad As it stands, they will not be making too much noise in the playoffs, if any at all.
To give up future assets or prospects to try and bring in a big name player at the deadline just makes no sense at all to me. Not this season at least. This team has to do a lot more to convince me they are worth a damn down the stretch, but unlike some other podcasters I'm not ready to drop the hammer on Mike Yeo as of this time. It's a shame he caters to the old guard as much as he has this season, but it's far from their biggest concern right now. If the team was showing absolutely no signs of life, even against some of the bottom-feeders in this league, then by all means! Drop that hammer, twice even!
It's a funny thing, a hockey season. You can go from riding that wave of the early season high, straight into the pits of despair and right back out again within a few short weeks. The team was horribly out-shot by the Canucks the other night, yet walked away with the win. It's nice when it turns out like that. We've had far too much of the opposite this season. Finding a way to win games in any situation is the mark of a good team. It's just 1 game, but it's a start. The Wild are going to need to start showing me a lot more of that, if they want to even begin to convince me they belong.