The Minnesota Wild's season has officially come to a close after being defeated in four games to two at the hands of the Dallas Stars. But how do we process what we witnessed this season? How do we analyze the next steps for this franchise? There are so many questions after a season ends. Denial and isolation are likely the first emotions in a loss, followed by anger. We then we reflect and accept what as happened as we start looking toward the future.
Five positives we can take from the Wild's season
The Wild lost to the Dallas Stars, how can we look back on this year as anything but a disappointment?
Denial and Isolation
Looking back at the Wild's 2015-16 campaign, the season has been pock-marked with inconsistency, but even then, the Game 6 rally that fell short is tough to take. The puck was just a few measly centimeters from being a goal with 22 seconds left on the clock. While we all know the rule of what constitutes a goal in the National Hockey League, many are left in disbelief that the puck did not completely cross the red goal line. Even pictures from other obtuse angles are circulating to try and debunk the NHL's official ruling on the play. Had it been called a goal, it is possible the Wild could have won in overtime, but it's just as likely the team could have lost resulting in the same place we're at now.
Wild fans, having been beaten down by the emotional roller coaster that was 2015-16, will likely withdraw from the NHL as the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue. They will move on to outdoor activities like fishing, yard work, boating, swimming, and baseball. This is all a normal reaction to what has transpired. The Wild lost, and it's tough to look that in the face.
No doubt we fans feel anger towards the team. Questions swirl as to what could have been if the team had only just done "A," or "B" had made this play instead of "C." What if the Wild hadn't gone 3-7-3 in January and only won three of the 19 games from the first of the year into mid-February? What if Mike Yeo wasn't fired? What if Zach Parise was healthy after suffering an MCL sprain, and then a herniated disc in his lower back? What if Thomas Vanek and Parise were healthy for the playoffs?
When you try and rationalize why those questions even exist, that's where your anger builds up inside ready to rage-quit the Wild for good. Why did the Wild suck in January? For the most part, we know the team was healthy, but even then, the body language looked as if the team wanted to be any where but the ice. How did it get so bad that the Wild felt it needed to move on from Mike Yeo? Even Yeo himself admitted there was a divide in the locker room that started to manifest itself on the ice. Why in the hell did Parise not take the necessary time to get healthy after the knee sprain? He did miss eight games from November 5th to November 25th, but was that long enough? Could it have prevented the herniated disc in his back in January as one tends to screw things up in their body when trying to over-compensate for an injury? Why did Yeo and John Torchetti gamble with the $98 million asset in such a way that it cost him the playoffs because he never took the time to let it heal?
That may be the most maddening point of it all. Parise was clearly not himself during the January slide, and was mostly ineffective. Then he's completely unavailable for the playoffs - the most important part of the year for the team - and for what? To help a mostly middling NHL team make its fourth playoffs only to make an exit in the first round. Trying to answer these questions can drive every person to the edge.
Even in defeat, though, the season was also fun. It's hockey - your favorite sport - and the Wild is your favorite team. Who could forget the epic third period comeback on opening night against the Avalanche with Parise netting a hat trick? That was fun. Charlie Coyle netting two goals in a win the following game against the previous year's playoff opponent St. Louis Blues. That was fun as well. The month of December coming and going without a swoon! We thought the mid-season scorn was over. Devan Dubnyk played out of his damned mind during that stretch posting a .942 save percentage. Hell, the Wild got had a franchise record for most points through 41 games of the season.
Then the Wild gets through a coaching change and rattles off four wins. John Torchetti, former coach of the Iowa Wild swears to hold everyone accountable, including the veterans, and makes some necessary changes to the line-up. Those changes would be ever apparent in the premier event of the season - the Stadium Series at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. We got to see North Stars alumni like Dino Ciccarelli, Don Beaupre, and Brian Bellows join favorite old Wild players like Richard Park, Wes Walz, and Brian Rolston on the ice against some timeless Blackhawks names. Not to mention the amazing atmosphere that only outdoors in Minnesota could offer while the Wild throttled the Blackhawks 6-1 in front of 50,000 screaming fans braving the outdoors.
The Wild then went on to sweep the the Blackhawks for the season, a little over a month later, notching the fifth win against the Central Division rivals. Even with as inconsistent the team had been, the Wild still found a way to beat the Blackhawks five time throughout the season.
Parise scored three hat tricks in the season. The third one coming in a 6-2 destruction of former Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom and the Calgary Flames. Minnesota then dashed the playoff hopes of the Avalanche as it beat them handily in Denver to hold on to the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
And finally, everyone will remember Game 6. Even though it started out with a somber tribute to the Minnesota's late favorite son, Prince, the Wild fought back from a 4-0 hole. We didn't know if they could be saved, but Jared Spurgeon's first goal of the game in the third period allowed the building to erupt into a frenzy. The Wild Game Operations department changed the goal song from Joe Satriani's "Crowd Chant" to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" and the 19,310 fans went nuts as the Wild stormed back to come up just a fraction of the diameter of the round vulcanized rubber of tying the game and forcing overtime. It would have been a comeback for the ages.
Acceptance and Looking Toward the Future
The Wild's season is indeed over. There shall be no more hockey until October comes again. But with the offseason upon us, hope springs eternal.
The Wild will conduct a search for a new head coach. The decision will undoubtedly change the trajectory for this franchise. There is talent on this team and it will be up to the next bench boss to allow that talent to blossom. Placing the right guys in the right position to succeed and keeping everyone accountable to that blueprint will be of utmost importance.
The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will take place on Friday, June 24th, and Saturday, June 25th. With the Wild only owning a 1st, a 4th, and two 7th round picks, there will likely be movement of players through trades, and the draft is where that can be most active. There will likely be a player or two that we don't want to say goodbye to, but a shake-up is necessary if this teams wants to reach the pinnacle.
Training camp is going to be interesting. With the influx of NCAA talent that has been signed by the Wild, we get to see players like Alex Tuch, Mario Lucia, Adam Gilmour, and Sam Anas not only make the Iowa squad better, they should be able to compete for a spot with the NHL club. That's not even counting players like Chase Lang and Gustav Olofsson who'll likely get a crack, who were there already. Mike Reilly got a taste of the NHL, and he'll likely get better with that experience.
There are current roster players that we should be excited for too. Charlie Coyle has become a cog in which the Wild should continue build the machine around. As well as for Nino Niederreiter, who had himself and solid season and good playoffs, the future looks bright with him in it. Erik Haula emerged in the latter half of the season after being the punching bag for Mike Yeo for a long time. Finally given a chance to "come into the out now," he showed that he can be an important player for this team.. Mikko Koivu, the captain had a great playoff, and a solid season of his own.
It plain sucks to lose like the Wild did, with the inconsistency it had all season long. There were lots of dark times throughout the season, and Game 6 was a microcosm of that. Being real about the condition of this team is one that requires a lot of analysis. Nobody knows just what to expect from them. The scoring depth has taken a large step backwards when a line of Jarret Stoll, Ryan Carter, and Chris Porter. The penalty kill is in disarray and needs to be figured out. The power play, while better under Torchetti, still looks stagnant and flaccid for stretches. The identity of the Wild in previous years was its ability to defend, but even that took a step back. Parise's injury will be off big concern going forward as that is one that can be re-aggravated by something as simple as sneezing. Getting out of this will not be easy, especially with the cap situation that faces the general manager.
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Writing the eulogy for a team just eliminated in the first round playoffs is never fun. There should be more from the Wild. We should expect more from the Wild. As we put to rest the 2015-16 Wild, we need to remember that the things you are feeling are normal. There's an evolution to grieving. Hopefully we've helped in that process.
Oh look, our time is up. We'll see you for your next appointment soon.