The official 5482-mile Minnesota Wild 'Road Trip from Hell' has finally ended.
Four of the worst road efforts in recent team history were followed up by Saturday night's 2-1 loss, to a Vancouver Canucks club which were missing both their top scorer (Daniel Sedin), and half of their top defensive pairing (Sami Salo) while themselves getting their hats handed to them the night before, in a 5-3 loss at Calgary (yes, the Canucks have already visited Cow-gary twice this season).
So, the Wild re-emerge in Minnesota today, for practice in Mendota Heights on Monday, saddled with the worst record in the Western Conference at 1-6-0, only 1/2 game above the record of the totally hapless Toronto Maple Leafs, whose coach, Ron Wilson, received the 'dreaded vote of confidence' after Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre.
I hope that you, dear reader, do not believe that Todd Richards needs that 'DVOC' yet. He doesn't.
With four of his top 10 forwards out with injuries (Martin Havlat, Petr Sykora, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard) and his active roster looking like a dog's breakfast, day in, day out, Richards is learning very quickly what NHL expectations are like when you are running the show. And, quite frankly, so are Wild fans learning, that the early success that the previous regime in St. Paul achieved came at a very, very high price.
This organization has no prospects in the pipeline. None. Most of the current Houston Aeros roster will never see NHL ice, for anything more than the proverbial cup of coffee. The ones who think they are that good are either delusional, in the wrong position or just stuck there (see 'Kalus, Petr').
The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal Aeros picture is former (2007) first round pick Colton Gillies, who really is taking advantage of the regular ice time in the 'A', and already has picked up a broken nose for his efforts.
So what now for the big club? Getting the four forwards healthy would be a nice start, but Clutterbuck's high ankle sprain means it will be about Thanksgiving before he returns to the roster; Bouchard's concussion (originally suffered last March, against the NY Islanders) has been so mis-diagnosed, who knows when he will be back; Havlat and Sykora, both with groin injuries, are day-to-day, but then who knows what ice conditions will be like the rest of the fall?
I cannot believe that the NHL would operate that many poor ice surfaces. Is there no quality control for the surface of where your game is played? Teams cannot rent dehumidifier units to control the humidity of the ice surface? (Yes, it's an additional expense, but when you consider that the name of the game is to win the game, it's cheap insurance against injuries). Granted, the fall weather has been really weird (and, wet) in most of North America, but the number of groin injuries league-wide are alarming. Yes, I know, you could also say that the schedule is a problem, players not properly stretching and/or warming up, but the surface of the ice, especially in Southern markets, is getting to be a real challenge. The ice shown during several Wild games last week was downright slush. You could have scooped it up and sold it at Dairy Queen, just add the flavoring and collect the money at the drive-thru.
We who call ourselves Wild fans (including this blogger) are resigned to the fact that you cannot rebuild the disaster that was the latter stages of the Doug Risebrough regime overnight. The Wild need time to clear another (at least) load of dead weight off the roster. The Wild need to get faster, stronger and bigger up front. And, definitely, they need to get younger. Kim Johnsson, Marek Zidlicky, Eric Belanger, Derek Boogaard, Owen Nolan, Craig Weller, Nathan Smith, Andy Hilbert, and the ever-non-expiring contract of now-current Norfolk Admiral Mark Parrish (which is nearly $1M/year in eaten-up cap space) are just some of the challenges to improving the roster anytime soon.
The main thing will be for Wild fans to have patience. Lots and lots of patience. Fans need to know that the DR 'Five-Year Plan' (which was not fully implemented in eight NHL seasons over nine years) was an abject failure, The old regime could never fully adjust to the new salary cap conscious world, post-lockout/strike in 2004-05. And, to this day, that fact and the style of play prior to this season combined to make Minnesota an extremely toxic situation.
It will be interesting to see how those casual Wild fans respond to the 1-6 start. You can almost see the end of the team's nine-season sell-out streak coming sometime in this next three weeks; it's not a question of 'if', more realistically, it's more a question of 'when'.
Six of the Wild's next nine games are at home, where the ice should not be as much of a problem as at arenas like Honda Center, HP Pavilion at San Jose, and GM Place, whose ice was as bad as had ever been seen in Vancouver on Saturday night. Hopefully the players will improve as well as the ice as the weird fall weather moves on, towards places where other, more League-impactful groin problems await.