Richards has claimed that Sykora was scratched to “send him a message.”
Apparently that message is that Richards is running out of ideas as to how to motivate his players.
So far this season, Richards has benched Martin Havlat on three separate occasions (one of which likely directly contributed to Havlat’s tweaked groin), he has benched and scratched James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot and he has now benched and scratched Petr Sykora.
These benchings have quite clearly not been the answer. How have these players responded?
Martin Havlat - One goal, five points and a minus-10.
James Sheppard - Zero points and a minus-4, not to mention just 12 shots on goal in 11 games and just one since returning to the lineup.
Benoit Pouliot - One goal, three points and a minus-3. In all fairness, though, Pouliot has likely responded the best to his benchings as he has developed steadily throughout the season so far and is playing the best hockey I’ve seen him play in a Wild sweater.
Petr Sykora - One goal, one point and a minus-2 in six games played, taking just 8 shots.
Clearly Richards is not a master motivator.
But what is the answer?
These four players were all expected to be integral parts of our lineup this season and have all been benched at different times. Meanwhile the team is languishing and even worse, starting to let their slow start get into their heads.
One of the biggest holes in their lineup is at the number two center slot.
Eric Belanger may be a lot of things, but a second line center is certainly not one of them. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a fantastic hockey player. But if he’s centering your second line, you’ve got problems.
The bottom line is that the return of Pierre-Marc Bouchard to the lineup whenever he has recovered from his concussion will help the team.
I would like to think that having such a pure and creative playmaker centering Havlat and Sykora would benefit everyone in the lineup.
But is the team really that dependant on Bouchard, you ask?
Consider that, in the three seasons prior to this one Bouchard has accounted for just over 10 percent of the team’s assists (117 out of 1146) and just over 9 percent of the team’s points (166 out of 1805). In addition, Bouchard was on the ice for 34 percent of the goals that the team scored (227 out of 659) while being on the ice for just 18 percent of the goals against the team (113 out of 609).
While these are simply numbers and there are a lot of other factors to consider, the fact remains that Pierre-Marc Bouchard is an important part of this team’s lineup.
Now I’m not saying that Bouchard’s return will be a cure-all for this team. There is far too much that ails them for this to happen. But what Bouchard will bring is another dangerous weapon to the ice on their scoring lines—something that the team just doesn’t have right now.
But what are they to do in the meantime?
I say its sink or swim time. Give Sheppard and Pouliot time centering a bona fide scoring line.
These are two players that, odds are, are not used to being used in a checking and support role.
In the meantime, why not see if these two players are just languishing in a role that they are unable to fill as opposed to being busts?
What’s the worst that will happen? You’ll lose a few games?