The Minnesota Wild announced Tuesday night that leading scorer Zach Parise will miss two to three weeks with a foot contusion. It's a short period of time, but it could be enough to do damage to the Wild's postseason hopes in the competitive Western Conference.
If Parise is out at the long end of the timetable, he would return Dec. 16 after missing the Wild's next 10 games. The upcoming schedule is unforgiving; it includes eight matchups against teams currently in playoff position in the West, including three games against the Colorado Avalanche. It's about the worst time imaginable for the Wild to be without their best forward.
Parise told Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune he believes the next few weeks are big for the Wild:
Really frustrated, especially looking at the schedule that we’ve got coming up. We have some important games, some tough games, so the timing is not ideal, so hopefully it won’t be that long and I’ll be able to come back sooner than we’re saying.
With Zach Parise out as many as three weeks, are the Minnesota Wild still a playoff team?
Three weeks without a team's best offensive player is always a detriment, but the problem could be exacerbated in the case of the punchless Wild, who entered Tuesday's game ranked 23rd in the NHL at 2.44 goals per game. Parise has scored 11 of the Wild's 61 goals (18.0 percent) and plays the second-most minutes (20:19) per game among Wild forwards.
Parise is also a dominant force in the puck-possession game. According to ExtraSkater.com, Parise is ninth in the NHL in Corsi For and sixth in Fenwick For. Top-line center Mikko Koivu (five goals, 16 assists) is just as good in those categories, which means coach Mike Yeo isn't just losing Parise—he's losing the makeup of his dangerous top line.
The Wild are already dealing with injuries to forwards Torrey Mitchell and Mikael Granlund, but GM Chuck Fletcher told the Star-Tribune he believes the team can handle the loss of Parise:
We certainly have our share of injuries right now. We’ll just have to do our best. We believe our depth is better. this will be an opportunity for some players to step up and play bigger roles on our team. Dany Heatley has done a lot better the last couple weeks. This is an opportunity potentially for him to step up and play a bigger role. Jason Zucker is a player that didn’t make our team out of camp and now potentially there’s a bigger role staring him in the face as well. We certainly have on paper the guys that can step in and score goals.
Heatley, who is now 32 years old, has a disappointing four goals in 25 games. His career has been in decline since 2010-11, so expecting him to resurrect himself for the next two to three weeks seems foolish.
Zucker, 21, was called up a week ago and is one of the Wild's brightest prospects, but has just 30 games of NHL experience. He had 24 goals in 55 games with the Houston Aeros of the AHL last season, but asking such a young player to replace a player of Parise's caliber is unfair.
It seems crazy to say about a team that is sixth in the West and eight points clear of the ninth-place Nashville Predators, but a 10-game slump could be the difference between reaching the playoffs and barely missing them. The Dallas Stars are 10 points behind the Wild but have three games in hand. The West is as dangerous and competitive as it has been in years, and one bad three-week stretch could sink the Wild.
The Wild should thank their lucky stars Parise's injury wasn't worse and do everything they can to tread water until he returns.