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Failure to play Nino Niederreiter should seal John Torchetti's fate in Minnesota

Niederreiter- a 20-goal scorer and defensive beast- got 4th-line minutes last night. Say whaaaaaaat?

Even with the lineup hit by massive injuries, John Torchetti couldn't find a way to get Nino Niederreiter on the ice.
Even with the lineup hit by massive injuries, John Torchetti couldn't find a way to get Nino Niederreiter on the ice.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1 of the Minnesota Wild - Dallas Stars series was utterly demoralizing for Wild fans, as Minnesota couldn't do anything against the Conference-best Stars. Even after a scoreless first period, Dallas left no doubt as to how would win the game by out-shooting Minnesota 14-2, and holding the Wild to zero scoring chances. All they needed to do was solve Devan Dubnyk, and he finally gave out in the second.

There wasn't anything Minnesota did particularly well. I mean, sure, they slowed down the game, but they couldn't counter-punch. They couldn't get any sort of consistent attack. They couldn't score. They couldn't get things going on either the power play or the penalty kill.

And they couldn't coach.

This might seem harsh to interim coach John Torchetti, since Minnesota was without three of their best offensive players in Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, and Erik Haula. And yes, that's a valid point, there probably wasn't much that any one person on this team could do to win this game. Even a heroic effort from Dubnyk wasn't enough to win. I'm not pinning this loss on Torchetti, or any individual.

But there were very notable flaws in the way Torchetti approached his game plan. Not trying to get as much offense on the ice as possible by leaving Mike Reilly in AHL's Iowa for Game 1 was pretty baffling. As was Torchetti's unwillingness to make adjustments to the Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle line, which had 2 shots, until *after* his team got beaten 4-0.

But the most glaring flaw was that in a game where Torchetti had just two NHL-caliber lines at his disposal, Nino Niederreiter got 4th-line ice time. Here's how the ice times broke down for Wild forwards last night.


Game 1 TOI

Mikko Koivu


Mikael Granlund


Jason Zucker


Charlie Coyle


Chris Porter


Ryan Carter


Justin Fontaine


Jarret Stoll


Jason Pominville


Nino Niederreiter


David Jones


Zac Dalpe


Here are some of the players who had more ice time than Niederreiter: Porter, waiver wire pick-up in September. Stoll, waiver wire pick-up in December. Zucker, frequently a healthy scratch by Torchetti himself. Even Fontaine- a good and perpetually underrated player- has no business getting more time on ice than Niederreiter.

And to review, this is because Niederreiter is probably the Wild's best forward, especially in this depleted state. We've discussed this almost a million times at Hockey Wilderness, but if you're new here, here's the condensed version of the "Nino is best" argument: He's been dominant at 5-on-5 this season, scoring more frequently than anyone (but Haula), allowing the fewest shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances on the team and making every one of his teammates better. That's a player you want on the ice as often as possible.

Furthermore, Niederreiter demonstrated in-game that he was clearly one of the Wild's best options at forward. He led the team in shots with 4, and the only other Minnesota forwards to generate more than one shot both started the game on Niederreiter's line (Pominville, Granlund). It's hard to argue that he wasn't one of Minnesota's 3 best forwards last night, which makes this even more confusing.

While it's true that the Minnesota being short-handed 6 times skewed ice time in favor of penalty killers, this is not a good excuse. Partly because Niederreiter would probably be a pretty good penalty killer. But mostly because when you don't factor in special teams, Niederreiter was 9th on the team in even-strength ice time- behind AHL depth guy Zac Dalpe. Remember, even strength is when he's at his best, and is best on the team, and he's playing less then than a 26-year-old who was in Iowa until last week.

Torchetti was a long-shot to replace Mike Yeo as a full-time coach in Minnesota to begin with- Wild GM Chuck Fletcher already struck out with two rookie coaches, making hiring a third first-time coach a tough sell. But it's hard to believe that Fletcher could watch last night's game and believe that Torchetti is the answer at head coach next season.

This might seem like such a small point to form such a strong conclusion- how a coach used one player in one game he probably wasn't going to win- but it really was that egregious. This was the most important game of Torchetti's head coaching career, and for the Wild to have a prayer, they needed him making decisions to optimize their chances of winning. Faced with this task, he either wasn't able to identify that Niederreiter was a superior option to 4th-line grinders, or couldn't figure out a way to get one of his best players on the ice. Either is an unacceptable quality for Minnesota's next coach.