The latest rash of injuries has left the Minnesota Wild with more questions than answers.
First and foremost, how does the team balance short-term success and long-term growth?
Upon coming to the Wild organization, general manager Chuck Fletcher stated that his goal for this team was to make the playoffs this season. It was a lofty goal that many passed off as typical new management rhetoric.
Fletcher believed that he could balance the short-term success of the team with its long-term growth, however.
He proved this with an extremely successful draft (at least at first glance) in which he addressed organizational needs by picking up a slew of talented young forwards, as well as addressing immediate needs with the trade for center Kyle Brodziak.
Just four games into the season, the team is already at a crossroads. With significant injuries up front, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion), Petr Sykora (groin) and Cal Clutterbuck (ankle) are all going to miss time, leaving the team without three of what many would consider to be their top six forwards.
Fletcher made moves by calling up Andy Hilbert and Nathan Smith from Houston, but this is like putting a piece of bubble gum in a crack on the Hoover Dam. It might work for a short period of time but, eventually, the dam is going to break.
The mismanagement of draft picks by the previous management has left the cupboard bare for the Wild. They can’t afford to give up any NHL-ready players and, now, they can’t afford to give up any prospects either. On the same token, the lack of prospects in their system means that they can’t afford to give up any picks.
Especially not if Fletcher wants to hold true to his promise and build the franchise up from within.
The only player that the Wild have that they would likely be willing to shop at the moment is goaltender Josh Harding, and they can’t expect to get much for him. Not without giving up something else, as well.
So while Fletcher is left with this decision, the onus falls on head coach Todd Richards to motivate the team in the interim.
Richards needs to find a way to spark youngsters James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot who, between the two of them, have one assist and are a collective minus-3. It is vital to the team’s short-term success that these two young guns step up to the plate and begin to perform at the level that was expected of them initially.
They both exhibit flashes of what they are capable of, but rarely pull it together for a complete performance.
Sheppard has been getting the ice time as the team’s third-line center between Owen Nolan and Antti Miettinen mostly. He has played solid this season so far. At least more so than last.
Pouliot, on the other hand, has gone from looking decent to horrendous and has been met with strong criticism from Richards at every turn.
While both are undoubtedly aware of the team’s need for them to step up, it has yet to be determined whether or not they are capable of it.
Either way, it’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks for the Minnesota Wild.