Friday, May 16, 2014

Decompression...and remorse...after a Wild playoff run

By Wild Road Tripper

Well, folks. Even I finally have to admit it.

It's Over.

The Minnesota Wild season is over. Shoulda been a Game 7 last night, at the United Center in Chicago. But, alas, such was not to be. The fact of the matter turned out to be, though, that good teams generate their own puck luck. And, the talented, uber-successful Chicago Blackhawks are that good. They generated the luck to get that OT goal in Game 6, to end the Wild's season after two rounds.

But what about the season that just ended? What about the 2013-14 campaign, one that came to the precipice of utter disaster, following a Dec. 29 Sunday night disaster at home against the lowly New York Islanders, where the Wild came out, and utterly stunk out the Xcel Energy Center?

But that's for another time, another column. (Don't worry, I'll still provide the 'Six-Pack of Suck' in a few weeks. Need to get over our playoff run first.)

But think back and remember fondly what the Wild did accomplish this seaosn:

1. Going thru goaltenders faster than commercial jets go thru tires. Seven different goaltenders started at least one game for the Wild this past season. Seven. Had you told me that was going to happen last October, I'd have said you need your head examined. But, alas, that's exactly what happened. Thru Niklas Backstrom's 'core muscle' injury, Josh Harding's battle with Multiple Sclerosis, Darcy Kuemper's 'Bells of St. Mary's' routine, both in the regular season and in Game 5 in Denver; the emergence (and demi-lucidity) of Ilya Bryzgalov; John Curry's twirling to a win in the stretch drive, just to name a few.

2. They won and thrived, despite Dany Heatley's lack of contribution as he muddled his way thru the last season of his $7.5M contract; Kyle Brodziak reverting to form after his 'contract drive' of late last season; and so much lack of contrbution from virtually every other player on the roster at one time or another. The fact is that the Wild won at times in spite of themselves, as much as their efforts had any effect on the outcomes.

3. The emergence of so many of the young guns that GM Chuck Fletcher has assembled over the past 4 years. Mikael Granlund, Jared Spurgeon, Charlie Coyle, Eric Haula, Justin Fontaine, just to name a few. And you have Matt Dumba and Christian Folin waiting in the wings, as well as Raphael Bussieres, the injured Jason Zucker, and so many other talent 'in the larder', as it were, that the Wild are now in a position of strength, where they can afford to trade for top talent, and actually have players that other teams want, for one of the few times in franchise history.

4. I tweeted just before the first Wild home playoff game (Game 3, vs. Colorado) that the Wild need to give the fans something to cheer for, and they will cheer. Loudly. And, they did. I was among them, for all six home playoff games. Yes, the Wild wish you could get this kind of response on a mid-January night vs. Edmonton, Calgary, or Carolina, but with 41 home games in the regular season (and 2 or 3 pre-season games), you're just not going to get that response every night. Meanwhile, the fact that the Wild can fill the building as they have, despite stretches like the holiday period of 2013, is a continuing testament to the faithfulness of the fanbase.

5. The national media finally admitted that the Wild are not the only NHL team playing 'the trap' anymore. Begrudgingly, the Wild have earned the respect of the national hockey media (E. J. Hradek, and Sirius XM NHL Radio notwithstanding) thru their two-round playoff run. The fact of the matter is that the Wild franchise is finally coming of age...again. The only other team from the '99-00 class of teams that has gone beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, more than once, is still only one: the Minnesota Wild.

So, with all that behind us, Wild fans turn to the future. And it's a very bright future, indeed. With all the talent assembled, and the position of where the Wild is as an organization, the future is where the Wild are at. You still have a little dead weight on the team (Brodziak, Stoner) to get rid of; some of the rest of it (Heatley, Matt Moulson, Prosser) will become UFA's by themselves. Other than at the goaltender position, you got to like where the Wild are at, talent-wise.

Mike Yeo's future as the head coach of this franchise was assured by their playoff run; I would, however, do some kind of an audit on your training and medical staffs, as there were too many injuries, at too many of the wrong times, by too many of the wrong players. Some of it was, yes, game-related; but a lot of it were developing injuries, over time, while the medical staff waited for the inevitable to occur. A little more proactive effort is what's needed, IMO, to stem the tide of injuries.

Next up: NHL Draft, June 27-28, at 'The Rock' in Newark. Go for it, Chuck Fletcher.

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