Flushing The Goldfish: Eulogizing the 2011-12 Minnesota Wild
Posted by Dan Shrader on Sunday, April 08, 2012
Last night was like a funeral; the non-intense atmosphere and apathetic ambiance only served to support that yes, Virginia, it is going to be another short season, and the beginning of a long, hot Summer. Talking casually with some people after the game at a local bar, it seemed that the motif was more of "well, its the last game" than of being an ardent supporter of the team; whilst there shouldn't be any doubt about the latter, we shouldn't be mistaken that there is the incentive of being in the informal lottery known as "Win The Jerseys Off Their Backs."
And an apropos finale it was; a team riddled with injuries and minor leaguers went quietly to a team, Phoenix, who had their playoff spot secured. Not a fighting roar, but more of a whimper. Par for the course, as Marco Scandella looked like he battled a wonky groin as he struggled to climb over the boards late in the game, and Niklas Backstrom let it slip that he needed ankle surgery.
So, here we are- friends, fans, haters, whomever stops by this bathroom stall in the corner of the hockey blogosphere- to lament, seek explanation, ponder, prognosticate, and lay to rest a season that couldn't have taken a greater 180 degree turn, a series of events which has firmly lodged this team, coaching staff, and hockey operations in the annals of dubious history.
This team, once atop the mountain, has rewritten history; the never before matched feat of failing to make the playoffs after being in playoff position in Mid-December did such a thing. A precipitous fall from grace; The Church of Yeo was built upon a foundation of gritty wins, a seemingly unwillingness to bend or break while down a goal or two, and a team-wise concept. Mike Yeo, who will probably take this season harder than anyone, served as a beacon of hope as this team simply refused to lose. The wins revitalized a fanbase, drew the nationwide attention of the hockey world, and subsequently a civil war erupted from the sabermetricians; We aren't that good, they exclaimed- the firefight between this fanbase (and I trolled hard, did my best to debunk the argument) and the Metrics community has forever seared the term "regress to the mean" into our vernaculars.
Being older and wiser, and a bit more read up on Advanced Metrics, they had a point- a save percentage in the mid-90's just wasn't sustainable (buzz word) and the fact of the matter it isn't- I still contend shot quality needs to be a point of contention, but the truth of the matter was that yes, at some point, it will dip. We got spoiled by Matt Hackett's record-setting shutout streak for a rookie. However I think that for the Corsi crew to hang their hats on an (inevitable) regression on Save% and the subsequent downward spiral of Minnesota is missing the point- the main narrative- the bottom line is that this team struggled to score goals, and when there isn't any offensive depth to rely on (a byproduct of the woeful Risebrough era, something Chuck Fletcher shouldn't be savaged for because he's done yeoman's work to correct that) because there were injuries to the most vital players, the team suffered. Greatly.
Lets look at the Winnipeg game on December 13th, largely pointed to as the high-water mark of the season; they lost 2-1, but lost Pierre-Marc Bouchard because of a questionable hit (one of many on the season) by Winnipeg's Zach Bogosian. Bouchard, for all the grief he gets for vanishing in physical contests, or not using his speed more effectively, or whatever you want, was an offensively vital player- not to get all Metric on you, but his underlying offensive stats were among the best on the team. Or, to put it best, when you take out a top-6 player out of the lineup and don't really have anyone to replace him with, then the team will struggle. The same goes with Devin Setoguchi, and Mikko Koivu, and Guillaume Latendresse...
Back to the point at hand, PMB goes down, and that's when the slide started, and while the lack of scoring depth became evident, it really came down to a matter of goals scored. By my count, Minnesota lost 14 one goal games, including 8 shootout losses from that point til now. That doesn't include the games where the opponent got an empty-net goal late- but the point remains that that's 20 points lost because of at least 14 goals that Minnesota couldn't and didn't score.
14 goals, in regulation and shootout play.
We didn't collapse because our goaltending regressed, its because we couldn't put the puck in the net. One is left to wonder what could have been, had this team not needed 47 players, most in the NHL, because the team became ravaged with injuries.
During the course of the year we dumped Brad Staubitz and Colton Gillies, and then jettisoning Casey Wellman and the malcontent Marek Zidlicky in deals that were made in effort to improve the team on-ice and in the locker room. Nick Schultz, an institution of the franchise, was sent north to a Division Rival, and in return we got a local kid, "Bloomington Native" Tom Gilbert, whose skill set benefits this team moreso than one is lead to believe. Old faces like Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux came back in the Zidlicky salary dump, and we got a glimpse of the youth movement when Jason Zucker slipped on the #16 after his NCAA career at Denver University ended. All in all nine rookies made their NHL debuts this year; part reward, and part necessity. Kris Fredheim, for instance, was a tenured Houston Aero whose AHL contract went to the shredder and signed an Entry-Level deal enabling him to patrol the blueline in St. Paul.
Marco Scandella is now tenured as a cornerstone on the back-end; he played strong for the last 3 weeks or so, culminating in a 35 minute effort Tuesday night. Kyle Brodziak may have taken the lead in "best trade Fletcher has made" contest, and it looks as if the 8.5 million dollar extension he signed this year may be as a shrewd deal. Dany Heatley really impressed me from a professional standpoint, as he gave honest efforts night in and night out on a sinking ship and emerging as a dressing room leader. Devin Setoguchi's rollercoaster ride started with getting hit by a car, getting hurt, blowing a shootout attempt but at the end of the day nearly had 20 goals and buzzed up and down the ice wrecking havoc.
We watched the "hope" spring eternal; Zucker in a Wild Sweater, three Swedish prospects win the World Junior Championships, hear stories of Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips (who along with Setoguchi is battling for the "best trade" award winner) throttle opponents in Saint John of the Quebec Junior League.
Now we go on Mikael Granlund watch, the yet unsigned savior, Helsinki Jesus, the surest thing to a star-quality forward we've had since Marian Gaborik, waiting for him to cross the I's and dot the T's and make his way over the pond to St. Paul. Then after that we'll start up the Zach Parise Watch, since many have convinced themselves that the impending Unrestricted Free Agent is destined to come home and be apart of Minnesota's revival.
Surely things will be different this time next year, as we've been conditioned to believe; and for we hope that's true because this year couldn't have gotten any worse.
So farewell 2011-12 Minnesota Wild season, what once had people filing into the pews of The Church of Yeo in the end had people clamoring for the team to tank for a better Draft position. Its not that we hardly knew ye, its that we knew ye too well. Now excuse me while I grab the handle and flush, as it appears there's some Minnesota Twins fans who are ready to use the same commode for the same purpose.