Alright folks, it’s your favorite time of the year. Birds are chirping, water is wet, and the Wild are eliminated. Don’t be too discouraged though. This season was different. The Wild had some positives. For one, they didn’t really have a swoon! If you want to get nitpicky, the annual swoon technically occurred when the Wild began the season with a 5-7-2 record. Now, if you told me at the beginning of the season that the Wild’s worst 14 game stretch at any point during the season would involve 12 points in the standings, I’d predict a pretty successful regular season. But isn’t that the problem? Regular season success is what they’re good at! The Wild are one of three teams that have made the playoffs each of the last six seasons. The playoffs, however, are an entirely different issue and the team from St. Paul, MN has only two series wins to show for it.
Let’s go back to last summer. Moves needed to be made. Chuck Fletcher was given, what was seemingly, a final chance to prove that this roster could make a run at the Stanley Cup. With salary cap restraints, the moves that were to be made last summer needed to be well calculated. Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter were restricted free agents and were due for a pay day. Niederreiter and Granlund were penciled in as key players of the future, and the team needed some extra cap space in order to give them the contracts they deserved.
Chuck Fletcher made a necessary move in order to make this possible. Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella were due $9.6 million and were ultimately traded to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Ennis had two years left, with a cap hit of $4.6 million per season. Marcus Foligno was a restricted free agent.
Ennis dealt with a laundry list of injuries the previous two seasons, having only played a combined 74 games. Wild fans tried to keep a positive attitude toward Ennis by looking at the potential that he could bring if he could remain healthy for an entire season. Let’s dig into it.
This will be short and sweet. Listen, I’m sure Tyler Ennis is a great guy, and there is one thing that proves this: his friendship with Wild blue liner Jared Spurgeon. If Tank Spurgeon is best buds with you then you must be doing something right. Unfortunately, this quality doesn’t translate well to the 200’x85’ sheet of ice that hockey is played on. Another good thing that happened this season for Ennis is that he stayed healthy. This was kind of amazing, quite frankly, for how easily he was knocked off the puck this year.
Hope you’ve had your cup of coffee already, maybe a snack, or went to the bathroom because we might be here awhile. There’s no denying that Ennis was less than tremendous this season and nobody expected him to light it up. However, he did not play like a $4.6 million player. Not even close, really. When I looked up his final stat line, I audibly gasped when I saw how many games he played. I watched nearly every game this season and if you asked me how many games I thought Ennis played, my guess would have been probably around 55-60; certainly not 73… He was so unnoticeable for me that I had no clue how often he suited up. One can argue that Ennis is a top 6 style forward. A skilled player that doesn’t throw his body around much. I use the word “skilled” loosely. He’s a smaller player and is not a 3rd/4th line role player. So why did coach Boudreau use him there? If you remember back to the beginning of the season, the Wild suffered a plethora of injuries. Top six forwards were dropping left and right. Parise missed the first half of the season, Granlund missed games early, Nino got hurt, Coyle broke his leg, the list goes on, and Ennis was given every possible opportunity to get top line minutes playing alongside Eric Staal, or Mikko Koivu. But with each opportunity Ennis was given, he never really ran with it.
You may have forgotten how many opportunities Ennis was given on Eric Staal’s wing. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, of the 825 minutes Ennis played this season at 5v5, he spent nearly a third of it, or 265 minutes, playing with Eric Staal. We call that an opportunity, folks. He was given a chance to play on a line with the top offensive center on the team for nearly a third of his entire season and the team could only produce 11 goals for and allowed 13 goals while those two were on the ice together during 5v5 play.
For a comparison I looked at a forward with similar traits as Ennis and somewhat similar ice time with Eric Staal this season. Let’s look at Mikael Granlund. Before you yell at me for comparing Ennis and Granlund, I think we can all agree that they are smaller, skilled, left handed wingers that theoretically fit the top six forward role if you were to evaluate the players’ strengths as a forward. I think we can also agree that neither player would fit the prototypical checking-line forward. Granlund spent 220 minutes of 5v5 ice time with Staal this season and the team was better in nearly every statistical and analytical category in hockey. This would seem obvious as Granlund is a much better player, but when you look at the cap hit that Ennis carries, the production that he brought, to put it simply, was unacceptable.
A buyout is almost a certainty. There is no way of knowing until a new GM is hired and can properly evaluate the team but I would be shocked if this isn’t a sure thing. According to CapFriendly.com a buyout would result in a cap hit of $2,166,667 for 2018-19 season and a $1,216,667 for 2019-20. This would save the Wild over $2.4 million in cap space for next season. There are plenty of other players on entry-level contracts that have potential to bring more to the team than Ennis did this season for significantly less money.
The Grade: D+
As I typed D+ all I could think of is Tommy Callahan doing cartwheels down the halls of Marquette University. “D+? Oh my god. I passed. I passed! Oh, man! I got a D+!” Yes, Tyler, like Tommy Boy, you did pass. But barely. The fact that you got over 20 points helped your case to get above a failing grade. And like Marquette, I give out fewer D-pluses than D-minuses.