For the Minnesota Wild, they had to make a lot of weird and awkward lineup decisions prior to Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights. Veteran winger Zach Parise is on the outside looking in, and has been a few times during the regular season—the writing was on the wall.
“I have a lot of sympathy for him,” Wild GM Bill Guerin said on The Athletic’s Straight from the Source podcast on Thursday. “It’s not an easy thing. It’s a crappy decision for us to make and it’s a crappy situation for him to be in. I’ve been there and it’s just not great. He’s a real pro. He just wants to help and be a part of it.”
No one can blame any frustration coming from Parise, and Guerin clearly understands that. To go nine years as a member of the Wild without a healthy scratch, to now suddenly find himself undressed as his team heads into one of their most significant playoff series in recent memory. Even when he does play, it’s strictly on the fourth line, with no true sign of promotion coming his way.
It might just be a relationship that has turned too sour professionally to continue on beyond this season; but that’s a conversation for the offseason.
Deeper into the podcast appearance, Guerin discusses another player that has faced their fair share of criticism from the fans.
“I’ll be honest with you, I hear some of that chatter and it bothers me,” Guerin said, about Wild centerman Victor Rask.
“It bothers me because I guess he was traded for a popular player (in Nino Niederreiter), and that’s fine. But when Victor Rask got here, he had no chance. He was buried, they wouldn’t play him, and this is a guy that had 50-some-odd points in the league a few years before. If you’re not playing and you’re not treated well, you’re gonna lose confidence.
“To be honest with you, he got dumped on for a year-and-a-half. That’s not fair. That’s not right. Just to say, ‘This guy stinks,’ he doesn’t stink. He’s a damn good hockey player who’s been centering our best line for most the year and he’s produced. The way he was treated here at the start really affected him in a negative way.”
I mean, that’s completely fair to point out.
It’s hard to take away the context of Rask-for-Niederreiter in the straight one-for-one swap when talking about the Swedish forward, but if the acquisition cost was lower, there would certainly be more praise from the general fan base about his level of play.
Last offseason, Guerin decided to truly give Rask a chance.
“We have to get something out of this,” Guerin said on the podcast. “We’re paying him 4 million bucks a year. Let’s give him a shot, like a legit shot. And you know what, he’s been awesome for us this year. He’s produced. When he went on our top power-play unit, it turned around. … I’m sick and tired of people crapping on Victor Rask. He’s a good hockey player and he’s done a lot of good things for the Minnesota Wild this year.”
The 28-year-old has one more year remaining on that contract and has played the overwhelming majority of his ice-time this season with rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello at even-strength. With that talent surrounding him and the powerplay time, he been able to score 10 goals and 23 points in 54 games, and has shown some flashes of brilliance.
And he has continued that through the recent lineup change; moving him to a line in between Kevin Fiala and Marcus Johansson.
the victor rask redemption tour continues as he brings the wild back to within one!— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) April 30, 2021
4-3 for the blues! pic.twitter.com/a5Paks8Q5Z
If it wasn’t working, Kaprizov wouldn’t have finished the season at the top of rookie scoring, and Zuccarello wouldn’t have his renaissance season that he did. It makes sense to continue doing what is working, even if the majority of fans would rather have Nino Niederreiter in his place.
No one can blame Guerin for defending his player.
We will see if Rask can continue that third-wheel surge on his recent line through the first round against Vegas. Maybe he will just score a bunch of goals and etch his name into Minnesota Wild history. You never know, it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs.