Hockey

So we have our last full week of Hawks hockey before we see what shiny new GM Kyle Davidson has in store for the roster with the 3/21 NHL trade deadline looming. In between now and then, the Hawks have a much stiffer (heh) challenge with 2 of their next 3 games coming against legitimate playoff teams in the Bruins and Minnesota Wild. It’s also a Stupid Schedule Week™ with the Hawks at home tonight, then nothing until a 1:00 start in Minnehaha on Saturday, then they fly back here to take on the Peg. I get the NHL schedulers have had their work cut out for them with COVID blowing everything up and the players not going to the Olympics, but damn that’s a shitty set of game times.

 

3/15 vs. Boston

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Those Apples Fucking Suck: Stanley Cup of Chowder

 

Less than a week after losing a heartbreaker to the Bruins out in Beantown, the Hawks get their chance at revenge tonight at the UC. Not a whole lot has changed since Summer hit up the preview from last week other than the B’s finishing off their homestand with a 3-2 win against the moribund Coyotes of South Glendale over the weekend. The offense continues to run through that Dunkin Donuts guy, as Pastrnak keeps piling up the points (including the game winning dagger against the Hawks last week). Taylor Hall and Patrice Bergeron are also here, along with the diseased penis Brad Marchand, who I’m sure will do something completely infuriating at some point during the game. Odds are Jake Swayman gets the nod again with him taking the bulk of the starts recently with Bruce Cassidy riding the current hot hand.

With our Large Irish Son Connor Murphy likely confined to the dark room for the foreseeable future while in concussion protocol, the Hawks D will be even more hard pressed than usual to keep Boston setting things up behind the net as they are wont to do. Keeping out of the box will be key, as with Murph out there isn’t really anyone on the PK who can clear the crease like he does. Could be ugly.

 

3/19 At Minnesota

Game Time: 1:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720

First Round Failures: Hockey Wilderness

 

It pains me greatly to concede the fact that the Minnesota Wild are better than the Blackhawks right now, and most likely will continue to be for the next few years at least. They have a very solid mix of interesting veterans and exciting young players. This was made possible after shedding the dead weight that was the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The biggest name among the exciting young players would be Kirill Kaprisov, who may very well be the heir apparent to Alex Ovechkin (assuming he ever actually, ya know, retires), as one of the best pure scorers to hit the scene in a very long time. The Wild recently signed him to a 5 year, $45 million extension after what seemed like an impasse that could’ve sent him back to Russia. They’ve also added Old Friend Ryan Hartman, who has now harnessed all the potential we saw during his time with the Hawks.

The back end is populated by a lot of familiar names as the Wild attempted to shore up what was a solid group of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon by adding Alex Goligoski and Dimirti Kulikov. The results have been middling thus far, as the Wild have a tendency (much like Vegas, who they’ve now modeled themselves after) to give up a boatload of shots. With only Cam Talbot behind them to stop the onslaught, the Wild basically need to just play balls to the wall offense to keep opponents out of their zone. That’s not usually a very solid playoff strategy, which is ok because it’s a team from Minnesota, and they never get out of the first round anyways.

 

3/20 vs Winnipeg

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Everybody Freeze (Arnold voice): Arctic Ice Hockey

 

Last and most certainly least of these 3 is the Winnipeg Jets. While they’ve been on a mini heater over the last week or so, beating the Blues and Lightning by a decent margin, they’re still just 5-4-2 since they last lost to the Hawks in the middle of February. As we all know, playing .500 hockey down the stretch in Gary Bettman’s NHL does not a playoff team make. They’re only 4 points back of Vegas with a game in hand of the final wild card spot, which might actually be worst case scenario for them. With the team needing quite a bit to take the next step, their best course of action would probably be to sell at the deadline like the Hawks. Being only 4 out might make them hesitate to do that, and even worse for them would be to push their chips in like their GM was Stan Bowman. Even if they DO sneak into the playoffs, they face a total ass-waxing at the hands of Calgary or Colorado, both of whom are light years ahead of the Jets. Personally I hope they DO go all in, which would put them on the same trajectory as the Hawks now sit. Misery loves company.

 

Hockey

Well that sucked.

With some in the Hawks front office apparently deluded enough to think that they had some type of outside chance for the team to sneak into the playoffs, this series against the Wild loomed large in the schedule. After getting broomed in both games, hopefully this will put to bed any thought of the team sneaking into the postseason and set everyone’s focus where it needs to be: using whatever Jaws of Life apparatus Kyle Davidson can come up with to extricate this franchise from the flaming clown car pileup left behind by Stan Bowman and John McDodough.

 

1/21

Hawks 1 – Wild 5

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

 

This was quite the ass kicking. The Hawks special talent of showing up out of sorts and giving up goals in the first 5 minutes of a game reared its ugly head here, as most people at the UC hadn’t even found their seats yet before MAF had already let in two goals behind him. It didn’t get any better from there on out.

After the dust had settled, Old Friend Ryan Hartman had potted two goals (increasing his already career best to 18) and Fleury had been chased from net halfway through the 2nd period. The defensive structure in this one was nonexistent, and the Hawks hung the “not interested” sign above the bench before the halfway mark of the first period. It was a stinker, and the type of game you see quite a bit towards the end of January during the Bataan Death March towards April.

1/22

Wild 4 – Hawks 3 (OT)

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

While the effort in this one was much, much better, the end result was still the same. With Coach King surprisingly opting to go back to Kevin Lankinen after he came in relief of MAF after he got yanked the night before, the Hawks played much better in front of him, jumping out to a 2-0 lead before Erik Gufstasson took a dumbass penalty with less than 2:00 to go in the 1st period where the Wild inevitably scored on the ensuing power play.

In reality, it could’ve been much more than 2 goals from the Hawks in the 1st were it not for the efforts of  Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen. He absolutely stole a goal from Jonathan Toews in the waning minutes of the first period, throwing his left skate in the air from prone on his belly to kick away Toews’ wrister. Kahkonen was in position all night long, and made some excellent saves on DeBrincat in OT to keep the Hawks out of the win column.

Henrik Borgstrom (who has looked slightly better of late, hopefully increasing his trade value) potted two, along with a sick PPG from DeBrincat. Kane continues to be snakebitten, and is clearly frustrated by his lack of production. Kevin Lankinen looked much better, but still is not the answer to the Hawks goaltending question of the future. At this point, there’s zero reason for Lukas Reichel to be wasting his time in Rockford. Bring him up and give us something to watch going forward, because it’s all we’re really gonna have.

Hockey

There’s no time to waste in this season of cramming games in wherever we can—the Hawks are now going to be playing a double-header this weekend against the Wild, the first tilt between these teams this season. What could go wrong?

Game Time: 7:30 PM Friday / 8 PM Saturday
TV/Radio:
NHL Network, NBCSCH+, WGN 720
-30 wind chill:
Hockey Wilderness

The Wild started out the season hot, winning four in a row to begin the season and going on an eight-game win streak in late November and early December. Following that, however, the Wild have only won three of their last nine games and are now holding onto the 1st wild card spot in the Western Conference, four points behind the Predators because neither of these teams can ever leave the mushy middle of the Western Conference for some reason.

Offensively, the team is led almost exclusively by Kaprizov (first on the team in assists, points, shooting percentage, and offensive point shares according to hockey-reference). Just about as offensively productive is his 1st-line centerman and our old friend Ryan Hartman, who is having a career year and blowing all of his past stats completely out of the water. In just half a season, he’s surpassed all of his previous seasons’ stats, including his one full season he had in Chicago at the beginning of his career. Mats Zuccarello rounds out the Wild’s first line, who like Hartman is likely also benefitting from Kaprizov’s elite playmaking abilities.

The points production definitely tapers off from there, especially considering the myriad of COVID and injury-ridden players they’ve been dealing with. However, Wild fans must be pleased to hear that Joel Eriksson Ek will be making his return Friday to center the 2nd line. Additionally, they are hoping that Cam Talbot can start one of the games—he’s 34 and hasn’t started since January 1, so he could be a bit rusty if we do see him. Finally, Jared Spurgeon may or may not be returning this weekend, but I’m pretty sure nobody gives a shit.

Overall the biggest issue facing the Wild is their bonkers schedule coming up. Wild fans and media members are mad as hell that they have to play 40 games in 77 days thanks to COVID-related cancellations because of their opponents, apparently, and not the Wild themselves. The NHL certainly could’ve spaced more of their rescheduled games out, especially when you look at the multiple stretches of off-days the Wild have had during the month of January. The team will probably be exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around, and that’s if they don’t go on another cold streak and lose their wild card spot. Everyone up north is hoping their top line will see it through to the end, though.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, Seth Jones returns this weekend after missing his return to Columbus and then some with COVID. Dylan Strome is slated to return this weekend as well; he’s only had three assists in his last five games played but seems to be slotting right back into a first-line center role in practice, and with Dach still out he’ll likely stay there. The Hawks’ lack of center depth continues, I guess.

Interestingly, Rockford goalie Cale Morris has been placed on the Hawks’ active roster, despite both Fleury and Lankinen at practice and seemingly healthy. We’ll see how things shake up there, though I would be surprised to see Morris play. Without Fleury in net making every save imaginable, it’s much harder for the Hawks to win as they continue to be out-chanced and out-possessed by most of their opponents. More players stepping up and scoring goals this weekend would be advantageous, as the Wild are going to be the playoff-contending warmup for the Hawks before two games against the Avalanche later next week—God save us.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-6   Wild 23-22-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ONE GOOD DOSE OF THUNDER: Hockey Wilderness

The Hawks will conclude their mini-trip out of the bye week in St. Paul tonight, before returning home for all of one game and then heading back out where they came from for another five games. That’s some brilliant scheduling if you ask me! You can feel Toews’s rage without much effort. But the Hawks won’t have a lot of time or cause to bitch, because every point is valuable and though the travel schedule might not make much sense the opponents on offer are certainly gettable. That for sure describes the Minnesota Wild these days.

While the Hawks are certainly in the thick of the playoff race, mostly because it came back to them, they aren’t really away from anyone. The Preds and Jets are right there with them. The rest of the division is pretty much out of touch out ahead in the distance. Except for the Wild, whom the Hawks can kind of put out of their misery tonight. That sounds silly to say with 29 games left after this one, but a regulation win would put the Wild five points in arrears and that’s a massive gap. Not that it’s one the Hawks couldn’t cough up, but let’s say it’s unlikely. And the more teams you can cull from the chase the better off you are.

It’s not hard to pinpoint where it’s gone wrong for the Wild. While Bruce Boudreau continues to conjure up his magic potion of not really being a great Coris team but an excellent expected goals team – i.e. the Wild are content to give up attempts but don’t give up good chances–that doesn’t really matter if your goalies can’t stop a sloth in the sand. The Wild give up the least amount of xGA/60 and scoring chances per game in the league, but their SV% is bottom-10 with both Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk especially facing the wrong way and identifying cloud shapes most of the time. That’ll torpedo most teams, and so it has done with the Wild.

Which might just be enough to torpedo Boudreau out of a job come April.  It would be a second-straight playoff-less season, and the team probably needs an overhaul, and there’s a new GM on board these days in Bill Guerin and his weird face. It might not be totally fair to Gabby, but dem’s da breaks. The Wild certainly score enough to be better than this, at 3.06 per game, and their defensive structure has kept the task to a minimum for the goalies. But they haven’t been up to it, and if you were to swap goalies with the Hawks the Wild most definitely would be in the playoff picture if not up among the top three in the Central. Also when your goalies suck it’s hard to have anything near a decent penalty kill, and the Wild very much don’t, second-worst in the league. They’re not good enough to outscore teams by two or three at evens.

Which is saying something for Gabby, because the Wild feel like they’re short on frontline talent once again. Zach Parise these days is a tweener between a first and second line player, and the advanced age of Eric Staal might make him that as well. Mats Zuccarello has always been that, as has Jason Zucker (and he’s missed a fair amount of time this year as well). Kevin Fiala might actually be proving to be something more than sarcophagus filling with 28 points, but he’s not providing what Mikhail Granlund used to (but certainly isn’t now). That Rask-for-Nino trade was such a disaster that Rask is a healthy scratch tonight. There isn’t a lot here, and you can’t say Boudreau isn’t maximizing it.

The blue line is still very solid and finally healthy, as you can do a hell of a lot worse on a top-four than Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, and Dumba. That’s how the Wild keep things pretty limited in their end, even if it is all getting undone by the men in the mask.

No changes for the Hawks other than it looks like Lehner will get the start with Crow getting the slightly tougher assignment of Patrice And The Pips tomorrow night. New boy Nick Seeler, who is neither loose nor tight, won’t make his debut against his former team tonight and let’s just hope he’s ballast for the rest of the season. You don’t want this rockhead taking regular minutes, believe us.

The key tonight for the Hawks is getting to the middle of the offensive zone. The Wild are more than happy to let you putter around the perimeter and try and thread a needle through to the net from there. Suter and Brodin especially play economical defensive games where they let things come to them and simply prod you back outside the dots or behind the net. So players like Kane and Dach and Strome and Top Cat, the ones who can conjure something out of nowhere will have to, and players like Toews, Kubalik, and Saad who can get to the middle through power will need to do some of that as well. If you can get the shots, the Wild goalies will give you goals.

It’s a big ask to get four of four with the Bruins waiting tomorrow, though they’ll also be on the second of a back-to-back, on the road, the Hawks have been great with those all season, and they’ve caught the Bruins napping before this season. Still, these two points seem pretty vital before that road trip that is going to determine the rest of the season. They’re right there, so take them.

Hockey

You may not want to hear that it was over seven years ago that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise shook the hockey world, or at least tried to, by signing matching 13-year contracts, worth $98M. What’s even funnier is that they still have five more years to run, though one wonders if they’ll actually finish them out. Parise especially could be an LTIR ghost one day, given that something falls off of him getting the paper every morning. Sometimes that thing is his coach.

As these things tend to do though, what once seemed outlandish cap hits have come back to be more than reasonable. It could be argued that the first pairing minutes Suter still supplies at a $7.5M hit is something of a bargain. Sure, Suter isn’t going to score at what first pairing d-men do now, but he’s going to be in the tier right below that. And his defensive metrics are still pretty glittering. His style of game should last for as long as he wants it to, because of its efficiency. Suter only has the 11th-highest cap hit among blue liners now, and you’d certainly rather pay him that Byguflien’s bloated ass (when he’s actually playing) or Brent Burns or even OEL and you could have a lengthy debate about Subban and Trouba.

Parise is a harder case. Health was always going to be a problem for a winger that plays a power forward game with bantamweight size. Parise has missed 98 games in the eight seasons he’s spent in St. Paul, which is hard to hold against him. He’s only scored more than 30 goals once as a member of the Wild, but has produced 25 or more three times. Is $7.5M for a second-line winger justifiable? Yeah, probably now, if on the high end. Though at 35 now, it’s unclear how long he can keep putting up 25 goals. To be fair to him, he’s on pace for that this year.

The question for the Wild isn’t what they got from Parise and Suter, because they got pretty much what they paid for. It’s what having them on the roster has cost them or kept them from getting. The Wild were never able to pair Parise with a #1 center. Some of that is a failing of their system, whether it was being too infatuated with Mikko Koivu, Mikail Granlund’s inability to be anything, or Eric Staal showing up on the scene too late.

It’s not Parise’s fault that the Wild haven’t been able to draft and develop much more than Jason Zucker or under-appreciating Nino Niederreiter.

Suter on the other hand has been part of good blue lines. Most teams would swap out their top pairing for Suter and Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba has been an excellent second-pairing guy for a few years when healthy. Maybe they needed one more, but it’s not been nearly the most glaring hole on the Wild for this stretch.

And it’s neither Parise’s or Suter’s fault that Devan Dubnyk’s short spasm of brilliance either ran into the Hawks at the peak of their powers or came apart in the playoffs. And even when he was good, they didn’t have enough firepower.

It seems the Wild are definitely headed backwards now. They’re last in the division, and there isn’t really anything on the way to juice the team. After flogging Neiderreiter and Granlund last year, there isn’t much for the Wild to throw overboard now for futures. Especially as they were basically traded for nothing, depending on what you value Kevin Fiala as. And if you spend anytime thinking about Kevin Fiala, it’s probably time to have a hard look at your life.

Which makes it a question what the legacies of Suter and Parise will be. Certainly they probably did enough themselves, but the idea was that they would bring the Wild to prominence. They’ve won two games beyond the first round so far. It’s probably important to remember that at the time of the signing, the Wild were still struggling to come to terms with the post-Lemaire era. They hadn’t made the playoffs in four seasons and hadn’t won a series in eight. They needed something to get back on the map again, and to give their fans some reason to watch them over the Gophers, which most of them would rather be doing anyway.

It was probably worth taking the shot. But if you don’t do anything other than that, you end up with this.

Hockey

Patrick Kane picked a good time to have a hat trick. Yes, the third goal was an empty netter but you know what? After the debacle against St. Louis last night someone had to step up and it might as well be Kane. This team needed to bounce back in any way at all, and this game at the very least shows that they haven’t totally quit. Let’s take a look:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The Hawks proved yet again that they’re specialists at blowing a multi-goal lead. Yet, tonight was definitely not as egregious as Saturday against the Blues. The Hawks played well in the first in fact, going up 2-0 thanks to Patrick Kane’s give-a-shit meter hovering around 6.5 for a while. Hell, one of those goals was even on the power play, so things were looking up. Unfortunately Kirby Dach took a penalty immediately after the second goal, and that led to the Wild’s first, but overall the Hawks were decent—they only gave up 9 shots in the first, had a 50 CF% at evens, and yes, they were in fact winning.

–That all changed, of course, when noted offensive powerhouse Kevin Fiala went off for a couple goals. He tied it at 2 in the second, the Hawks went back ahead on David Kampf‘s redirect of a Connor Murphy shot, and then Fiala tied it again. This is obviously frustrating since they cannot hold a lead to save their lives, but it wasn’t the ass-waxing they got in the span of just a couple minutes against the Blues last night.

Olli Maatta had a tough night. He got burned on Fiala’s first goal, which was a blocked pass by Kane and then Maatta just couldn’t come anywhere close to catching him. And it was Maatta’s skate that redirected Fiala’s shot and became his second goal, tying the game yet again at 3. The first was definitely his fault, if you can consider slowness as a personal failing (I can and do), but the second was just one of those things that happens. Again, maddening to see them blow a lead but it was such a weird situation there’s not much you can point to that could or should have been different.

–And besides, that luck came back around to the Hawks with Connor Murphy’s shot (there he is again!) that was crazily redirected by Saad going up and over Kaapo Kahkonen for the go-ahead goal. It wasn’t the prettiest or most coherent of strategies, but whatever, we’ll take it. I spent the remaining four minutes of the game gnawing at my fingernails expecting them to blow it again, and I can only imagine most of the crowd at the UC felt the same way.

–But, lo and behold, Garbage Dick staved off a total collapse with the empty netter than sealed it.

–Stupid Alex Nylander was on the second line with Strome and Kane, and he assisted on Kane’s first goal so of course we’ll now see him in the top 6 again until he has another night like last night, with 4,872 dumb plays being out of position. He was already back to his clueless antics later in the game, with a lazy dump-in from the wrong side of center that became a late icing. It didn’t lead to a goal and it wasn’t the end of the world, but it’s just more evidence of careless stupidity and a lack of awareness on Nylander’s part. All I can figure is that Bowman et. al are so terrified of acknowledging the short-sightedness of trading Jokiharju for this jamoke that they’re determined to shoehorn him anywhere and everywhere, as long as it’s not in the AHL. Nylander constantly looks surprised and frightened when the puck comes his way, and one pass to one of the most talented scorers in the league doesn’t change that.

So this wasn’t exactly a dominant performance, but it was definitely what the Hawks needed. They gave up a very acceptable 26 shots, and although their possession numbers in the second and third were underwater, they managed to keep their shit together even after giving up the lead twice, and it paid off. I guess the downside is that Jeremy Colliton keeps his job a little bit longer, but that’s a price I can deal with if it means not watching the hot mess express for a second night in a row.

Line of the Night: “Every time he’s tried that in the NHL it hasn’t worked—you’re not playing 18-year-olds.” —Pat Foley criticizing Kirby Dach for a nifty move that was well defended, because apparently yelling at the kids is helpful right now.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Wild 16-12-5   Hawks 12-15-6

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BEYOND THE WALL: Hockey Wilderness

Well, should be quite the tasty atmosphere at the United Center this evening, no?

Tonight is all about finding out if this is bottom or not. The Hawks will be in front of what has to be a cantankerous home crowd after their worst loss of the season last night (which is saying something, given the variety of defeats already on offer). And it might not be all that full, though it probably won’t be anywhere near Bulls-levels (yet). Any sign of more incompetence is going to be met with boos and a hearty amount, you would think. Have the Hawks ever faced that from their fans? Their previous seasons have mostly been met with indifference. This will not be that.

And it’s really about how the team responds to not just that. After a crushing setback and their recent form, we’ll know if they have totally quit tonight. Or do they still have some professional pride left, which can be just called fear of embarrassment, and scrape together something to at least let everyone know they aren’t in fact dead? They may hate the coach, they may think the front office has steered them wrong, but surely they don’t want to keep getting their dicks kicked in and save some face? If they can’t manage anything beyond limp for most of the contest tonight, major changes have to be made the very next day. They won’t be, but they’ll need to be. If you’ve ever wished for Jonathan Toews – Player/Coach, you just might get it Monday.

As for the Wild, this nothing squad has managed to go 14 games with only one loss in regulation, going 9-1-4 and zooming up the standings to the fringe of the playoff spots. They’ve overcome inevitability catching up with Devan Dubnyk, and then injury, and have made do with Alex Stalock and Kaapo Kahkonen. They’ve have a revitalized and healthy Parise scoring goals. Somehow Eric Staal is still a genuine #1 center, and Jason Zucker is also pouring them in.

And once again Bruce Boudreau has employed a system that is fine with giving up attempts and shots from the outside, but gives up very few quality chances. The Wild are a middling at best Corsi team, but have the second best xGA/60 in the league. They can’t create a ton, but they don’t give up much and are more than happy to collapse to the middle of their zone and let you have it on the perimeter. What an interesting idea. When the chance comes, they will get up the ice off turnovers and mistakes and have the d-men to join in as well in Suter, Dumba, Spurgeon (when healthy) and Brodin. And even if Boudreau’s “structure” at times gets loose, his charges show up every night and skate hard because they have to.

In the end, it’s not likely to go anywhere, but he usually gets the most out of what he has. The Wild can’t ask for much more, as they try to figure out how to transition their next phase.

For the Hawks, there aren’t that many lineup changes they can make. Robin Lehner will start. Alex Nylander should be thrown into a trash pile somewhere along Damen Avenue, but it seems orders from on high will dictate that he be jammed into the lineup in the faint hope that he magically turns into something. Dylan Sikura should be back in the lineup, but he’s run afoul of both coach and front office in just two games it seems.

If Colliton were really going to go down swinging, he’d promote Boqvist with Murphy and put Dach in between Saad and Kubalik. Why? Because you’re already suffering lapses defensively and missed checks and turnovers, so how much worse can the kids be than what the vets have given him? What are we hanging onto here? If it’s time to move on from what came before, and it is, why wait around? Want to make sure you’re in dead last first?

Really curious to see how the whole organization responds to this weekend. Something tells me they won’t be able to stick their head in the sand much longer.

Hockey

Earlier in the season, when the Wild couldn’t get a save and were even rooted behind the Hawks in the standings, there was a feeling that Bruce Boudreau wasn’t long for this job. And the joke going in hockey circles was, “Zach Parise kills another coach.” It’s funny because you don’t think of Parise that way. He’s never been considered a loaf, doesn’t bark in the press, and is generally thought to be a heart-on-sleeve player.

And yet Boudreau is the 10th coach Parise has played for in his 15 seasons. Which is a pretty stunning total. Some of that is attributed to Lou Lamoriello’s itchy trigger-finger in New Jersey, where he had a habit of installing himself behind the bench. Some of that is Minnesota’s general incompetence, though Boudreau has stuck longer than anyone else. It hasn’t amounted to much, no playoff series wins under Boudreau and only two first-round triumphs under Mike Yeo for Parise’s Minnesota stay. And maybe that’s the problem.

When Parise and Ryan Suter signed, at the time, those mammoth deals in St. Paul, they were thought to be franchise-turning players. Suter has arguably been that, but Parise has always felt a shade below that. His one 4o-goal season was 10 years ago now, and a consistent 30-goal guy is what his ceiling has always been. That paycheck suggests, or suggested, that he is a top line player. On a truly good team, he’s probably a second-liner, and he’d be a great second-liner to have. But partially due to that paycheck, the Wild have never been able to find another winger to slot him down to that. They wanted it to be Mikael Granlund. He never could really manage it. Jason Zucker occasionally flashes that, but you know what he is at this point. And maybe it’s that lack of truly elite production that keeps Parise’s teams from achieving much, and gets coaches fired.

As it is with these things though, Parise’s salary has come back to the pack and now that $7.5M number seems just about right for a player who gets you 25-30 goals. Which is what Parise will do if he stays healthy, which is always the big question mark with him. That can’t be used as an excuse for the Wild anymore.

Parise is on pace for slightly more this year because of a SH% spike, as he’s up near 17%. But his attempts and chances are down from career norms, and if he can’t keep up the luck he might flatten out hardcore, which would deprive the Wild of even more scoring they don’t really have. And then finally the sword of Democles might fall upon Boudreau, and Parise will have another scalp.

Hilariously, Parise is signed for another five years, to his 40th birthday. Buying out Parise isn’t really an option, because were the Wild to do that his cap hit would stay on the books until 2030. And there would still be a cap hit of $6.7M or more for three seasons starting in 2022. There would be no relief. Until a new CBA, the Wild can’t even hope Parise retires when he becomes useless thanks to cap recapture penalties. Luckily, with his injury history, that will most likely provide an out for both parties should it come to that.

How many more coaches between now and then, though?

Hockey

Bruce Boudreau – Not because he’s annoying, though he can be, but because of jealousy. The Wild aren’t going anywhere either, and have yet to win a playoff round under him. But you can’t argue that he doesn’t maximize whatever he has, at least in the regular season. Last year was the aberration, but he’s got this nothing squad three points out of a playoff spot at the moment and haven’t lost in 12. Wouldn’t that be nice? A coach who can take the pieces he’s given and fit a system to them to get them playing at least relevant hockey for a stretch?

Ryan Hartman – Leads the Wild in penalty minutes, which is seemingly all the Hawks ever wanted out of him. He may have been the last pick in a first round, but he’s yet another first round pick who ended up doing dick for the Hawks. And now that his NHL career is hanging by a thread, he’s upping the bullshit. Andrew Shaw’s line continues.

Jason Zucker – Here come more goals against the Hawks.

Hockey

Mikael Granlund‘s career might be measured in just how much it never quite was.

When Granlund came up with the Wild in 2013, it was assumed that Mikko Koivu was only keeping the #1 center role warm for him. Here we are nearly seven years later, and Koivu is somehow still there while Granlund is now in yellow. The best laid plains of mice and men…

It could be argued whether Granlund ever really got a chance to take over as the top center in St. Paul. He certainly got looks under different coaches, but never serious run. and Granlund’s numbers certainly weren’t bad with the Wild, far from it. He had two 65+-point seasons and was on his way to another one before being traded last year. He had put together two 20+-goal seasons and again, before the trade to Nashville was on another one. They aren’t #1 center numbers, but they’re good. Equal or better than what Koivu was doing. It says something though when the team chooses Eric Staal and his walker over you.

Granlund also found most of his success on the wing, and when tried as the #1 center things just didn’t quite mesh. The Wild had that one, Dubnyk-inspired season that saw them almost win the division in 2017…and then go quietly out of things in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe that was the beginning of the end for the Wild, as Granlund never really took a playoff series by the neck.

Then again, how good were those Wild teams anyway? And we know the braintrust was smelling foul, because they moved Granlund possibly at the height of his value for Kevin Goddamn Fiala, who’s been a healthy scratch at times. Maybe the Wild just didn’t know what they had?

Harder to make that case, because surprisingly it hasn’t been wonderful yet for Granlund as a Predator. It made sense in theory; a fast, skilled player moving to a team that wanted to get up and down the ice a whole lot more than Bruce Boudreau could with the outfit he was provided in Minnehaha. But Granlund only managed five points in 16 games with the Preds last year, and is on the same total so far this year in 18 games. And you can’t say he hasn’t been given chances, because he’s exclusively been on the top six, centered by either Matt Duchene or Treat Boy.

Granlund has run into some rotten luck in Music City, it has to be said. He shot below 4% after his trade last season, and is only at 7.9% this year, which would be the lowest mark of his career since he became an NHL regular. Granlund’s attempts are the highest of his career as well, as are his individual expected goals per game. Perhaps he’s squeezing, trying to be too perfect with the shots and chances he’s getting. There could be a binge here soon, given what the metrics say.

Which will make it a hard call for Nashville either at the deadline or in the summer. Granlund will hit unrestricted free agency after the season, and at 28 it’ll probably be his only chance, or last chance, to ink a big contract. He won’t fit into the Preds’ long-term plans if they can’t unload Kyle Turris and his “yeah but who gives a shit?” production.

How big of a market there will be outside for Granlund is debatable. There’s always a home for a player with his skillset, but he’s also the type of player teams sign just to sign someone, to try and prove to anyone listening they’re trying, and then watch that player not move the needle a whole lot. He feels like another Gustav Nyquist. A fine addition to an already built team, a contributor, but he’s not going to pivot anyone’s fortunes.

Perhaps that’s the conclusion the Wild got to with him. The Preds might not be far behind.