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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

As the season draws nigh, we land on the team in the Central Division that I become more and more convinced are the only ones the Hawks can actually catch. The Minnesota Wild will show up to make up the numbers, because that’s really all they do. Sure, there was that weird one a couple seasons back where they almost won the division, and then surrendered meekly in the playoffs.

And that’s all the Wild ever really do. The height of their accomplishment is that they almost did something. They like, almost beat the Hawks in 2014. They almost won the division. And they almost mattered anywhere beyond that.

This is a team that if it has a true, top-line player it’s either the pretty damn old Eric Staal or the permanently crocked Zach Parise. If it has a truly top-pairing d-man it’s the pretty damn old Ryan Suter. It will once again rely and Devan Dubnyk to bail them out of just about all the things they can’t do, as he barely clings on to the platform of top-echelon goalies. Again, he’s an almost. He’ll almost get you there. But he won’t. And they won’t.

2017-2018: 45-26-11 101 points  253 GF 232 GA  47.8 CF%  53.5 xGF%  8.1 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: You know the story here. Doobie Brother is going to be in net and he’s going to be better than you ever think he is, because we don’t associate him with the Prices and Holtbys of the world, perhaps just because he’s so damn goofy looking. But last year’s .918 SV% overall was something of a small step down for him, And over the past four seasons, only Price has a better SV% than he does. He’s a tick ahead of Corey Crawford in that span as well. He’s just that good, and without him the Wild would essentially be the Canucks.

He’ll be backed up by Alex Stalock again, who was just about serviceable last year. Stalock spent three seasons being woeful or being in the AHL before last year, and he’s certainly not anyone the Wild are going to want to have to ride if Dubs were to get hurt. But he’ll do a job. This whole fucking team is guys who’ll “do a job.” It’s why they don’t do anything.

Defense: Christ, is there a team with less turnover than this bunch always seems to have? Dumba, Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon. It’s been that way for seemingly 89 years. And none of these guys are bad, and in fact all are quite good. Even if the Wild have been trying to trade Brodin for three seasons. Suter has aged better than his contemporary Duncan Keith because his game is more efficient. There’s no wasted movement. Dumba put up 50 points last year and I bet you didn’t know that. Spurgeon has been one of the best puck-movers and possession d-men in the league for years even though he’s not getting on any roller coaster. As far as top fours go, there are plenty of teams doing way worse than this (leading off with the one in town).

The third-pairing is looks to be Greg Pateryn, who is a broken toilet, and rent-a-stiff Nick Seeler. There’s a couple kids in the AHL in Menell and Belpido who could come up somewhere during the season to bolster this, but in the meantime they’ll get by with the top four they have.

Forwards: Again, you know this crew. Eric Staal somehow came up with 42 goals last year, though somehow I doubt he’ll shoot 17% again. As he hadn’t scored more than 30 since 2011 before that, you can look for 25-28 goals again. And where the Wild will make up the difference, I can’t tell you. Mikael Granlund is still here to not be a center and a top line winger with a whole lot of “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” Jason Zucker got rich and will still score 10 goals annoying goals against the Hawks, and that’s it. His 33 goals last year aren’t the anomaly that Staal’s totals were, because he’d scored at that rate before. But you see him and think, “If he was on the second line, that team would be good. But he isn’t, and they’re not.” Zach Parise is here for 50 games and then he’ll have some injury that will cause you to have to take a moment to yourself while kneeling. Charlie Coyle is a synonym for disappointment. Mikko Koivu needs his food turned into mush. Nino Neiderreiter will be undervalued by everyone, including his coach. “Joel Eriksson Ek” is something you say while booting. Marcus Foligno is always a sign that your roster needs work.

We have written this preview for them for like four straight seasons. I’m just fucking cutting and pasting next year, assuming the Hawks haven’t caused me to turn the lyrics of “High Speed Dirt” into a performance art piece.

Outlook: The thing about the Wild is that the roster isn’t anywhere near bad enough to be bad. That would at least be interesting. They’re a team full of the middle skater from the Nintendo hockey game. Just fast enough to not get killed, but not skilled enough to surge. Dubnyk gets them to the playoff platform if he performs. If he falls off or gets hurt, this is the definition of an 88-point team.

But they’re not going to do anything memorable. They’re not anywhere near the Jets or Preds. They’re nowhere near bottoming out to get a top pick to actually get a player you’d recognize one day. They’re in that limbo-hell that teams in other sports actively try and avoid (except for the Bulls). They’re not gong to win anything, they’re not going to rebuild. They’re as bland as the state they come from. Seriously, how did that place produce Prince? That seems like a crime.

Previous Team Previews

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Ottawa Senators

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Columbus Blue Jackets

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New York Rangers

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San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday, Game 2 Friday, Game 3 Sunday, Game 4 April 17th

We move to the Central, where we have a supposed “rivalry.” At least it is according to the Wild broadcast. When it isn’t the Hawks, of course. Watch any game against the Jets from the Minnesota side, and you’ll hear the Jets only referred to as “our great rivals.” I’m sure the Jets have no idea what they’re talking about. Because like, you could drive it if you really wanted to? Because they’re both frozen hellscapes? Because they’ve both been irrelevant for their entire existence? Probably the last one. Anyway, one of those teams is probably going to change that this time. Hint: it’s not the ones who wear green.

Goalies: The Wild didn’t get the other-worldly goaltending from The Doobie Brother that they usually do when they’re this high in the standings. He was just about league average overall, which is probably what he is. The problem for the Wild is that he’s been pretty putrid in the playoffs, though last year he simply just got out-dueled by Jay Gallon. And we should thank him for that, because it caused the Blues to trust Allen for another season and look where it got them. Dubs isn’t going to win this series, there’s a chance he might lose it, but most likely in the middle.

We don’t know anything about Connor Hellebuyck in the playoffs, because this is his first foray. But he was excellent in the regular season, and the Jets have so much firepower up front that he might not be required to do more than simply not lose it. If he does better than that, and the Jets simply don’t freeze under the bright lights, then things could get awfully silly for a while up in the Frozen Tundra With No Airport That’s Not Green Bay.

Defense: The Wild took a major hit when Ryan Suter broke his leg. While he might not be what he was, he’s still the their anchor. Without him, some combo of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, and Jared Spurgeon is going to have to do the heavy lifting. All of these guys are good, and Spurgeon is more than that, but with their depth eroded and the Jets having at least 10 forwards who can hurt you, the problems are farther down the lineup. And no, Nick Seeler and and Nate Prosser aren’t going to do anything other than get caved in when they’re on the ice.

This might have been a problem before, but with the return of Trouba it won’t be this series. Keeping Byfuglien away from the hard stuff is what he’s built for, and if Trouba is near his best he can nullify just about any top line. Josh Morrissey has been a surprise, and Toby Enstrom could return during the series though he’ll miss Game 1. It’s not the best blue line in the division but it’s hardly embarrassing.

Forwards: Another huge advantage for the Jets. While Eric Staal had a revival season, and Mikaeal Granlund is great, and Jason Zucker had a breakout season, there’s just not enough here.  Mikko Koivu is going to have a hard time keeping up with Scheifele, Charlie Coyle is never going to be anything. Nino Neiderreiter couldn’t buy a bucket this year. The bottom six is going to be a real issue, even with Jordan Greenway now here.

Meanwhile, the Jets boast what might be the deepest crop of forwards around. Blake Wheeler is an under-the-radar Hart candidate. Scheifele is a monster. Kyle Connor could be rookie of the year. Ehlers and Laine are on the second line. Little and Perreault on the third. Adam Lowry is the egg-head’s case for Selke. There’s no let-up here. Every line they throw out should be better than whatever Gabby throws over the boards.

Prediction: Hockey can be strange. I don’t know if Paul Maurice remains an idiot or finally put it together this year, but he doesn’t have to do much to defeat Bruce Boudreau who manages every playoff series choking on a ham bone. Chase any sort of matchup or structure and you’re ahead of Gabby. Sure, Hellebuyck could lose it in his first playoff series. The sticks could go cold under actual expectations this time. Dubnyk I suppose could go nuts. But that’s a lot of motherfuckin’ ifs. Jets in five. 

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 24-22-8   Wild 29-19-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network outside the 606

NONE OF THEM LOOK LIKE MARY WINSTEAD IN FARGO: Zone Coverage MN

I suppose the Hawks themselves won’t feel this way. But now that it seemingly doesn’t matter, now that the playoffs are nothing more than a fuzzy concept to them, now that the pressure would seemingly be off, can the Hawks actually play enjoyable hockey again? Just say, “Fuck it, it’s free cake” and go out there and do shit?

Because that’s what’s probably been so dispiriting about this latest stretch. I don’t know that the Hawks have played badly, but you could easily see how tight they were as soon as things weren’t going their way. It wasn’t even leading goals. When they didn’t take two or three-goal leads that their play at times warranted, you could see anus-puckering. Well, not literally. That’d be gross. But you get it. They’ve looked like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, which in some ways it was. Or is. Not sure which.

Which is unlike the Hawks. This is most of the same core group that has stared down playoff deficits and kind of just giggled at the hysteria around it. Maybe something broke in their mentality when they didn’t quite come back from 3-1 down against the Blues two years ago. Maybe it broke last spring. Maybe the vets sense they don’t have it any more. Whatever it is, it’s been a hard watch.

So tonight, and in the next three, away from the expectant and increasingly bitter (and less and less full) United Center, maybe the Hawks can escape some of that malaise. Maybe the juice of another building, where every turnover or missed power play doesn’t elicit groans and jeers, they can be a just a touch freer. They could certainly use it.

They’ll find another pretty angsty team in the Wild, as they’re coming off blowing a three-goal lead at home to the dead-on-arrival Coyotes on Thursday. They did get a point out of it, but when you don’t get two against Arizona that’s bad, and when you blow a three-goal lead to them to cost yourself that point that’s criminal. They’ll have the cayenne pepper on their balls tonight, you would figure, as their hold on the last playoff spot is tenuous at best with all of the Flames, Ducks, and Avs nipping at their heels.

The Wild haven’t been able to get healthy all season, and will be without Jonas Brodin tonight and the next couple weeks to continue that theme. But they’re finally fully healthy at forward, and sport a good three lines that can hurt you. Mikko Koivu may be reserving space in a Twin Cities retirement home soon, but he still keeps the puck in the right areas and has been a nuisance to the Hawks for longer than I’d care to remember. Neiderreiter and Staal are the biggest threats on the team on the line behind that, and Mortimer Parise and Charlie Coyle are skating on the third line right now. We’d laugh, but we’d also kill for depth resembling anything like that on the Hawks.

Behind that it’s been something of a coming out party for Matthew Dumba lately. He’s got 19 points in his last 29 games, and finally appears free to be aggressive and kick it on up the ice with his speed and try and make stuff happen. That gives the Wild two dynamic puck-movers along with Jared Spurgeon, who’s been quietly excellent as he always is. Dumba is better buttressed by Brodin but will have to make do with Olofsson for the immediate future.

Strange for the Wild as they’ve been hot of late despite Dubnyk being only ok. They’re 9-3-3 since the turn of the calendar while Dubs is only carrying a .914 SV% in that time. It’s been pretty simple, either they score three goals or more, or they lose. Given that the forwards are all healthy again, while they don’t have what you think of as a premier scorer, they get it from enough places to get by for now. Though Staal is making a fist of being that frontline scoring, with 16 points in his last 15 games. Granlund has been coming right along with him on that line. So they’re the ones to watch tonight.

For the Hawks, Carl Dahlstrom looks to be making his NHL debut tonight, paired with Connor Murphy ahead of Michal Kempny. I’d get upset about this because both Gustafsson and Seabrook have been defensive sinkholes, but at this point the emotion seems like a waste. Let’s just see what Dahlstrom can do because what can it hurt? Glass Jeff gets the start, and Patrick Sharp looks to be the forward scratch so Lance Bouma can come out of mothballs and that’s a sentence I just typed and now I want to hurl things around my room and out of my digestive track and good lord there’s 27 more games of this!

The Hawks have generally played well against the Wild this year. beating them twice and losing twice in games they outplayed the Wild. They could use more of that tonight for sure. We’re not going to ask for any higher meaning out of this one. We’d just like to not want to numb ourselves after this one is over. Doesn’t seem like much to ask.

Game #55 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Ben Remington is one half of Giles And The Goalie podcast, and ZoneCoverageMN.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenRemington.

How big is Jonas Brodin’s injury?
I mean it’s not a small deal, but I’m not super convinced it’s a huge deal either. Brodin had been better lately, but was otherwise having a pretty bad season, after he was protected in the Expansion Draft. It means more ice time for the young offensive dynamo/defensively challenged Mike Reilly, which I’m not opposed to. Gustav Olofsson is almost a Brodin clone, and he’ll slide into the second pair, and I think it’ll be alright.

 Injuries have really hampered this team, but they really can’t use Brodin’s injury as yet another crutch, given his body of work this season.

There was some talk that Eric Staal would be on the trade block before the deadline. Where did that come from?
 No sure, exactly. Is HFboards still around?
I mean, logically it makes a little sense, if the Wild were to decide to sell. He’s got a year left on an incredible contract, and teams would be salivating over that. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any kind of push to re-sign him, because he’s hitting his mid 30’s, probably due a huge pay raise, and the Wild seem to have some in house centers they want to give more time to eventually. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him dealt, but the return better curl my toes and expose my O face. It’s crazy to think about shipping out your best player without trying to re-sign him, but if you have a pretty good idea that you won’t be able to afford him anyway, there are worse courses of action, I suppose. 

Matt Dumba has 19 points in his last 29 games. Is this finally his arrival?
 I think so. He got off to a slow start but has really been solid generating offense for most of the season, which is why so many of us wanted him protected over Brodin. He’s only 23, and has shown some incredible stuff that has somewhat outweighed the occasional miscue. I think he’s just scratching the surface on offense, and with his shot could be a Burns-Lite (or even full flavor, who knows).
 What are the Wild going to do before the deadline? They have to at least push it, right?
 I think so, but I’m not expecting much, given their dire cap situation. The big contracts aren’t going anywhere, so anything beyond getting a bottom 6 forward type I’d be surprised by. I’m also a little terrified of Chuck Fletcher making a blockbuster deal at the deadline, since he’s on the last year of his contract and there’s tons of uncertainty on if he’ll be back.
 There’s been talk of them unloading Foligno, which is hilarious given what they paid for him and the contract they gave him. By hilarious I mean depressing, but I’d also be almost as happy about as when they fired Kyle Quincey into the sun. 
Where do the Wild go after this season? They’re kind of contractually committed to this group but it’s getting older. Is this cycle complete?
 Ha, well, yeah, I think? I think they’ll keep taking puncher’s chances at the playoffs every year with this core, but it’s hard to see them doing any real damage unless something drastic happens. Dubnyk is the type of goalie to get red hot for a stretch and carry this team, but we just haven’t seen that in the playoffs, or really this season, aside for his three game shutout streak. If Kirill Kaprisov comes over soon, that could change the whole complexion of this team, but something something Russia something something.
All in all I think this team is very much stuck in a rut through most of the Parise/Suter contracts, barring a miracle. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to build around their corpses in 5 years.

 

Game #55 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN National, WGN-AM 720
Strictly Leakage: Hockey Wilderness

After going above and beyond the call of duty in dispatching with the dreadful Senators last night in Kanata, the Hawks turn right back around for a RIVALRY NIGHT game against the divisional opponent Minnesota Wild, who are currently tied with the Hawks, but have played more games and have fewer regulation wins. What a time to be barely alive.

Everything Else

 vs. 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Paisley Park: Hockey Wilderness

After a brief and suprisingly victorious jaunt to Manitoba on Thursday, the Hawks return home tonight having now had a couple days worth of rest, and will face of against the Wild, with whom they are tied, who played last night, and are beat the hell up by injuries.

Everything Else

The Wild suck so hard that they’re the only team Bruce Boudreau hasn’t coached to a division title when he’s had a full season behind the bench. And really, if you don’t get that basically meaningless bauble out of our favorite Haagen-Dazs slathered bocce ball, then what’s the point at all? You’re still going to get a coach with both hands around his own throat in the playoffs but not to get to raise a silly banner aloft. Well, the Wild probably aren’t going to win the division this year, and they’re probably not going to get out of it in the playoffs. It’s almost if Brucey is now just in an abyss of meaninglessness. Which is how most people feel about the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota Wild

’16-’17 Record: 49-25-8  106 points (2nd in Central, out in 1st round to STL)

Team Stats 5v5: 49.3 CF% (20th)  50.5 SF% (14th)  52.6 SCF% (3rd)  9.2 SH% (1st)  .925 SV% (11th)

Special Teams: 20.9 PP% (9th) 82.9 PK% (8th)

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA-S, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness

And so it is now here, the most important regular season game in the history of the sport…at least until the next one. The Wild are still playing .900 hockey and have three games in hand on the Hawks, and a regulation win tonight should effectively salt the division away for them, and there’s nothing more that Bruce Boudreau likes than the taste of salted divisions. And the entire hockey world, such as it is, will be watching, as this is the only game on the docket tonight.

Everything Else

With the Hawks having lost four of six (which constitutes a real streak for them), and their lack of depth in both the blue line and at forward getting exposed by the better teams in the West, the volume of calls for trades, any trades, is certainly getting to crescendo-levels. While the emotion certainly is understandable, the Hawks and their fans are going to find two problems. 1) Thanks to their cap situation, and Artemi Panarin’s 1.75m bonus for finishing among the top-10 in scoring among forwards, the Hawks aren’t going to be able to solve all their problems at the deadline and 2) There really aren’t any perfect solutions out there for even one of their problems. Let’s go through them, shall we?