The National Hockey League season has been going on for a few weeks, and some teams are off to much better starts than others. One of those teams who is not doing as well as hoped is the Minnesota Wild.
Last season, the Wild went through some of the biggest changes of its entire history. First, the general manager Doug Riseborough was fired and replaced by new GM Chuck Fletcher. Then, during the summer, Jacques Lemaire, the only coach in the team’s nine year history left and was replaced by Todd Richards- the San Jose Sharks assistant coach and Minnesota native.
Along with all the management changes, the Wild lost its last player from the original team, Marian Gaborik. Gaborik was the team’s first pick, fifth overall in the 2000 draft, and was their franchise player for many years. He is an amazing player and is one of the fastest skaters in the entire league; the only issue is his health. He has had chronic groin issues, which have caused him to miss many games (he only played 17 games in the 2008-2009 season). He also had contract problems with the Wild in the past.
In 2003 he missed the first six games of the season due to contract holdouts, and there was never really any contract discussion this past summer. Gaborik signed with the New York Rangers for $37.5 million dollars over five years.
So now the Wild has a new general manager and coach and without its franchise player. To make up for the loss of Gaborik, the Wild signed Martin Havlat for six years and $30 million dollars. In six games this season, he has one goal and four assists, and is a consistent player, but is not the pure goal scorer that Gaborik is.
The team also tried to sign unrestricted free agent Saku Koivu, brother of current Wild captain Mikko Koivu, but was unsuccessful as Saku signed with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Wild started the season with a lot of hopes and just as many questions. This was the chance to get away from playing the trap that Lemaire loved so much, and many players hated. A new coach would bring a new style of play, but so far the team has been having some troubles. They are currently 2-6-0, for a total of four point, after eight games and are last in the Northwest Division as well as last in the Western Conference.
In fact the only team in the entire league that is doing worse than the Wild is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a record of 0-6-1 and only one point.
So what is the Wild’s problem? One issue is that the Wild is struggling to adjust to Richard’s system. Lemaire’s system stressed being in the right position and knowing exactly where each player would be at any moment, and some players are having more difficulty playing a different style of game. GM Fletcher and Coach Richards are trying to stress that the new system is not the reason games are being lost; it is more that games are coming down to individual battles being lost or individual mistakes which end up costing a goal or even the game.
The players are feeling the uncertainty as well. Forwards Eric Belanger and Andrew Brunette both feel that the forecheck is lacking, and players are not sure whether to attack the puck or be more passive like in the Lemaire system. It is also hard to tell if people are just not sure whether to attack the puck or if they are playing lazy.
Another issue that can be seen from the stats is the no one on the team has a positive +/-. This is one of the more confusing statistics of the hockey game, but the basic gist of it is that if you are on the ice when your team scores an even strength or shorthanded goal you get a +1, and if you are on the ice when the other team scores at even strength or shorthanded you get a -1.
It is a way of seeing how well all players are at playing both offense and defense, but is best used for defense and defensive forwards. Since no one on the Wild has a +/- higher than 0, the team is having some issues with defense, and that will have to change if they want to start winning games, specifically the games with a one-goal difference.
There are still a lot of questions that will need to be answered, and soon. The team will have to go through a lot of changes because of the different personnel, but this is a team that has a fan-base that is waiting for a big season. Every game at the Xcel Energy Center has been sold out, and the fans are getting impatient.
Not only that, but I am sure that players are getting impatient and want to win. It should get better as the team becomes more at ease with Richards’ style of coaching, but will that be enough?
The team needs to turn around the season; the question is if it will be able to and in time to have a successful one.