Well, the season is over kids.
Everyone is writing up the eulogies, the analysis, the harebrained opinions, the calls for heads to roll; so I figure First Round Bust should do the same before we delve into Entry Draft stuff.
After starting slow, getting hot, stumbling down the stretch, backing
into the playoffs, and getting summarily dismissed in five games by the
We'd be remiss if we didn't attach an asterisk to the season; there's no question the inane lockout/labor strife/general stupidity on the part of the principal parties (including our owner) had an adverse effect on teams that retooled during the offseason- look at how teams with little turnover were able to hit the ground running (i.e. Chicago) because of the built in continuity; Training Camp was merely a workout for them.
Let's give Mike Yeo some credit, although it was a widely accepted notion that Minnesota was to be a playoff team, but not a Stanley Cup contender. And that's exactly what they were. Good enough to get there, not good enough to advance, and there are enough things to be gleaned from a playoff exit that can be resolved.
That's the thing here- its a process. The roster will evolve, the players develop, the system gets tweaked, and the Coaching Staff and Management will learn lessons. No one with any sort of investment in the team is nor should be content with a first round playoff exit; its not acceptable when our expectations have been raised. However, we lose sight of the big picture, that to be great for a long time isn't going to happen instantaneously. There's going to be disappointing times, but then times like the winning streak this season which exorcised a couple road demons.
Jonas Brodin, snubbed by the ink stained wretches for the Calder, established himself as top pairing defenseman at 19. I want to see him take a step forward offensively next season and be more proactive in that regard. Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle are well on their way to being mainstays in the Top-6; Zucker's blinding speed provides a frightening change of pace from Coyle's power game.
Coyle, in particular, reminded me alot of Mikko Koivu in his rookie year; that the intent to make plays is there, but he's still a half-second slow processing the game, his turns still a tad to wide, trying to do things but just not quite being there.
But there are questions abound; contracts are up, roster holes to be filled, and maybe the thought process of building a team gets a shift based off the observations made in the last two weeks. Maybe we saw the last of Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Niklas Backstrom, all of whom are UFA. Maybe a handful of roster players as well, whether its trade or amnesty buyout (the Dany Heatley situation will be one to watch for sure, since he needs to be medically cleared to play before a possible buyout.)
The defense, aside from three players, was exposed as slow and lacking in skilled puck moving capability. The fourth line may need to take on a speedier element; if Mike Yeo wants to continue rolling all four lines, the composition of that line may need to be more Torrey Mitchell (who was a great little signing last summer) than Zenon Konopka (who lead the league in completely stupid and unnecessary penalties.)
Team toughness may not be just having fighters, but more like a Game 3 effort where Minnesota simply hit the crap out of Chicago, creating space for themselves to out shoot and out chance a far superior team.
Which brings us to what was our ultimate downfall; the inability to put the puck in the net. There's no doubt that Minnesota's ability to put the puck toward the opposition's net increased as the season went on; they will forever need improvement at being better at possession at even strength, but as is such with Minnesota, it always seems a Herculean effort to score a single goal while it takes little effort for the other team to score.
That was the subtext of the Chicago series; The Hawks just weathered the initial storm, jumped on the first mistake, and made Minnesota pay for it, knowing they would struggle to get the puck in the net the rest of the game, making even a 1-0 lead seem colossal.
But my question is this; how do you just rectify this? Goal scorers don't grow on trees, they aren't just widely accessible in the free agent market or via trade, they aren't as common as your typical 4th line plug. There's no doubt Minnesota missed Jason Pominville early in the series, and the gorilla in the room was the awful power play going O-for (Darryl Sydor, by the way, is responsible for the power play scheme). The Wild had every chance to stay in the series, but didn't execute; not just scoring goals, but moving the puck up ice and even just getting the puck deep (a reoccuring problem, the "soft dump"- A Hawks D would simply use his mobility to retrieve and kick start the transistion game.)
Which is why they lost; they were a team of "ifs." If they score on the power play, if they move the puck out of their zone, if they keep Chicago's shots to the outside, if *insert goalie name here* can stand on his head.
For Chuck Fletcher now, its a matter of fixing the ifs, and getting this team to take the next step.