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Hockey Wilderness
  • Give Me Two Players, I Give You a Cup


    Who thinks the Wild are Cup contenders?  Like right now, this year, ready to run [listens to crickets chirping, grins snarkily]?  Ok, so we agree, the Wild need something else to make them true contenders.  But what is it that they need?  Is it a proven veteran goal scorer who can be a “true finisher” and hopefully pop in 40 goals?  That’d be nice, but no.  We’ve tried to find that, and it isn’t on the trade market.  What you can find, however, are 20-goal scorers who still have plenty of tread on the tires and some upside to boot.  These are the relatively young guys who have had some strife with their current clubs and are in need of a fresh start to get them up to their potential.  The benefit of adding two of these players is even higher than adding one 40-goal veteran scorer, because it balances your whole team and makes all of the forwards in the line-up more dangerous.  These types of players are typically more responsible defensively as well, which would limit the pain of weakening the defense, something the Wild absolutely have to do in order to obtain these players.  Add two of these mid-tier scorers in exchange for two of Minnesota’s youngish defensemen, plus a draft pick or two, and the Wild will win a Stanley Cup.  Boom!  I did it!

    In their current state, the Wild don’t stink.  One might even say they’re a good team, and a lot of people do say that.  They have such a strong back-end from Devan Dubnyk out through the defense, that no matter what, they seem to keep themselves in every game, regardless of their opponent and how few goals Minnesota scores on any given night.  But what if the “how few goals Minnesota scores” bit wasn’t a factor?  What if they could actually be counted on to score three or more goals in every game?  As it sits right now, Bruce Boudreau’s iteration of the Wild really feels like the same team that always stayed competitive under Mike Yeo, but could only really manage to sneak into the playoffs and then get knocked out in the first or second round.  It’s not the coach.  Something has to give with the players in the line-up to get the whole team producing more consistently.  In my best South-Park-esque “Member Berries” voice, I ask, “’Member when the Wild started the season with the most balanced attack in the league?  ’Member when the Wild had more point scorers in their line-up than any other team in the NHL?  Ooooohhhh!  I ’member!  That was sweet!  I loved that!”  That was nine games into the season, and the Wild VERY quickly fell back down to Earth offensively, as soon as their balanced attack started to become a storyline.  The goals dried up, but the combination of Dubnyk’s incredible play and the Wild’s strong team defense has kept the team afloat and in striking distance of the top of the Central Division.  In their losses this year, they’ve stayed within one goal in every game except for the Islanders game in Brooklyn, which coincidentally was during those first nine games and featured a very leaky Darcy Kuemper.  Defense is clearly their strength, and from that strength, they can afford to jettison a couple of pieces to improve upon their weaknesses.

    With Dubnyk playing like some sort of giant, shining, man-god to start his 2016-2017 campaign, and Zach Parise and Ryan Suter approaching the age where you start to see star players decline, one has to think that the time is now for the Wild to take its best shot at winning the Stanley Cup with its current core of players.  Becoming an elite team will require the organization to make some difficult decisions in sacrificing talent on the back-end.  Minnesota has a rather deep stable of blueliners still in their early- to mid-twenties, though, and these are the players that will bring value on the trade market.  It would be worth the sacrifice, because the team plays such exceptional defense as a unit that it could fill the gaps left, even with marginal players, and not see too serious of a decline.  Even when they have had players like Nate Prosser and Mike Reilly in the line-up, Minnesota’s defensive play as a team has not drastically changed.  Look at the games that Mike Reilly, who has been labeled a defensive liability by many in the media, has played this season.  Though his minutes have been limited in most of his appearances, the Wild have only allowed an average of 2.00 goals against per game in the nine games that he has played.  One could also argue that with Christian Folin’s very strong play to start the year, he is ready for an elevated role should a couple of defensemen get shipped out.  And if it doesn’t work, and the holes left are too significant, it would be easy to add a serviceable veteran defenseman (even another Nate Prosser-type) if the need presented itself later in the season.

    Chuck Fletcher has put the team in a position where they are always competitive, but the general consensus for several years has been that the Wild are a true goal-scorer away from actual, honest-to-goodness Cup contention.  However, any time they’ve brought in a proven veteran to be that “goal scorer,” the player has really fumbled in the Iron Range Red, as was the case with Dany Heatley and Thomas Vanek.  The problem with signings and acquisitions like these is that a player who is expected to carry the scoring weight for a team that struggles to score can’t do it by himself.  There is no one player that the Wild can attain in a trade that can come in and immediately pour goals into the net, because if that player exists, the player won’t be let go by his current team.  Sorry, but there isn’t an Alex Ovechkin available on the trade market. Also, the addition of two mid-range scorers balances the attack without sacrificing as much as a “true finisher” likely would on the defensive side of the puck.  It’s a route that they really haven’t tried mid-season before, and a route that they should take to become an elite team.

    The Wild’s lines against Edmonton on Friday were as follows, with each player’s 2015-2016 goals total listed in parenthesis:

    Parise  (25 goals in ’15/’16) --   Staal  (13) --   Coyle  (21)                   =59 goals

    Zucker  (13) --   Koivu  (17) --   Granlund  (13)                                    =43 goals

    Niederreiter  (20) --   Haula  (14) --   Pominville  (11)                          =45 goals

    Stewart  (8) --   *Graovac  (3) --   *Gabriel  (0)                                     =11 goals

                                                                                                         Total=158 goals

    *Graovac and Gabriel only played 2 and 3 games respectively in 2015-2016

    Using two players that have been mentioned in trade rumors over the past year, let’s just plug in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Max Pacioretty, only for s***s and giggles, even though there is an approximate 0% chance that both of these players end up on the Wild (especially since Montreal just lost two of their Centers to injury).  If you don’t like the two names selected, fine. Just plug in any two players in their twenties who have been in the 20-30 goal range in their careers and see what happens.

    Parise  (25) --   Staal  (13) --   Coyle  (21)                                              =59 goals

    Pacioretty  (30) --   Koivu  (17) --   Granlund  (13)                          =60 goals

    Niederreiter  (20) --   *RNH  (12) --   Pominville  (11)                          =43 goals

    Zucker  (13) --   Haula  (14) --   Stewart/Graovac/Gabriel (~6)              =33 goals

                                                                                                         Total=195 goals

    *Nugent-Hopkins only played 55 games in 2015-16, after scoring 24 goals in 2014-2015

    Now THAT’S a forward line-up right there!  Even with RNH only contributing 12 goals in ’14-’15 due to injury, his theoretical addition has a profound impact on the line-up as a whole.  Opposing teams would have a very hard time finding match-ups to contain this attack.  Infuse talent into the top three lines and the Wild become downright dangerous offensively from top to bottom.  It would allow them to truly roll four lines every single night and still threaten to score even when the fourth line is on the ice.  These are the types of players needed to make the Wild a true contender.  And it’s worth the sacrifice on the back-end, because… Dubnyk. 

    Make it happen, Chuck!

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