If you thought that the Minnesota Wild losing four consecutive games after winning eight straight was bad enough news, well oh boy, I got something to tell you.
Last night against the Dallas Stars — for their final game before the extended holiday break — they were given the misfortune of losing 7-4 to their divisional rivals, but also losing one of the best two-way centers in the game right now, as Joel Eriksson Ek was hauled down on to the ice by defenseman Jani Hakanpaa. He had to leave the game and did not return.
Also, just to put the cherry no top of the growing sundae of misfortune, head coach Dean Evason described Eriksson Ek’s injury as something that doesn’t look good.
Evason says Eriksson Ek injury doesn’t look good. Frustrated it wasn’t a holding penalty, but regardless, the injury sounds serious and he’s pretty irreplaceable in the #mnwild lineup.— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 21, 2021
Now comes the hard part in trying to replace the irreplaceable; to try and get back on the winning track after the holidays without the spine of your system.
And Wild players realize just what a loss this is.
“He does it all for us,” goaltender Cam Talbot said. “He brings it every single night. You can put him out there at any point in a game and he’s gonna give you everything he’s got. There’s no replacing a guy like him just like there’s no replacing [Spurgeon]. It’s going to be a by-committee kind of thing. Next guy up. We have the depth to do it. But obviously, those are tough injuries. You never want to see that.”
Minnesota has certainly replaced someone before by-committee. They went on their eight-game winning streak without Spurgeon for the majority of the wins, but it is certainly different with both of them out and both of them essentially being the quintessential players for how this team plays the game of hockey.
“He’s one of our biggest heart-and-soulers. He’s everything for us,” Marcus Foligno said.
It wasn’t just the fact that he did end up heading down the tunnel, but the play that made it happen. The coach is clearly frustrated.
“[Eriksson Ek] gets a holding and [Klingberg] is holding his stick,” Evason said. “[On the Hakanpaa play], there’s no way Ek’s gonna get into that position to get hurt if he does not get held up. He’s too big, he’s too strong, he’s going to go through that. And he gets grabbed. They talked to us that he got pushed. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s frustrating that a guy gets hurt on a play that’s obviously an illegal play.”
And as Michael Russo has pointed out the morning after, Eriksson Ek was giving it to the officials after he got his “holding penalty” against Klingberg — like, really making it known that he disagrees with the call. Either we can get deep into the conspiracy theory that they took advantage and non-called the later injury-causing play, or just the fact that he might have been off the ice if given a misconduct penalty for berating the referees, and therefore not injured at that time.
Either way, what happened is what happened.
Where do the Wild go from here? They can either please every single person reading this blog and recall Marco Rossi to make his NHL debut, but that brings certainly more risk than simply going Hartman-Gaudreau-Sturm-Rask down the middle (for example) or getting one of the more experienced young guys in center Connor Dewar or Mason Shaw to fill in; to at least provide some more offense than that projected quartet of centermen.
At least they have some time to figure it out and talk to some people. The next scheduled game for the Wild is up north to face the Winnipeg Jets on their ice, but that depends if the cross-border postponement is extended to that time, or even if the NHL returns fully when they plan to after the holidays. After that, it’s the Winter Classic...so, yeah.