The Wild are in a unique spot, in terms of the long-running narrative of the team. For years The Wild scrapped around in the NHL trash-bin for offensive talent with which to build a team, with minimal success. Their drafting was spotty at best, and late in the Risebrough era became downright unwatchable. They had no ammunition to pull of trades of any significance, and Minnesota was akin to Calgary in terms of a destination spot for free agents.
That left Wild fans having to watch an inordinate amount of bottom six (or worse, minor league replacement-level) forwards mis-cast as scorers. Jeremy Stevenson on a second line.* 77 fabulous games of Nick Johnson. Antti Miettinen playing on the top unit for multiple years. I literally woke up one day to watch the Wild playing on national television a few years ago and thought “well, at least Chad Rau is playing today.” True story.
And sure, the Wild were never short of grit. Stevenson, Matt Johnson, Derek Boogaard. Chris Simon once tried to fight two Canucks at once when one of them, I won’t say his name (*cough* Alex Burrows *cough*) went after Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Now, at the end of Chuck Fletcher’s stockpile which started either with the drafting of Michael Granlund or the July 4th we all remember so fondly, the Wild find themselves in a different situation. They have actual, honest-to-goodness offensive talent. They have it on multiple forward lines. They may have it on all three defensive pairings, particularly if Jonas Brodin steps forward this season and the rumored paring if Dumba-Folin is actually a thing. It’s everywhere, at least in potential form.** The problem now is truly the fact that when the talent starts getting pushed around, do the Wild have anyone to push back?
Below would have been a possible/plausible set of lines for the Wild this season, had Justin Fontaine not ended up on the injured list a few days ago:
Left Center Right
Parise Granlund Pominville
Vanek Koivu Coyle
Niederreiter Haula Cooke
Zucker Brodziak Fontaine
Combine that with a defense corps of Suter, Spurgeon, Scandella, Brodin, Folin & Dumba, and you have a pretty solid lineup, but…
What happens when the Maple Leafs start running goaltenders again?
What happens when the Blues try to throw down like we know they can?
What happens when the Kings, with all of their bulk, start playing Kings hockey?
That Wild lineup would have no response, and we all know it. Sure, the Wild have players in that group capable of playing a physical style, but two of them are Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, and, especially in Coyle’s case, they should both be more focused on getting to the net this season. Matt Cooke is of course Matt Cooke, but he can’t do it himself, and he always has the “I could be suspended for life at any moment” cloud hanging over him should he go too far. Kyle Brodziak can hit, but let’s not be foolish. Carter is a player who is decidedly unflashy, but he plays a nasty, bruising game and will fight if needed. No one wants to see a team of brawlers anymore, but for heaven’s sake, you need someone to make sure Mikael Granlund doesn’t end up in the third row.
Going back to Brodziak for a second. His case is an interesting one, especially in regards to Carter. It’s hardly a secret that Chuck Fletcher looked for any and all trade avenues for Brodziak this summer, without any takers. It stands to reason that he’s still for sale. With Erik Haula having taken his third line role, and therefore removing any pretense of offense from Kyle Brodziak’s role, the Wild are paying him $3 million this season to sit the bench for all but 10 minutes per night. Ryan Carter can play center if needed, and will make just $725,000 this year from the Wild. One phone call from any of the other 29 GM’s and Brodziak is gone without opening up any sort of hole on the fourth line or losing physicality, and the Wild have flexibility to add pieces with the extra cap room they can receive.
So before you bemoan Chuck Fletcher signing another local player,*** or wondering why more money wasn’t spent to bring Matt Moulson back, think about a seven-game, physical playoff series with Los Angeles, Anaheim or St. Louis. Now think about every piece a team needs to compete in a series like that. I’m not saying the Wild exactly needed Ryan Carter, but they needed someone like Ryan Carter, so they went out and got one.
*On a playoff team! Jacques Lemaire truly was a genius.
**Not to get too far ahead of ourselves. This is still a team that only scored 207 goals last regular season, lower than all playoff teams save the Kings.
***And wasn’t it just five years ago that everyone was up in arms about the Wild not having any local players? Pick a side, people.