MNWild: Good, Bad, and Ugly.
posted Mar 03 2013, 06:35PM
story by
posted in NHL, Analysis

Good, Bad, and Ugly will be a series of articles to update to current state of affairs for the Minnesota Wild as I see it. The Minnesota Wild after 20 games is a point out of 8th place in the Western Conference and 2 points from 4th place with a record of 10-8-2 22 points. The Wild has graduated to the NHL, four of its top prospects (Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Jonas Brodin) to complement top free agent acquisitions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Niklas Backstrom in the last season of a 4yr/$24mil deal has been far better than his 8-5-2 record reflects. Backstrom has been the victim of lack of offensive support by a Wild team that ranks 28th in goals per game with a 2.15 average while at the same time ranking 7th in goals against per game with a 2.40 average. The Wild although struggling with identity and individual role issues, plays a very blue collar brand of hockey and features 4 lines of forwards that participate in back checking and a defensively responsible mentality. This Wild team although middle of the pack record wise has shown the ability to take over games and has played well at home.

The Good:

-Although it took 18 games Wild Coach Mike Yeo has finally adjusted the role and expectations of winger Dany Heatley. Entering his second season as a member of the Wild, Heatley has a sniper contract and ego with a power forward skill set. Coach Yeo seemed to put off dealing with the reality that Heatley's skating and puck possession skills had been directly responsible for him turning over the puck and not being able to compete in the high pressure fore-check game with the top line. Heatley found himself a stride or two short racing to pucks and not in position to get his shot off. Coach Yeo's adjustment was to match Heatley up with players that better match his skill set as a power forward, Mikael Granlund and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Heatley is at his best when he can setup in front of net for feeds and rebounds. Playing with Bouchard and Granlund, two players that can carry the puck with speed and have proven to be pass first players should only increase the effectiveness and production of Heatley while keeping him engaged which has been his fatal flaw in the past couple seasons.

-Matt Cullen is a player that I have been very disappointed in with regard to his role on this team and ability to physically compete in top 6 minutes. I believed the remedy would be for the Wild and Coach Yeo to use him in a specialist role and reduce his even strength minutes. Then Wild's popular grinder Cal Clutterbuck took a cheap shot at the KNEE of Edmonton's Taylor Hall. Enter top prospect Jason Zucker from Houston and winger Devin Setogucci to form a dynamic second line centered by Cullen. Zucker since arriving has scored 3 goals in 6 games and Setogucci has looked like player on the verge of a major breakout. Cullen was unable to physically compete on the wing earlier in the season as Coach Yeo awarded the second line center position to Granlund. Now with two high flying shoot first wingers in Zucker and Setogucci, Cullen has looked skilled and savvy enabling the second line to provide the secondary scoring the Wild has craved all season.

-Jonas Brodin is the youngest defender in the NHL at 19 years young, to watch him neutralize the league’s best fore-checkers and eliminate scoring chances with his smarts and skating you would think he has been in the league for years. Brodin plays a brand of hockey that will never see him featured in highlights. His style is so calm and subtle I doubt he will ever get as much credit as he deserves. To give an example of his abilities, Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr describes here: exactly what Wild fans have seen from Brodin in his rookie season. Brodin is a legitimate Top 4 pairing defenseman with a very high potential ceiling. To have Brodin play so well at the NHL level this season must have GM Chuck Fletcher itching to pull the trigger on the debut of electric defensive prospect Matthew Dumba. I actually think barring an injury or major letdown, Dumba and Brodin are paired from day one of next season.

The Bad:

-Mikael Granlund the all-world prospect who was reached legendary popularity in his home country of Finland playing for HIFK Helsinki-Finland, finally arrived in Minnesota after signing his entry level deal. With the NHL locked out, Granlund began the season in Houston of the AHL playing in 21 games; he scored 8 goals and had 21 points. Granlund was recalled and anointed the second line center from the first day of training camp after the lockout happened. Granlund scored his first NHL goal in his first career game but has since struggled to be consistent often being physically overpowered but marginal opposing players. Granlund has yet to play a dynamic style of hockey that would allow Wild fans to see exactly what created the hype surrounding his talent. Granlund has looked in decisive in most games and is trying to figure out how to find open space to operate on the smaller NHL ice sheet. Granlund has yet to display a killer instinct as a goal scorer and his playmaking ability has yet to shine as well. I think as Granlund gets more games under his belt and experiences more success, he will have the light come on but right now he just can’t seem to get out of his own head. Granlund has been an off and on healthy scratch which I don’t think GM Fletcher or Coach Yeo can be very excited about.

-Kyle Brodziak after looking to be one of the most underrated players in the NHL last season signed a new 3yr/$8.5mil deal. This season he has struggled significantly offensively. Brodziak has been the Wild's third line center for almost the entire season tasked with matching up against opponents top lines. Coach Yeo has stated that he leans on Brodziak and Clutterbuck to provide a defense physical presence against scoring forwards. While serving an important role in that regard Brodziak has only accounted for 2 goals and 4 points while have a +/- of -7. Brodziak has looked like a player that doesn’t expect to get scoring chances and has missed many chances to capitalize this season when opportunity has presented itself. In the last 3 games Coach Yeo has demoted Brodziak to the 4th line while increasing his role on special teams in an effort to get him going. With Cullen and Bouchard basically untradeable and young players justifying increased roles, Brodziak is a player that no one expected to be in jeopardy of losing his spot as the third line centerman.

-The Wild has a very glaring weakness in its defense corps, it lacks a physically imposing stay at home defender capable and skilled enough to play Top 4 pairing minutes. Earlier in the season there were rumors of the Penguins dangling Simon Depres in exchange for Devin Setogucci. At the time I explained that I believe Depres although not a monster physically, is exactly the type of player the Wild lacked but Setogucci's skill set as a goal scorer is something the Wild could not replace internally. The trade never became reality but provided a very good example of exactly what it could take for GM Fletcher to attempt to fill the Wild's greatest need. Top prospect Dumba returned to Red Deer of the WHL earlier in the season will bring electricity and physicality to the Wild but not until next year and even still Dumba needs to add muscle to his 5'10" 185LB frame. The reality for GM Fletcher and the Wild is that even dating back to last summer defensemen price tags have been greatly inflated and more than half the league is in need of a player like Depres. GM Fletcher will have to weigh heavily how much is too much and what caliber of player he seeks to fill the Wild's need. For now the Wild has players in their lineup that at best should be 6th or 7th defensemen(Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, and Jared Spurgeon) playing heavy minutes with varying results. Particularly I think Wild fans now realize how finesse Ryan Suter's game is and see the need for a stay at home physical defender to match him up with. Suter was savaged earlier in the season for lack of interest in clearing the front of the net.

The Ugly:

-The reality is unless this Wild team pulls together quickly and is able to find an identity as predator rather than prey; this could be a lost season for the Wild. The way the Wild billed this season as the beginning of an era in which the Wild becomes a premier NHL franchise, to miss the playoffs would be a crippling blow to the ownership and fan base. The explanation whether by Wild management or local media types has been that the lack of offseason and abrupt start to the season didn’t allow the Wild to acclimate to itself. Unfortunately each NHL team faced a truncated season and no chance to prepare in depth. It is generally agreed upon that GM Fletcher has almost completely repaired the damage left by his predecessor and his staff has gotten it right in rebuilding the team's prospects. The obvious fall guy should the Wild miss the playoffs will be Coach Yeo. When GM Fletcher hired Yeo to be a first time head coach of the Wild, it came at a time when the prognosis and overall talent of the team were pretty bleak. Now though with the Wild roster and prospects arguably the most talented in franchise history, a lack of results will be laid directly at the feet of Coach Yeo. The Wild could find themselves the gem of coaching vacancies this coming offseason able to call their shot on a head coach to replace Yeo.

-Josh Harding being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis is just devastating to all involved. This is a heart and soul loyal professional athlete on the verge of being rewarded for his hard work, patience, and loyalty to the Wild only to have his life turned upside down. Initially upon revealing the news I believe the team and Harding downplayed the affect his diagnosis could have on his ability to play goaltender in the NHL. After a setback in his treatment, I don’t think anyone involved can confidently predict if Harding is ever able to be a NHL starting goalie let alone if he will ever play again. Besides current starter Backstrom being in the final year of his contract and being 35 years of age, I truly believe the Wild's goalie of the future is Matthew Hackett. When Harding turned down more money elsewhere this summer in free agency to return it was generally assumed because he signed a team friendly deal going forward it would be Harding and Hackett. Now the Wild may have to revisit whether they will need to compete for Backstrom's services on the open market should Harding be unable to return.

-The Wild flat out is in need of Culture Change. It seemed with the signing of Parise and Suter and the addition of Granlund to the Wild's existing roster GM Fletcher had brought the talent to change how the team played the game. Through 20 games the Wild has been outclassed and outworked more times than any playoff contender should have be in a season. No need to look any further than the Wild's 2 losses against arch nemesis Vancouver. The Wild started on their heels and landed flat on their asses. Culture Change is no different than any of the other cliché' buzz terms I guess but what I am suggesting is, if you pay Zach Parise to be the face of your franchise then you better damn sure get every single ounce of him that he is worth. Parise is a leader point blank period. Koivu is a tenacious player but more like a disappointed parent than a guy you kill yourself for. People downplay it but I think it is a no-brainer what the impact of Parise being named Wild Captain would be. Also just being honest if the Wild doesn’t score more goals it is has no chance at the cup this year or any other. For the Wild there must be a greater emphasis placed on completing passes to players capable of shooting the puck. The current system of throwing it to an area and hoping you can keep it in the zone is flat out destroying momentum and wasting the talents of the Wild offensive players. I am done listening to anyone explain that every team in the league plays the same dump and chase horseshit. If you’re a Wild fan, watch 2 teams other than the Wild play and see if you don’t notice a difference. The Wild, GM Fletcher, and Coach Yeo don’t get it both ways, you either have the most talent in franchise history and your squandering it or you got work to do at the trade deadline and are going to make an impact to provide players that can make your system successful!

Just My Thoughts,

Tony Dean





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