By Patrick Knight - @patknightk102
A lot has been said about the slow start the Minnesota Wild has had to begin this season. Many fans are growing impatient with a team that handed out over $200-million in contracts this past summer to help prevent missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. The team isn’t scoring as much as they should, they’re not shooting the puck as often as they should be, they aren’t generating and establishing forechecks as often as they should, and flat out, aren’t winning as much as they should be. That being said, you would think I would be panicking along with everyone else…but I am not. Allow me to explain why.
We have heard all about how the lockout put teams behind the proverbial “eight-ball” and the Wild are a team that is suffering the consequences of a shortened training camp. With a roster that is around 35-pecent new, it is going to take a little time for the new players to adapt to Mike Yeo’s systems. On top of that, we have three rookies playing significant roles on this team and they should be allowed time to adjust to playing in the NHL regardless of how skilled they are. I am not worried that players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin, won’t be able to adjust to new teammates and systems. This Wild team is considerably more talented than in previous years, despite the team’s early season struggles. Again, I will take Parise, Suter, Granlund, Coyle and Brodin over players like Nick Johnson, Guillaume Lattendresse, Marek Zidlicky, Erik Christensen, Casey Wellman, Greg Zanon, Warren Peters, Jed Ortmeyer…and I could go on, so I hope you get my point.
I can hear some of you saying that we don’t have time because this season is more of a “sprint” then a “marathon.” Yes, you are correct. Points will be at a premium this year and you don’t want to lose too many games in a row to find your team out of contention early in the year. However, back in 1994 when the NHL played their last shortened season, being slightly better than average was ok to make the playoffs. Tossing out the division winners of Philadelphia, Quebec, Detroit and Calgary, the other 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs had an average of 51 points out of possible 96. Keeping that in mind, let’s say this year you need at least 60 out of a possible 96 points to make the playoffs. As of Sunday morning, the Wild have 11 points. That means they would need to accumulate 49 out of a possible 74 points over the final 37 games. Impossible? No. Tough? Yes. However, the Wild have help in that they will be playing nothing but Western Conference teams this year will allow them to move up the standings quickly when they put together long and sustained winning streaks.
Finally, I am not panicking because the Wild have Chuck Fletcher at the helm of this ship. I know some of you still haven’t forgiven him for trading away Nick Leddy. Get over it and move on. He took responsibility for it and since then, in my opinion, has gotten the better end of every trade he has made. Did Todd Richards work out as a coach? Not here. Has Yeo worked out? Honestly, it is too early to tell. This organization can’t continue to be a revolving door for coaches. We saw last year this team execute what Yeo wanted at a high level, so his system works. It’s on the players to execute it. Fletcher was handed a team that was on the verge of disaster and has turned it into a respectable franchise with a ton of promise for not only this season, but for years to come. This is my opinion from afar, but I believe Fletcher had a four-part plan when he took over here.
#1 – Rid the team of “bad” contracts to free up cap space.
#2 – Use the draft picks from trading away those “bad” contracts to stockpile and build a farm system of young talent that will not only help the organization for years to come, but one that you could “sell” to free agents as to why to come and play in Minnesota.
#3 – Utilize the free cap space generated to be a big player in free agency this past summer as well as this upcoming summer. Yes, I believe the Wild will also be a big player this upcoming summer, but more on that at a later time.
#4 – Take one last shot at clearing out veterans to make room for young players and to stockpile, one final time, picks and young prospects for the future.
This is where we find ourselves, in my opinion, at this time. To me, it appears that Fletcher is not a guy who enjoys seeing quality players leave for “nothing.” I bet to this day he wishes he had a chance to trade away Marian Gaborik for a bounty of picks and young prospects. So if this team continues to take some time to find its “stride,” would Fletcher trade away some impending free agents (Matt Cullen, Nicklas Backstrom, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and possibly Devin Setoguchi ) to free up space for Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett? If things are this bad right now, how much worse could it get with these young players in the lineup? It could improve actually with these kids playing and the organization would be armed with more picks and prospects to add even more depth.
In taking a step back and realizing for not only this year but also for the foreseeable future, the Wild are in a great spot to have success for years to come. And this is why I am not hitting the panic button….yet.
This week’s Wild games
Monday at Calgary 8pm
Tuesday at Vancouver 9pm
Thursday home against Colorado 7pm
Sunday home against Detroit 5pm