In case you haven't been paying attention, the Wild News nugget du jour is that Coach Todd Richards had things to say about the return of Guillaume Latendresse and Mikko Koivu, both of whom skated with the team today.
Here is my question: how much of this is a motivational tactic for the locker room?
Latendresse has missed all but eight games, and Koivu has missed the last seven games; both of whom are as close to impact players as there are on the Wild roster. It extends beyond the impact on the ice though; I'm contending that these newsworthy bits have an impact off ice just as much.
Let's be honest with the situation; the team without Koivu is a rudderless ship. His absence from the lineup has affected every single forward line (and that's a severe understatement in regards to Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen) in the seven games since, and I get the sense by watching the team that no one is capable of making the same sort of impact that Koivu can on the ice. I'm not saying that guys like Martin Havlat or Pierre-Marc Bouchard can't, but they aren't the same animal as a Koivu, a guy who willingly battles and gets physical to make a play. That sort of "take charge" sort of mentality- a quality I think every player on that roster looks to Mikko Koivu for. Suddenly the Greg Zanon post-game quote from Islanders game about the disappointment about the lack of an acquisition at the Deadline makes sense; that this team is in serious trouble without him, and some of the efforts since the Anaheim game where Koivu left with a broken finger reflect that.
There's no doubt that the loss last night to Buffalo was a tad deflating; so now the Wild come to practice and see Koivu AND Guillaume Latendresse skating with them, so what does that do to a team of morose players? I'd expect this team to come out flying tomorrow, now knowing that they are nearing the end of the storm because two of their best forwards look to be back in the lineup much sooner than later.
Whether or not Guillaume Latendresse returns tomorrow, or that Mikko Koivu is or isn't back by Friday isn't the point of what Todd Richards did; it was that he simply pulling a string or two to inject some optimism into a locker room coping with a tough stretch.