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  • Dean Evason Is Finally Firing Up The Healthy Scratch Carousel

    Aaron Heckmann

    The Minnesota Wild's decision to scratch rookie defenseman Calen Addison the past three games is perplexing to say the least — regardless of their 2-1 record. It was surprising because the Wild played in three important divisional clashes at home against the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and Nashville Predators. Minnesota grabbed four out of a possible six points. However, it was in spite of, not because of, Addison's scratches at times.


    “This league is too hard to just be a specialist, right? You have to play in all areas and you have to play the game 5-on-5 as well," Dean Evason told the media.


    That's fair, but it seems like a poor time to send the 22-year-old a reminder about areas of his game that require some correcting. Even though the Wild have improved over the past few games and are getting out of one of their worst stretches of hockey this season, scratching their top power play defensemen against two Central heavyweights and a Nashville team looking to stay in the Wild Card race was peculiar.


    What's more, Matt Dumba earned three trips to the penalty box for different infractions against Dallas. Yet, he stayed in the lineup against the Predators on Sunday while Addison sat.


    Perhaps it could be to showcase Alex Goligoski, who is playing in Addison's absence. But sticking Goligoski into the lineup during the most important homestand of the season is, again, odd. Goligoski has played fine, and it wouldn't be fair to single him out on a struggling team. Still, the 37-year-old's lack of foot speed is apparent and occasionally exposes him.


    In Goligoski's defense, he's been collecting dust next to Mason Shaw in the press box. Which is exactly why the Wild should use him more periodically, so he's not as rusty. Plus, Minnesota's defensive core hasn't exactly been great over this stretch outside of Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin.


    Furthermore, Minnesota's playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread because of their five-on-five scoring woes over the past month. The Wild are 3-4-1 out of the NHL All-Star Break and 5-7-1 since Jan. 19. That's a .423 points percentage, which ranks 25th league-wide. Minnesota ranks dead-last in five-on-five production during this stretch, too, scoring 1.08 goals per hour.


    It's not even close. The Washington Capitals sit in 31st place during this time but are averaging 1.87 goals per hour. For most of the game, they've been 42% worse than the second-to-last team.


    It's evident that the Wild are trying to turn things around. If you don't realize the fragility of Minnesota's situation, look no further than Evason's uncharacteristic lineup decisions over the past month — justified or not. The Kirill Kaprizov Center Carousel has now turned into The Healthy Scratch Carousel. In the past, it seemed like Evason was less willing to make decisions like scratching players.


    Now, anything goes. Big-time players are getting healthy scratched. The lineup changes are coming rapidly, in contrast to last year's lineup stability. Heck, Matt Boldy even picked up some non-situational minutes as Kaprizov's center over the past week, after insisting he was 100% a winger. Things appear to be getting desperate as the Wild claw for the playoffs.


    This poor stretch of hockey has left the Wild on the playoff fence. While their record may only be troubling lately, Minnesota's depth has been alarming all season. They need a lifeline right now, and it appears that they're hoping accountability is the solution that can give them more of a cushion in their playoff spot. That's why it's paramount that the Wild use their healthy scratch more to their advantage.


    This all started with Dumba. Evason healthy-scratched him two games in a row at the end of January because of his alarming play and glaring mistakes despite the constant rumors about a potential trade deadline departure. It didn't matter that it could hurt his trade value because the Wild have few players this season who haven't regressed or looked significantly worse compared to last season.


    It didn't stop with Dumba, though. Ryan Hartman was the next on the list because of his penchant for earning a ticket to the penalty box instead of the team's film room. In fact, his 2.97 penalties per hour at five-on-five is second to Liam O'Brien among forwards who have played more than 250 minutes this year. Then Ryan Reaves found himself healthy scratched on Feb. 11 against the New Jersey Devils after his underwhelming play. Mason Shaw had only played three games since Jan. 8. He became the odd man out, although now he's back in regularly.


    The Wild have scratched Sam Steel three out of the past four games as the 25-year-old center was not meeting expectations. He has only eight goals and 22 points. Steel went from the Minnesota's No. 1 center between Kaprizov and Zuccarello to a fringe fourth-line center who now should be a prime candidate for the healthy scratch rotation.


    That's why it's important the Wild strategically use their flexibility on an opponent-to-opponent basis. Minnesota has already hinted at this when Evason told the media that Reaves played over Steel against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 13 because of Florida's physicality. There's no question that the Wild can utilize this trend down the stretch. They should keep doing so if it's going to help spark some energy into the lineup.


    Unless Minnesota somehow solves the current issues plaguing the team, they need to give players nights off. It isn't only meant to keep the team accountable and competing for their spot — though it certainly does that. On top of that, though, it could be beneficial for non-performance-based reasons like load management down the stretch. There's also the strategy of matching up best against opposing playing styles.


    Plus, Shaw and Goligoski are capable and should be utilized — even if that means going in and out of the lineup — rather than sitting game after game when others are falling short of expectations. The Wild haven't seemed inclined to entertain moving Goligoski because it's valuable to have him as the extra seventh NHL defenseman. But what good does that do if he's rusty and getting exposed, which partly can be attributed to him sitting game after game?


    As for who's next?


    It might be time for Jordan Greenway to sit again as the 26-year-old has three primary points this season and continues to turn heads — the wrong way. The downside is that it could potentially affect whatever his trade deadline value is right now.


    Minnesota needs to continue its current trend of constantly shifting players in and out of the lineup. A string of healthy scratches isn't just good for enforcing accountability, but also to reap the benefits of load management down the stretch. They need to keep doing this until the players are collectively ready for a stable lineup, and that time is not right now.


    All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference

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