Sunday, February 19, 2012

Did anyone think it was going to be THIS bad?

Did you think it was going to be this bad to be a Minnesota Wild fan this season? Really?

Well, it has indeed gotten to the point where we are officially looking for 'moral' victories, not the two-points-in-the-standings kind. Because, for this group of Wild players, that kind of victory is the kind that is seemingly out of reach right now.

The fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets have a better record since Dec. 13 (8-19-2) than the Wild (5-16-6), despite the Jackets sacking their head coach and replacing him with ex-Wild coach Todd Richards, shows the depths of which the Wild face the rest of the season with.

Yes, Minnesota. It's THAT bad.

The fact that this Wild team cannot score, and cannot stop other teams from scoring, can no longer be denied by anyone who has even half a concept, as to how NHL hockey should be played. Yesterday's embarrassing 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues -- a team which the Wild toyed with in November, and lost to in a shootout in January -- again showed not only the depth but the breadth of the Wild's woes.

And today, the rest of North America will see how bad the Wild can get, as the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins, will take on the Wild in a game seen nationally in the USA on NBC, and in Canada on TSN2. This game should be a cakewalk for the B's, as the Wild will feature no less than seven players who, realistically, should be with the Houston Aeros this Sunday morning.

With Chad Rau and Jeff Taffe arriving this morning from Abbottsford, B.C., -- where the Aeros were getting swept in a two-game series vs. the Heat this weekend -- the number of Aeros players currently up with the 'big club' exceeds the half-dozen mark, for God-only-knows how long, as the chess game which is the Wild roster gets played once again.

(I only wish I could get the commission for all those airline tickets, shuttling players between the Aeros and the Wild.)

The fact is that most Wild fans were somewhat realistic in the beginning of the season regarding the team's playoff chances. I even said before the season started that this team could be anywhere between a 7 seed in the playoffs and in 10th place in the West, two positions out of the playoffs. I changed it later to say that they would make the playoffs, in the midst of the team's record 9-game winning streak.

Well, folks, I'm changing it back. Back to anywhere down to 10th place. And, maybe even worse than that.

The only team this Wild club can beat right now with any regularity is the Colorado Avalanche, a team whose lineup is actually weaker than the Wild's impudent roster. The Wild can't beat anyone else in the NHL right now. In the last week, the Wild have lost to three teams who, if the season ended today, would be out of the playoffs, like they are (Columbus, Anaheim and Winnipeg). In fact, if you want to go back to Feb. 1, they could add a fourth non-playoff team (Dallas) and throw in another loss to the Jackets in that mix.

And then, if you go back one more day, there was the embarrassing, destructive, come-from-ahead throw-away loss to the Nashville Predators on Jan. 31st. No one, most notably GM Chuck Fletcher and Head Coach Mike Yeo, can seemingly do anything to stop the slide down the mountain. The players have seemingly given up trying to win games (sorry, I'm not buying that they are still buying into the system.)

The Wild's system is broken. It's time to fix the system. Before more irreparable damage is done.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Introducing... your .300 Minnesota Wild!

It really sucks to be a loyal Minnesota Wild fan right about now. Think about it for a minute...

In the last 60 days, the Wild have played 25 games. In that 25-game stretch, the local sextet has a 5 win, 15 loss, 5 overtime-loss record, for 15 points. That's an embarrassing, almost astonishing .300 record.

Now, while fans of most other NHL teams would be absolutely up in arms over this predicament, the fact is that the team has no one else to blame but the other guys in the room. Not the coaching staff, not the adminsitration, not any of the supporting cast. Just the men in the room themselves.

I have to wonder if the Wild have stopped listening to the coaching staff...again.  Like last season, when after getting demolished in Nashville and Dallas in back-to-back nights, the Wild decided, on their own, to just go thru the motions of playing out the schedule. And, the last three weeks became some of the worst weeks of Wild hockey, since the inception of the franchise in 2000.

(Remember the snowman (8-0) that Montreal put up on Sunday afternoon, March 20? The 6-3 blowout by St. Louis two days later?)

This team is perilously close to THAT KIND of finish. Not a playoff team any longer, the Wild have already set an NHL record for futility during the season, having been the first team that was in 1st Place in the entire LEAGUE for more than 5 days, to fall completely out of the playoffs in the same season.

Having long since moved out of the penthouse, the Wild have been periously close to falling right into the outhouse. This team needs heart. This team needs passion. This team needs a collective soul.

And, this team desperately needs to get rid of the dead weight -- again -- that has accumulated on the roster. Zidlicky, Zanon, Lundin, any forward with a no-trade/no-movement clause not named Koivu, and anyone else that can be moved out the door.

While being comfortable near the playoff race is OK for some Minnesota sports fans, the economics of the sport require that teams win in order to be successful. And, folks, would YOU call this team a success this season?

Me neither.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shootout Dilemma: play a losing hand, or play to win?

I know goalies, (by their nature of BEING goalies), are fragile creatures. That's a given.

But the Minnesota Wild cannot continue to work like hell for 65 minutes, then stand by on the bench and watch, as Niklas Backstrom consistenly loses games in the shootout.

Michael Russo had some stats on this today in the S-T: as we already know, Backstrom is the WORST SHOOTOUT GOALIE in the entire NHL. Backstrom is an embarrassing 15-28 lifetime, with a .563 save percentage. This season, he is 3-4, and opponents have scored on 12 of 22 shot attempts, for a miserable .450 save percentage.

To work as hard as the Wild did last night vs. the Dallas Stars, and have all that effort come down to that galling stat, is ridiculous.

I'm sorry, but radical problems (such as losing shootouts and standings points) require radical solutions. I know this would hurt the psyche of possibly the entire team, but it also might just serve as the ultimate wake-up call, if once -- just once -- Josh Harding replaced Backstrom for the shootout. Harding could start on the bike (to get warmed up without getting too far away from the bench,) a few minutes before the end of regulation. That would also send a signal to the rest of the team, to get their act together -- NOW -- or else. If the game did indeed go to the shootout, Harding could come out like the Knight in shining armor, after the ice was dry scraped for the shootout.

Yes, I know we are dealing with emotions and fragile psyches, but as I said earlier, to consistenly know that you have a better chance to LOSE the game if you go to the shootout, than to WIN the game in the shootout, has got to play on the entire squad as well. And, with the fragileness of which the Wild psyche has been since the disasterous game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg Dec. 13, the last thing the Wild need is to not be rewarded for their efforts, because their goaltending cannot survive play in the shootout.

Of course, there is another way to get around all this: win in regulation. Don't allow the other team to even get to the shootout. Then you wouldn't have to worry about your No. 1 goalie being a shootout sieve.