Oh how I yearn for the days of shady advanced puck possession statistics. Perhaps in a few weeks given the secret CBA negotiations. In the meantime, here’s a fun exercise: who’s your Minnesota Wild Inter-Lockout starting lineup?
Flash back to 2005...starved for hockey, I bought a pair of skates and a stick and got back on the pond. I was unathletic, out of shape, and determined to play in the annual pond hockey tournament. Meanwhile, the Wild returned from the lockout with such heroes as...Alexander Daigle and Marc Chouinard? Those cheap bastards spent a cool $25M on the roster. Of course, we missed the playoffs and drafted 9th overall.
All the way up to 2012...I’m still unathletic, out of shape, and have played probably 200 games of hockey (yet no pond hockey tournament). Meanwhile, the Wild racked up $55M on roster players such as...Warren Peters and Brad Staubitz. Yikes. Of course, we missed the playoffs and drafted 7th overall.
Somewhere in there were a few great years of hockey. Former owner Bob Naegele and (thankfully) former GM Doug Risebrough got out the checkbook and signed a couple solid players. The team made the playoffs a couple times. Even won the division once.
These lockouts give us a chance to neatly break up the ages of the team, and after the expansion era, we have the inter-lockout era (oooohhhh...aahhhhhh).
Without further ado, here is my Minnesota Wild starting lineup from those glorious years:
In goal...from Helsinki, Finland...number 32, NIKLAS BACKSTROM!
327GP 160W 26 SO 0.918 SV 2.42 GAA
Okay, we’ve always had good goaltending in Minnesota. Having Jacques Lemaire sucking the life out of the opposing team will help that. After trading Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton, Manny Fernandez (the coach’s nephew, oddly enough) was given the reigns...and went all headcase crazy goalie on us. Our top goaltending prospect, Josh Harding, was fighting an injury, so in came some free agent goalie from Finland as backup.
And then he stole the starting job, making Manny expendable (for Petr Kalus, yay!), and took the team to the playoffs. He was seriously good. We take it for granted now, and his glove hand has been exposed (and the shootouts), but we hadn’t seen consistency from a starting goalie like that before. He followed up the rare stinker with almost always a great performance.
In the last few years, his age and the games have taken a toll. He’s had hip and groin injuries and hasn’t been quite the same goalie. But he’s been the team’s starter from 2006 onward and will be playing the last year of his contract. Quite a run.
On defense...from Barrie, Ontario...number 8, BRENT BURNS!
417GP 54G 123A 177PTS 313 PIM -11
In 2005, Burns was a promising young...something. He was big, fast, athletic, and had a great attitude. We just didn’t know what the hell he was going to play. Forward? Defense? He’d be bouncing between those positions his whole career.
Burns broke out in spring of 2007, as the team fought for their first playoff berth since 2003. Burns was mostly on defense and started to use his deadly wrist shot and one timer, scoring some seriously clutch goals. The next year he picked right up and went from a healthy scratch to a top defenseman. Sure he made plenty of mental mistakes, but the raw talent was giving way to some polish under Lemaire’s watch, as well the play of mentor Keith Carney.
Along the way there were some setbacks, including a prolonged stint at forward, a concussion, and...something else (whiplash? sinus infection? snake bite?). But Burns was one of the most beloved Wild players between lockouts, with his charity work, man-child approach to the game, and his zoo. Burns was of course traded for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle in 2011.
Also on defense...from Malmo, Sweden...number 5, KIM JOHNSSON!
289GP 15G 72A 87PTS 269 PIM -8
Okay, apologies to Nick Schultz, who has played more games in a Wild sweater than anyone else, and has been a heart and soul member of the team since nearly Day One. But this is my starting lineup, and if I was going to pick any defenseman from between the lockouts, it would be Johnsson.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know who he was when the Wild signed him, aside from his one YouTube highlight reel goal with Philly. And boy did we have a laugh at his salary when he wasn’t scoring goals. But something funny happened...the Wild made the playoffs. They stopped being a punching bag, and started pressuring the other team. They were (gasp).....BREAKING OUT OF THEIR ZONE!
Kim Johnsson didn’t have much of a shot, wasn’t a speed demon, didn’t fight, and really didn’t do anything to stand out. But he was quietly the Wild’s safety valve in the defensive zone. He learned from fellow Swede Nick Lidstrom that, when you get the puck, take two strides before passing. That simple advice, along with his high hockey IQ and solid all-around skills, allowed him to evade many forecheckers and put the Wild on the attack.
Since his early retirement due to concussions, the Wild has been a laughingstock in terms of puck possession and shot measurement statistics. While we hope Jonas Brodin could one day become our own poor man’s Lidstrom, Johnsson filled that role for a few seasons, including the only playoff appearance in that stretch.
At right wing...from Trencin, Slovakia...number 10, MARIAN GABORIK!
207GP 123G 106A 229PTS 169 PIM +38
This is our starting roster for the all-time IR squad, right?
But Gabby was and still is a treat to watch. Fastest player in the league depending on who you ask. Deadly on the breakaway. Underrated in his defensive abilities (okay that’s a stretch...). #10 put fans in the seats during the leanest of years for the Wild.
Of course, there’s always the “coulda beens” with Gabby. His goals/points per game are ridiculous and he really only got one full season with the club. What could Risebrough have fetched if he decided to trade the Slovakian sniper before he ripped his groin to shreds with a hackey sack (seriously, that’s how it happened)? What could have happened if Gabby had better linemates than Todd Fedoruk or Aaron Voros?
As it is, we still got to see some great play from Marian, including his friend and countryman Pavol Demitra (RIP). I’ll take that.
At left wing...from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan...number 24, DEREK BOOOOOOGAARD!
255GP 2G 12A 14PTS 544 PIM -12
If Gaborik put butts in the seats, Derek Boogaard got them out and up.
Thinking about Boogaard brings back memories of a simpler time. We weren’t taking sides in players versus owners. We weren’t crunching numbers on revenue sharing, cap space, or even strength road shot differential when the game is tied and Mars is in retrograde.
With Derek, it was just brutal, simple, glorious violence.
The Wild had no early success, a superstar who was always injured, and a group of scrubs. But in comes this behemoth of a man with a crooked smile who looks like he has no business on skates. And he just pummels his opponents. The Fedoruk fight. The barking at Anaheim after the cheapshot of Johnsson. The knockouts. The dark stare.
NHL hockey is likely moving away from the age of the enforcer, in large part to the tragedy that was Boogaard’s pain, addiction, and untimely death. But for a moment, the Wild had the most feared man in hockey, and us fans loved it.
And at center...from Turku, Finland...the captain of YOUR Minnesota Wild, number 9 (and 21), MIIIKKO...KOIIIIVUUUUUUU!
488GP 108G 253A 361PTS 334 PIM +24
In 2005, Mikko was Saku’s little brother. Today, he is the face of the Minnesota Wild (well, until Parise came along). While he hasn’t led the Wild to the promised land (yet), he has racked up an impressive ELEVEN podium finishes for his country including two Olympic medals and a World Championship.
Mikko is the blue-collar player that Minnesota fans love to cheer for. Mikko isn’t the fastest or most skilled player on the ice, but he is almost always the hardest worker and one of the smartest. He rags the puck to the net, does the heavy lifting for his linemates, and of course, the forehand-backhand-shelf shootout goal. He’s a natural leader and was the first full-time captain of the team.
Although he hasn’t had the best linemates (....Miettinen....), Mikko led the team in points between lockouts, and it’s not close at all. He’s been a plus player not just in the good years, but also the lean. When he’s in the lineup and healthy, the Wild are typically a winning team. But when he’s out, the team sinks like a stone. What if he had been healthy last year, could the Wild have rode that early season hot streak and avoided the meltdown? Made the playoffs? Traded for talent at the deadline and made a run?
Fortunately for Wild fans, we don’t have to play the “what if” game anymore. With Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, and several others in the pipeline, Mikko should have more opportunities to score and not face all the opposition on his own.
Now we just need some leadership elsewhere so we can watch Mikko and the rest of the Wild again.
Thanks to Hockey-Reference.com for the wonderful statistics database.