Wild Need Significant Win Streak to Become Buyers at Trade Deadline
At current the Minnesota Wild are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Western Conference playoff picture. After a franchise best first two months of the NHL season, the Wild has been in a tail spin falling victim to a devastating December collapse. This was to be the year the Wild proved their aptitude as a Stanley Cup candidate in the newly formed Central Division.
The Wild looked to have a winning formula early on this season playing a brand of hockey that was catching opponents by surprise. The Wild seemed to have finally eliminated the relevance of “Dump and Chase” hockey, a term head coach Mike Yeo coined in his first season as head coach and has since looked to distance his self from with regard to his system. It looked like Yeo had finally broken through and realized his potential guiding the Wild but now doubts have arisen.
The Wild with a record of 22 – 17 – 5 (49 points) are currently tied for 8th place in the Western Conference but they have played three more games than four other teams currently in the top 10. The Wild also is shorthanded despite rattling off 2 regulation home wins. The Wild will be without Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon for weeks. The Wild just hasn’t been able to win on the road this season which is truly the test of a team’s metal. The next two games for this team are on the west coast versus teams ahead of them in the standings, first they are in Los Angeles and then onto Phoenix.
If the Wild is to fight their way back into the playoff picture it will be as a result of their under 22 year old core of players producing to their NHL potential. Getting sophomore center Mikael Granlund back after an extended absence due to concussion symptoms has offered the Wild more flexibility with their line combinations. Unfortunately just as Granlund was fulfilling his potential he was taken out of the lineup with violent hits from opponents. Granlund is currently slated to center the 2nd line for the Wild with veteran winger Jason Pominville and fan favorite Jason Zucker. The 2nd line combination of Granlund and Pominville was carrying the Wild’s offense earlier this year due in large part to the chemistry they developed. Zucker is a player the fan base has defended near to a fault in short amount of time in MN. Zucker has created a vocal segment of the Wild fan base that has adamantly demanded that he be given a fair shake here in MN, meaning backlash for every demotion this season.
As the young players go so shall the Wild, and maybe none of them is more important than Charlie Coyle. Yeo has assigned Coyle to center the 3rd line which is a departure from his first line winger role. In assigning Coyle to the 3rd line as a center it is clear the Wild is looking to create mismatches for opponents and maximize their ability to have the best opportunity for secondary scoring. Coyle getting moved to the third line makes him truly to go to guy for that line as he is playing with veteran grinder Matt Cooke and a rotation of other guys on the right wing. Yeo is very clearly putting the pressure on Coyle to score goals right now and create scoring for the 3rd line something it was not getting out of veteran center Kyle Brodziak while he was the center of that line or from now departed 4th line center Zenon Konopka.
If Wild Fall Further in the Standings Fletcher Could Look to Sell
The most realistic view on this year in my mind is that this season for the Wild was always destined to be a bridge year in their evolution as a franchise. Fletcher and his front office staff have been extremely successful at completely re-stocking the organization with young talent and future prospects. Owner Craig Leipold has proven to be as aggressive and competitive as any owner in the NHL but cleaning up the wreckage of the previous regime has seen hefty contracts and immovable veterans stifle progress.
The list of players that I could see moved if the Wild is out of contention ahead of the NHL trading deadline is rather meager. I am sure every team in the hockey world has been made aware that Dany Heatley is available. I was thinking more about Kyle Brodziak and Niklas Backstrom though as being players that may generate interest. Brodziak could very well be a target for a team looking to shore up their 3rd line center spot with a player capable of playing rugged minutes in a defensive role. Zucker is another player who could be used in trade to acquire a player whose skill set just doesnt exist in the Wild organization. Maybe a trade of Zucker in a package will wait until the draft this year but it sure seems like that is the evolution of his relationship with the team in my opinion.
Backstrom could find himself sought after by a team missing stability in their goaltending rotation. The Wild can only really take a wait and see approach to their own netminder rotation at this point with Harding playing his best hockey of his career but also proving how fragile his health situation can be. The Wild has talented prospects in their pipeline at the goaltender position including the Iowa rotation of Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson. Neither of those young guys has enjoyed success at the NHL level yet with Kuemper only in his second professional year while Gustafsson is in his first.
The Wild has Truly Become the Walking Wounded
The news the Wild captain Mikko Koivu will miss up to 4 weeks with a broken ankle may be the finishing blow for the team that was already missing key players. Zach Parise has been out of the lineup since December 23rd with an injured foot sustained blocking a monster slap shot off the stick of the Blues Alex Steen on November 25th. Jared Spurgeon sustained a lower body injury in the January 2nd win over the Sabres which the team stated would keep him out weeks. This means Coyle will center the 1st line, Granlund will continue on with the 2nd line, and Erik Haula just called up today will be assigned as the 3rd line center.
The Wild now must rely on 8 players under the age of 23 years old on a nightly basis in their lineup. This crazy string of bad injury luck has created a situation for the organization that will insulate Yeo and Fletcher from the outrage that was building from the fan base with the season falling apart. I am now confident Yeo survives the chopping block and finishes the season as the Wild’s bench boss. I also think Fletcher will stand pat on making any major moves until he gets a clear picture of the trajectory of this team with all of these kids playing major minutes in the next month. The likely hood that Wild become sellers at the trade deadline will be directly dependent on this group of kids to carry this team the next month of the NHL season.
Just My Take,