Wild’s Zucker Shouldn’t Have Had to Apologize

Sometimes the truth can hurt. In Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker’s case, the truth hurt him, even if he was the one who spoke it.

Zucker vs. Boudreau

By now, you’ve probably heard how Zucker arguably spoke out of turn after a Wild players’ only-meeting, supposedly calling out everyone in the Wild locker room, including head coach Bruce Boudreau. And publicly criticizing a superior is a no-no, especially in a largely conservative hierarchy such as the NHL. Is that what happened here, though?

Following a 4-0 shutout loss to the Montreal Canadiens, which dropped the Wild to 1-6, Zucker told Michael Russo of The Athletic how: “It’s going to be each individual guy from Bruce on down [to jump start us]. Bruce has got to be better. We’ve got to better. Everybody’s got to better. That’s it.”

One or both of two things happen in such an instance: The player apologizes or the player gets traded. That Saturday, two days after the defeat and the comments, Zucker opted for Option 2. Of course, when Zucker’s been mentioned in trade rumors for the better part of a calendar year, nothing’s off the table now. In any case, Zucker said he was sorry for using Boudreau’s name and supposedly singling him out, even though it was readily apparent that’s not what he was doing.

Zucker Just Misspoke

Had Zucker been doing anything other than venting his frustration at the Wild’s precarious position in the standings (dead last) he would have gotten into specifics. Let’s assume Zucker is not actively trying to get traded. Why bother burning bridges (especially when you’re not necessarily on your way out of the organization) when all everyone can do is openly speculate about what Boudreau is doing wrong as a result?

Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau – (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

If Zucker were truly looking to throw Boudreau under the bus or had grievances he wanted to air, he would have done so after going as far as naming him. He certainly wouldn’t have just mentioned him in passing, doing so in the context that everyone needs to be better (Zucker too). That would be like putting on a ski mask, walking up to the convenience store counter, pointing your finger at the clerk through your jacket pocket to form a gun and then walking out without asking for cash. Where’s the follow-through?

What’s more logical, really? That Zucker didn’t think his words all the way through before speaking following a presumably heated players’-only meeting or that he has serious venom to spew in Boudreau’s direction and went to the trouble of softening the blow by saying his criticism is directed at everyone else too? I mean, unless Zucker has it out for all his teammates too (and is the world’s worst trash-talker), it’s obviously the former.

For his part, Boudreau seems to have accepted the apology and understood from where Zucker’s words were coming. Unfortunately, this is hockey we’re talking about and, as tough as its individual athletes are for their ability to get up from a high stick and (misguided) willingness to return to action after getting concussed, words apparently hurt more than sticks and stones. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, had he just said his team in general needs to be better, Zucker would have raised eyebrows at the very least. Realistically he could still be labeled a cancer. After all, haven’t you heard? The Wild are 1-6. Someone’s got to be to blame.

Zucker vs. Cammalleri

Obviously every team handles these things slightly differently, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Zucker becomes a scapegoat. Remember what happened to ex-Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri? He made the mistake of speaking the truth himself, saying the Habs, who were in the midst of a losing 2011-12 season, were playing with a losing mentality.

Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri – (Jason Hitelman)

How dare he… suggest all that was needed to change the team’s fortunes was a better attitude? The irony should not be lost on anyone at this stage of Habs general manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure.

Granted, Bergevin’s predecessor, Pierre Gauthier, is the one who decided to trade Cammalleri soon after his comments got torn apart and twisted by the media. However, the point stands: As Zucker alluded to in his apology, the media needs to be better too. Case in point: Now there are members of the media harping on that, when the fact that Zucker felt the need to apologize in the first place is proof he has a point. All the headlines saying Zucker called out Boudreau lacked the proper context.

Zucker was barely calling anyone out, saying nothing that hadn’t been said in the media before, that the Wild need to be better (with Boudreau being on the hot seat according to many analysts). And Cammalleri wasn’t just any top-six forward like Zucker is. He was relatively beloved by fans after potting 13 markers in 19 playoff games during the Habs’ playoff run in 2010. This was a guy who had worn a letter for the Canadiens. If an actual leader in the dressing room can’t speak out without any ramifications, what hope does Zucker have of not getting traded? Other than trading Zucker being a bad idea, of course.

With a rematch against the Canadiens scheduled for Sunday afternoon, Zucker will have the chance to put his money where his mouth is… because you know he’s the one on whom everyone’s eyes will be. That’s one narrative no one really ran with, the idea that most people are now talking about Zucker and not the Wild in general. However, the thought that Zucker could be acting out of anything other than his own shortsighted self-interest? Don’t be silly.

Jason Zucker – (Steven Christy/OKC Barons)

That’s obviously a bit of a stretch that Zucker masterminded this whole thing to deflect attention away from his team’s struggles, but let’s get real. So was the notion that Zucker had an axe to grind with Boudreau. The actual truth? It’s exactly like Zucker said. Everyone needs to be better. It’s funny how Zucker’s the only one apologizing, though.