Marek Zidlicky played today in Minnesota’s 2-0 win over Boston. He skated 21:04 minutes of ice time, blocked a couple of shots and generally had a solid game. However, everything suggests that the damage has been done between the blue-liner and the Wild, and it now seems inevitable that Zidlicky will be traded before the February 27 deadline, probably to New Jersey.
It has become more and more apparent that Zidlicky’s relationship has broken down with head coach Mike Yeo, and he now wants out. The 35-year old has really struggled all season long. He had just six assists in the first 19 games before being sidelined for a month through injury. He returned on December 14, just as his team’s form went south, and quickly fell out of favour with Yeo. The intensity and edge to the veteran’s game has really been missing during the season, though undoubtedly not helped by niggling injuries.
Yeo eventually decided to make Zidlicky a healthy scratch after he had managed just five assists (three in one game) in 16 games, while making too many errors defensively. During his five game absence as a scratch, rumours started to spread and it became clear that coach and player just were not seeing eye to eye, and that a trade was becoming increasingly likely. He returned to the line-up for two games, but was scratched for two more before this afternoon’s tilt.
Zidlicky’s no-trade clause might make a trade difficult, but reports suggest that he is willing to waive it to make a move to the Devils, and every indication is that New Jersey GM Lou Lamoreillo would be willing to make that move. The decision to allow his agent to go public with this information makes it fairly blatant that Zidlicky wants out and that can never result in a healthy atmosphere for a dressing room.
Of course, trading Zidlicky isn’t an easy decision for GM Chuck Fletcher to make. The blue-liner has arguably become one of the league’s most under-rated players over the last three or four years. He burst onto the scene scoring 53 points with the Nashville Predators in 2003-04. The rule changes suited his style and he has produced consistent offense posting 40+ points in four out of his six NHL season before 2011-12. Last season he managed only 24 points, but played in just 46 games. He will never win accolades for his defensive play, but he skates well and is sound positionally. Even during this difficult season, his role is clearly important. The ice time averages amongst Wild defensemen are shown below.
Zidlicky’s value as a minute eater and key player on the power-play is pretty clear. The obvious counter argument is of course: why worry about the quarterback of a power-play that ranks 23rd in the league firing at just 15.4%? It is also important to note that Jared Spurgeon has taken over the role of leading that unit in recent times. Still, it has to be emphasised that there is clearly a role to play for the veteran on this club. Zidlicky will be traded for reasons besides his on ice performance, though that has been disappointing as well.
Saying that Zidlicky will be traded might seem a little fatalistic. A deal may not be workable, the Wild may have a great run over the next week, Fletcher may decide to hang on until the summer when the defenseman’s no trade clause opens up more options. The problem is that this Minnesota franchise is still looking for its identity, arguably it has been ever since Jacques Lemaire stood down as head coach. A good starting point for any identity is bringing in and keeping players who want to be a part of your franchise, and buy into what your franchise is aiming for and trying to do. If he is traded, Zidlicky will be traded because he doesn’t want to be a part of this franchise.
Seb has been writing about the NHL and ice hockey online for over a decade. A long-time passionate Bruins fan, it’s a dream of his to be writing about this team, but don’t expect him to hold back from telling some hard truths when necessary. Follow him on twitter @seberead