Goaltending woes, lazy play doom Minnesota Wild to hockey's scrap heap, as season drags on
By Wild Road Tripper
Let's all face the reality of the situation, folks. The Minnesota Wild probably will not make the NHL playoffs this season.
Currently mired in 12th place in the Western Conference, this ragtag group of middling hockey players -- who showed such promise when the season started four months ago -- have fallen thru the bottom of the playoff standings and are headlong destined for the Conor McDavid sweepstakes, if they can't pull their collective head out and play like they did in the first 20 games of the season.
In the last 11 games, the Wild are a maudlin 2-5-4, which, in baseball terms, is a .364 percentage. With a payroll approaching the salary cap of $60 Million, to get this kind of mediocrity from this group of players is flat out unacceptable.
The problems, in my humble opinion, are:
1. Goaltending. Between the two current goalies (Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom) they have the second-worst save percentage in the NHL. These two cannot stop the proverbial beach ball right now. The Wild need a proven No. 1 goaltender while Kuemper gets his act together; the fact that his confidence has been shattered, as bad as a bull in the china shop, makes the need for a proven No. 1 goaltender that much more urgent. The Wild's ownership cannot afford to have the Xcel Energy Center without its' prime occupant, after the last regular-season game on April 6th. The difference between profit and loss is between the pipes, literally and figuratively.
2. Beat-up Defense. The defensive corps, thin to begin with after years of neglect, became thinner due to illness, injury and Dustin Byfuglien's last two games vs. the Wild. The fact that one team (Winnipeg Jets) is continually allowed to beat up the defense without impunity speaks volumes as to how fragile the Wild's defensive corps really is. And, with next to no help available from within the organization, it looks like the Wild need to trade for a left-shot, right-side defenseman who can play on the Wild's third pairing.
3. Vanek, the Impaler. Thomas Vanek has single-handedly impaled the Wild's playoff chances. Between the lack of shooting, the poor passes when he is actually able to get to the puck, Vanek's inability to handle breakaways, and his general disdain for using his size to his team's advantage, Vanek has virtually done everything possible to sink the Wild's playoff chances. While his linemates try to play defense, Vanek does figure skating compulsory figure 8's at center ice, waiting for the puck that will rarely get his way, and when it does, he can't finish the play, as he is too slow to avoid the rush of the defenseman coming up from behind him. While the coaching staff continues to coddle Vanek, the fans sit in awe...of his inability to justify his $6.5 Million annual salary.
He is untradeable, unwatchable...and unbelievable.
4. Medical Woes. First, the mumps. Then, norovirus (possibly spread at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza outlet in a Twin Cities suburb). Whatever the reasons, the fact that this team is always in a bad medical state, leads one to believe that there must be more to it, than just the 'team is always together' theory. Does the entire medical staff need to be relieved of duties, in order to keep the Wild healthy thru the holiday period? Does the team need to 'fort up' in the St. Paul Hotel over the holidays? Or can another way to keep the team healthy be found?
Whatever the reasons, the Wild's season now hangs in the balance. The half-way point for the Wild will come next week on the 3-game road trip, starting Sunday night in Chicago. Changing the coaching staff won't help. Changing the player attitudes, however, is much easier said than done.