Let’s start this out with a hypothetical, shall we?
Imagine you are the coach of a hockey team that desperately needs to win in order to keep its playoff hopes alive. You’re coming off of an emotional win in an unfriendly environment against a division rival that you are chasing for playoff positioning and heading into another unfriendly environment against a division rival that has, on a whole, played terrible hockey for most of the season.
You come out in this game with an effort that could largely be described with many adjectives and superlatives that I am unable to use in my article, so we’ll just describe it as “uninspired.”
How do you respond?
Well, the players very well could have been physically and emotionally tired from the previous game. Let’s give them an optional practice.
Then, you come out at home, against the same team that you shut out four nights earlier with an effort that could, again, be described as “uninspired.”
Well, we travelled the next day and the boys could have been tired from travel. Let’s give them another optional practice.
Alright. I suppose that rationale could be considered sound.
Then, the next night, you come out at home and offer up possibly the weakest performance of the season, placing just 11 shots on goal against a team that is just as many points out of a playoff spot as you are and laying an egg once more.
Maybe there’s a problem with your reasoning.
So how do you respond to your team’s worst effort of a season’s worth of inconsistent efforts and begin preparing for a game against last season’s conference champions?
With an optional practice, of course.
While my level of snark might be a little high right now, this is exactly what Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards saw fit to do yesterday following the Wild’s “uninspired” performance against the Florida Panthers.
Now, I’m rarely one to place any amount of blame on the coach. To me, unless the game is lost on a poor line change or because of a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, at this point in the season it falls on the players to execute the game plan.
But to have another optional practice after the same effort was given following three previous optional practices is a grievous error by Richards, in my opinion.
For the past three games, the Wild’s forecheck has been non-existent, their breakouts sloppy and ineffective, and their defense lazy, at best. Three valiant efforts by Niklas Backstrom have been wasted by a team that just doesn’t feel the need to compete.
At some point, the coach needs to take control of the situation and hammer his point home. At some point, the coach needs to have one of those practices that has players scrapping in the corner, pushing each other off the puck, and flat out getting pissed at one another.
A relaxed practice run by the assistant coach just isn’t going to get it done.
Now I obviously don’t know the state of the team in the locker room. It could be that they’re simply tired and run down and that an aggressive, physical practice could do more harm than good.
But what I’ve seen over the past three games isn’t the same team that came out in Calgary and shut the Flames down. The team that I’ve seen over the past few games isn’t the team that professed their belief that they still have a shot at the playoffs.
The team I’ve seen over the past few games is a team that has, quite frankly, given up.
From the message that Richards is sending to the team over the past few days, it would appear that he has too.
Now before you get all up in arms on me here, this isn’t an indictment of Richards. He’s done a lot of good for the Wild this season and for the first time, fans of the team actually feel like the Wild don’t have to get an early lead and clamp down in order to win.
But, as Albert Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Maybe it’s time for Richards to rethink his strategy and elicit a different result instead.