Everything Else

Ben Remington covers the Wild for ZoneCoverage.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BenRemington. 

The Wild have had an ugly December that have seen them tumble down the standings. What’s been the problem?
From an eye-test perspective, the scoring has dried up something fierce, and the loss of Matt Dumba recently has definitely exacerbated that. On paper, the stats back that up. Since December 1, the Wild are 30th in the league in Shooting% at a paltry 7.1%, and have scored the least amount of goals in the NHL (23 in 10 games…woof).
Devan Dubnyk struggled mightily in November with an unsightly .882 SV%, but seems to have turned a corner, and is sitting at .916 in December. The defense is playing pretty solid, but they’re giving Dubnyk no margin for error, and he’s not quite up to the task of standing on his head every night. Wild fans have long lamented the Wild’s inability to finish, and this time, it’s popping up in the regular season with regularity, rather than only happening in the playoffs.
The Wild don’t score a ton. Eric Staal has 12 goals. The Wild weren’t counting on anywhere near 42 again like last year, were they?
I don’t think so, but they were certainly expecting a good season, which I think he’s close to. Staal is a really interesting topic for Wild fans, partly because of those 42 goals last season, there’s a decent sized crowd that want to see him re-signed. There’s also plenty of folks who think when you win in roulette like you did with his contract, you don’t place an even bigger bet on the exact same number on the next roll.
That being said, the Wild are woefully, woefully thin at center, and Staal is the the only true first line center this franchise may have ever had. Take a look at the panic that ensued after Mikko Koivu missed a few games to get an idea of how important Eric Staal is to this team right now. Charlie Coyle has again been hokey-pokeyed into playing center, but he’s not exactly flourishing at the position, not that he was at wing, and he could very well be playing in a new sweater soon.
Ryan Suter is on pace for a career-high in points. How has he remained so effective into his 30s and could he send some notes to Duncan Keith?
Suter has really changed his game a bit, as my friend Tony Abbott from The Athletic wrote about last week. Suter’s been a tad more aggressive on offense lately, but it has caused a handful of defensive breakdowns, which is uncharacteristic. It could be his pairing with Dumba for most of the season that has him so offense-happy, or it could be a change of heart in relation to what’s fun about playing hockey after his ankle basically exploded late last season and almost ended his career.
So I guess if you want Duncan Keith to see the light, maybe a ‘Misery’-type lower body injury? If it doesn’t get him playing better after he recovers, it would be cathartic for some Hawks fans, at the very least.
If the Wild can’t pull out of this spin and miss the playoffs, will Bruce Boudreau face some heat? It’ll be three years without a playoff series win, and a new GM in town who might be tempted to find his own guy…
That’s a very real possibility. We Twins fans just saw Paul Molitor canned more or less because he wasn’t the current GM’s hire, and that could very well be Bruce’s fate if things don’t turn around. It’s really unfortunate, because I think Boudreau is a good coach, and his time with a lackluster Wild roster has somewhat tarnished his reputation, but that could very well be a chicken and egg situation.
But Paul Fenton seems fairly happy with Bruce, and I think he’d be more apt, and probably better off, making some worthwhile changes to the roster first before he gets rid of Bruce. That could just be the Bruce fan in me talking though. He’s a great coach to cover, especially contrasted with Mike ‘Cold, Wet Blanket’ Yeo. Bruce might just need an ‘NHL 24/7’ type rant on the Wild to turn things around, if he hasn’t given them one every game yet.

 

Game #40 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

As Brent Burns racks up Norris finalist nominations and an award, continues to put up record shooting numbers and dominate play with a Stanley Cup contender, Wild fans must look at Charlie Coyle like that Christmas gift from that aunt you never liked that sits in the closet. It was a time and place for something wonderful. It became a a shoe-buffer.

Coyle has never been bad. He’s carved out pretty much a third-line role. He’s floated between center and wing for years, playing both capably. And yet you see the size and speed and hands and you wonder how it’s amounted only one season where he averaged more than a point every two games. There is a feeling of something missed.

What’s particularly galling, is that at 6-3, 220 pounds, Coyle has never managed to put up more than two shots per game in any season. He’s come close only once. With that size and mobility, Coyle should be able to get wherever he wants in the offensive zone. He should be a player who can create his own shot consistently, and yet he’s been subservient to whoever his linemates are.

It’s more infuriating because Coyle has a great shot and scored at a high-percentage. He has a career SH% of 11.2. That’s probably due to Coyle mostly scoring from in close when he does get to the net, as his stature suggests he should at a regular basis. But why isn’t he there more often? Just for giggles, Burns has been averaging three to four shots per game and he plays on defense.

In essence, Coyle is the Wild’s Brandon Saad. You’ll see a game here or there where he looks unplayable. And then you wonder why it isn’t there for the next five games.

But unlike Saad, Coyle hasn’t been identified as a staple of future Wild teams. The Wild brought in a new GM this past summer in Paul Fenton. His charge will be to get the Wild to be something more than the background scenery they’ve been…well, since they came into existence. What the Wild lack, and have lacked, it a front-line forward or d-man, at least one to pair with Ryan Suter. They also lack cap space.

Coyle probably doesn’t get them either. But if he’s going to have trade value, it’s probably at the deadline. Coyle has another year left on his deal after this one, and he’s one of the non-crippling cap hits on the Wild (all too rare). He’s only at $3.2M. If there’s a GM that thinks he can unlock the 55+ point player Coyle can and should be, that’s a snip.

Fenton is going to want to make changes somewhere. The Wild need some sort of shakeup, or at least that was the thinking after yet another first-round exit last year. The Dubnyk De Soleil has never gotten them much, and there has to be more. There also isn’t a lot of flexibility. Parise and Suter aren’t going anywhere. Neither are Dumba, Spurgeon. Niederreiter is over $5M and would be harder to move, and is also signed until 2022. Jason Zucker was just re-upped. They’ve tried to move Jonas Brodin for years, with not much luck.

Coyle will either disappoint and be moved along as a show of trying to improve things, or at least change them. Or he’ll turn it around finally, and prove to be a pillar of whatever the Wild are going to be. He’s still only 26. Either way, the waiting is almost over for Wild fans and Coyle.

 

Game #21 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built