The stakes are higher, the checking is tighter, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Minnesota Wild have rarely lasted any meaningful length. These are have almost become Scientific Law at this point. Just ask Einstein, I’m sure he knows.
One thing I continue to hear every single year when the Wild are summarily dispatched from the post-season is that the star players for the Wild always disappear. I decided to investigate this narrative. I went through every single year the Wild have made the playoffs, at total of nine seasons and found that the trend whether the Wild went lasted more than a series, or were beaten in five, Minnesota’s top players have an incredibly hard time rising to the occasion.
When the games matter most, sure you need role players to step up and surprise some people. But the old cliche of, “You need your best players to be your best players,” isn’t some oft regurgitated nonsense. For a team to really reach the pinnacle, the top of the hill, and claim themselves “The King of the Mountain,” the top players in the regular season must be the top players in the post season.
However, let’s back up a tad. How does one try and determine if a player was really a non-factor if the some playoff series were shorter than others? We use rate stats. Essentially, we’ll put each player on an even playing field - sometimes even even with themselves year to year or regular season to post season - by calculating their points, goals, assists, and shots per 60 minutes of ice time.
In the first, most improbable, post season for the Wild in 2002-2003, of the top five regular season scorers, three of them top the chart for playoff performance. Players like Marian Gaborik and Andrew Brunette were so much better in the sprint that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The big knockers knocked well for the Wild as other players really stepped up to pick up were others maybe struggled.
After a long break from the post season, including an entire canceled season smack dab in the middle of all of it, the Wild returned to the post season once again to take on the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. The Gabby and Demo Show was the only good on the ice for the Wild in that series as the Ducks did a pretty damn good job keeping Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, and Brian Rolston to near non-factors. Both Rolston and Gaborik were the biggest shooters, but everyone else dropped severely and the Wild were dumped like Kim Johnsson in the series.
Finally, in 2007-2008, the Wild had their best season in franchise history to that point with perhaps their all-time best goal scorer setting a franchise record in goals. Gaborik was a real goal scoring talent, the team had a solid supporting cast, and they were playing a worse Colorado Avalanche team. The team and fans, maybe for the first time, outside of being surprised in 2003’s run to the Western Conference Final, actually had Cup on their minds. But as good as Gaborik was in the regular season, he was a compete no-show in the playoffs. Strikingly, Mikko Koivu was the top goal scorer in the playoffs that year. Brent Burns, the young stud defenseman, a no-show. Demitra had just one goal, and the Wild were upset - a returning of the favor from 2003 - by the Avs.
As we keep going down the line, we see pretty prominent players in this most current era go missing. Sure, there have been injuries. Sure, the match-ups maybe weren’t as great, but year after year, the top regular season players on the team fail to, collectively, be top players in the post season.
Already through one game against the Jets, we are still waiting for the Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund to put this team over the top. Game one was simply not good enough from an offensive perspective. When Matt Cullen, who resides on the third line, leads the team in goals, and fourth line center Joel Eriksson Ek leads the team in shots when the stakes are so high, there has to not just be improvement, but the team needs to show up and be a factor. You can’t count on Coyle to carry the team to the second round. You can’t ride Joel Eriksson Ek to the Western Conference Final. This team needs Jason Zucker, needs Eric Staal, and needs Mikko Koivu in the worst way.
So who is going to take charge?
The Wild’s best players have yet to take charge since 2003. It’s time to rise to the occasion.