With the Minnesota Wild seemingly entering into their annual mid-season funk, Mike Yeo and his staff decided to mix up the defensive pairings. Ryan Suter had some, to put it mildly, intriguing comments in regards to the decision following practice Monday.
Ryan Suter on coaches pairing him with a fellow lefty: "I don't know what they're thinking. I need to play with a right handed defenseman."
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) November 30, 2015
Basically Suter is saying playing with a righty gives him more options, gives the third pair a lefty-righty. It's no swipe at Brodin #mnwild
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) November 30, 2015
For a number of reasons, his comments made waves in the State of Hockey immediately. First of all, Suter is a leader and a captain for this team, and has been since he and Zach Parise arrived together. A player of his experience and stature are expected to lead both in good times and bad, but Suter’s comments displayed anything but leadership. They displayed panic in the face of a losing streak and an overall lack of faith in head coach Mike Yeo. Perhaps the worst thing about Suter’s comments is how public they were. He offered them up rather candidly in a press scrum immediately after a tense practice.
With all this, the Wild had to travel to Chicago to play a team that has dominated them repeatedly in a building that has done Minnesota few favors over the years. It was ostensibly a game the Wild would lose and perhaps even get dominated in given the turmoil surrounding the team; except the Wild won the game while playing its most complete team game in two weeks. So what do we make of Suter’s comments now? Should there be concern, or confidence going forward?
One’s initial reaction to Suter’s comments might be to immediately hit the big red panic button, especially on the heels of a 1-4-2 skid reminiscent of how several Wild slumps the past few years have begun.
A player calling out a coach is never a good thing, but it becomes especially troublesome for the Minnesota Wild when the criticism comes from a team leader and one of the most respected players in the National Hockey League in Suter.
An alternate captain for the Wild, Suter is usually a very “team first” type of player and an exemplary leader. He has regularly been a voice of reason for the Wild, a role that translates to his play on the ice where Suter is a calm, consistent presence for Minnesota’s blue line. His willingness to question Yeo and his staff so publicly has to speak to the level of frustration in the Wild locker room.
Then, with the turmoil of the previous day still present, the Wild skated into the United Center and largely outplayed the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that was 5-1-2 its previous eight games, en route to a 2-1 win. And oh by the way, Ryan Suter had the game winning goal. Make sense of that. Was the initial concern over the Suter drama was largely unfounded?
As surprising as the Wild’s win in Chicago was given the circumstances, just as surprising was the way the game was won. The Wild got the game’s first goal courtesy of Jason Pominville who had scored his first goal of the season the previous game after going 21 games without scoring. The Wild proceeded to outplay the Hawks for most of the game despite an odd Patrick Kane power play goal in the second period that tied the game. Finally, 12:04 into the third period the Wild got the eventual game winning goal off the stick of none other than Ryan Suter. The win was the Wild’s best overall performance in several games.
Before the game, Suter and Yeo had both apparently brushed off the story from the day before, though it seems like the occasions where these stories die quick deaths are rare, at best. But as the cliché goes, winning solves everything, and the Wild’s immediate schedule bodes well for more of it as long as the Wild can build on its impressive victory over Chicago. So perhaps this story is on the back-burner for now.
Toronto, Colorado, Colorado, and Arizona are next up for Minnesota with the former two being at home and the latter two on the road. All are very winnable games and will be crucial for the Wild if it is going to legitimately break out of the recent slump and put this Suter story in the rear-view mirror.
Nate has been a Minnesota Wild contributor at The Hockey Writers since 2014 and previously spent time covering the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team. For everything Minnesota Wild related, follow him on Twitter @natebauer.