Well, I suppose it’s time.
Some might liken it to spring cleaning, when you sit on your couch, let out a long sigh and decide that it’s time to get to all of the housework that you’ve neglected over the long winter.
For me, this is a little like that.
The Wild’s season ended about a week and a half ago and, for the life of me, I just couldn’t bring myself to write a season recap.
Was I disappointed in their showing?
A little. Truth be told, I was genuinely expecting this team to challenge for a spot in the playoffs.
It just so turned out that the expectations I had of this team were just a little bit unrealistic.
The majority of it has come down to the fact that I just haven’t had time to actually sit down and devote the time that would be deserving of a season recap. Between my day job, my obligations at Hockey Primetime , actually wanting to enjoy the playoffs, some time to myself and finding out that my wife was pregnant with our second child, things just got shuffled down and down the list and this was one of them.
But here we are now. I’ve gotten some distance from the season, I’ve gained some perspective and I’m ready to break it down old school style for you all.
This will be the first of a five-part series that I will write for the Wild’s season. This, the first part, will be a general overview of the season which will, if you know me, likely devolve into opinionated ramblings about this and that. The second will take an individual look at each of the Wild’s forwards, the third an individual look at their defensemen and goaltenders, the fourth a look at their front office, coaching staff and intangibles and finally the fifth will look forward to the off season (i.e. NHL Entry Draft and free agency).
I’d like to get a lively discussion going here, so comment if you wish, but here we go with the incoherent ramblings.
It’s important to note that the Wild started this season with tempered expectations, but expectations of a fresh start nonetheless.
They had a new general manager, a new head coach, a new system, and a new superstar.
And a heck of a lot of excitement.
Part of the reason why I was so disappointed in this team’s season was from what I saw during the open scrimmages I visited before the season started.
I saw a system that put a premium on this team’s strong point—skating. This system allowed the players to skate with the puck and make things happen with their strong skating ability.
A few games into the season, however, it was clear that old habits were hard to break, as the Wild just simply couldn’t break out of their old habits formed under Jacques Lemaire.
Now, while I’ve been critical of the coaching that the Wild had this season, I do have to say that it wasn’t surprising that it took as long as it did to break the Wild of their old habits. For many of the players, these habits had been instilled in them since they broke into the league.
On top of the new system, the team was bitten by the injury bug—worse than they had ever been.
In the Gaborik Years, Wild fans had become accustomed to not seeing their star player on the ice. Typically, however, it started and ended there.
This season, however, the Wild lost 300-plus man-games to injury. To the uninitiated, this means that the combined total of games lost to injury was over 300 games—something not easy for any team to overcome.
Star defenseman Brent Burns missed a total of 35 games to injury this season, forcing the team to find replacements in the form of Jaime Sifers, John Scott and Clayton Stoner—all of whom are solid defenders in their own right, but none of whom bring the same intensity and flair to the table that Burns does.
In addition to the loss of Burns, the Wild were forced to play without the player that they had expected to be their second-line pivot—Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Butch missed 81 games due to a concussion this season, effectively leaving the team without their top playmaker and hopeful linemate for new acquisition Martin Havlat.
The team’s biggest downfall this season, however, was easily their defensive unit.
In the past, the Wild’s team defense was their strong point. Regardless of the situation, they could count on their defense to be their constant—their stabilizing factor.
This season, however, saw defensive gaffes a plenty as defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown terrorized the Wild; their goaltenders in particular.
Whether it was poor defensive zone coverage, missed clearing attempts, or even just flat out bad plays, the Wild were, quite simply a mess in their own zone.
All of this is not to take the blame off of the team’s goaltending; however. Both Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding had admittedly subpar seasons by their standards and neither made any excuses about their play.
BUT, while it would be easy to just look at the negatives from this season, it would be a disservice not to mention the positives that kept Wild fans hopeful for the future.
First, let’s be honest here; the biggest positive from this season was easily Guillaume Latendresse.
Latendresse came into the Wild as a wild card (no pun intended) after being traded from Montreal in exchange for Benoit Pouliot and immediately made an impact on the team. In 55 games with the team, Latendresse scored 25 goals and gained immediate chemistry with his linemate, Martin Havlat.
He brought a physical, hard working game to the Wild and immediately endeared himself to fans.
What’s more, he helped contribute to a late season push by Havlat that showed Wild fans exactly what they might have to look forward to from the Czech playmaker.
In the first year under his shiny new big contract, Havlat struggled early on with just two goals and nine points in his first 20 games. In the last 62 games, however, Havlat totaled 16 goals and 54 points—much closer to the player that the Wild thought they would be getting when they signed him this last off season.
On top of all of this, the brightest spot to the Wild’s season came in their last handful of games where, despite an end to the season that saw them win just three of their last ten games, they saw the emergence of three young players that will play a large part in their future.
Nate Prosser, Cody Almond, and Casey Wellman all showed promise in their limited action at the end of this season and all showed that the future could be bright for a Wild team that is beginning to rebuild their system after years of ineffectual drafting.
Overall, the season for the Wild was a glaring disappointment, but it isn’t to say that it is without high points.
The next few months will likely be very introspective for both players and management for the Wild. For the second straight season, they have a long off season ahead of them.
Unlike their past two, however, this one will be a full off season with a coherent strategy—one that Chuck Fletcher will likely not deviate from.
It was a tough season to watch if you are a Wild fan, but fans can take solace in the fact that the right man is at the helm of this organization and that he will not rest until the Stanley Cup resides in the State of Hockey.
Up Next: The Forwards get their final report card.