Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Will the real Wild please return to St. Paul?

Watching the Minnesota Wild lately is like watching the NFL during 'replacement football'. Fans are just waiting for the real players to return to the arena, and start playing.

What? You mean...these ARE the real Wild players?

You're kidding, aren't you? Where is the team that took 'come-from-behind' as a mark of pride, a mantra for working within 'the system' and having the proper 'battle level' to succeed?

You mean they were all injured? And half of them still ARE off the active roster?

The fact is that the Wild, dear people, have indeed seen the highs and lows of life in the NHL. In the same month. Like a bad stock market, volatility reigns supreme right now at 317 Washington St., St. Paul.

The injuries continue to mount, as now in nearly every game at least one Wild player winds up on the injured list. Setoguchi, Latendresse, Stoner, and now Spurgeon. Every game, another pain. Every game, another way to lose. And this from the team which just two weeks ago was creating new ways to win. And now, the final, ultimate indignity: the Vancouver Canucks, winners of 15 of their last 17 games, have overtaken the Wild atop the Northwest Division.

The Wild's month on top has officially ended, as most of us thought it would eventually, with a resounding thud.

Were the Wild playing 'over their heads'? Perhaps. But the fact that this team came off the top of the mountain in such a spectacular fashion, to a group of teams that, mostly, they really should have defeated, is as much a condemnation of how the NHL as a whole plays these days, as the individual failings of its' players.

Think about it: if the season ended today (Dec. 27), 5 of the 7 teams the Wild have lost to would not make the playoffs. The only two that would (Chicago and Vancouver), are now 1-2 in the Western Conference. The other five teams (Winnipeg, NY Islanders, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado) are a combined 78-for-177 (.441 winning percentage), and the two losses to the lowly Islanders -- hockey's second worst team (only Columbus is worse) -- are especially telling, as the Wild did not look like they even wanted to play in either game.

The Wild play 12 games between now and the All-Star break; eight of those 12 are on the road, including a pair of games (at Philadelphia and Toronto) against two of the hottest teams in hockey. With only three home games in January, the Wild need to pull out of this funk. Now. Before the road gets so long, they find themselves on the outside, looking in, once again. For if that happens, the Vikings won't be the only Minnesota pro sports team in need of a total rebuild.

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