Like the song Big Yellow Taxi says, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”
For two games in the play-in series between the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Suter had an up and down performance, eating minutes and limiting chances, but also suffering some mental breakdowns that led to devastating Canucks goals.
Then, with 6:51 left in the third period of Game 3, Suter disappeared down the tunnel with a foot injury from a blocked shot, and what had already been a rough series for the Wild from a defensive standpoint got much, much worse.
Could the Wild have evened up the series at two apiece had they not lost one of their defensive stalwarts?
In Game 1 of the play-in series against the Canucks, Suter (along with top-pairing partner Jared Spurgeon) could reliably be counted on to interrupt scoring opportunities and keep the majority of the Canucks’ shots to above the circles or at poor angles, helping earn netminder Alex Stalock a shutout in their 3-0 victory.
In Game 2, the tides turned, and the Canucks jumped all over the Wild from the get-go. Suter looked unprepared and absolutely lost on Tanner Pearson’s goal just 24 seconds into the game.
In the second period, only a goal down, Suter’s lack of speed showed as he lost track of Brock Boeser, allowing him to sneak to the backside for an easy tap-in goal to stretch the Canucks’ lead to three.
Game 3 might have provided Suter the opportunity to bounce back, but a blocked shot late in the first period injured his right foot — the same foot Suter had surgery on prior to the 2018-19 season. The possibility of reinjury clearly got in the head of the veteran defenseman, as Suter was unable to prevent Vancouver from firing at will at Stalock before leaving the game with about six minutes left in the third.
But as much as Suter had his struggles in Game 2 and Game 3, his veteran, minute-munching presence was greatly missed in the decisive Game 4, as the pairing of Spurgeon and Carson Soucy (who replaced Suter) was absolutely shelled. In the 5-4 OT series-clincher, Soucy was on the ice for three of the four regulation goals, while Spurgeon faced all four.
Who knows if a healthy Suter would have made a difference in Game 3 and Game 4 and allowed the Wild to extend the series. But after seeing the series-clinching result, one has to think that having Suter over Soucy on the top pairing could hardly have been worse.
Despite the poor showing in the play-in series, Suter’s current cap hit of $7.5 million means he is unlikely to go anywhere (be it via trade or NHL Expansion Draft to Seattle), even if he were to waive his no-move clause. Should his nagging injury spur the idea of retirement, at least the Wild aren’t in as bad a position as they could have been, as the NHL tweaked the cap recapture penalty rules, meaning Minnesota won’t face a doomsday scenario if Suter (or Zach Parise) retire prior to the end of their contracts in 2025.
And with the recent news that Jonas Brodin has re-signed with the Wild to the tune of a seven-year, $42 million extension and that Minnesota will likely be looking to trade Matt Dumba, like it or not, the Wild will need Suter to keep playing at least a serviceable top-four role for the next few years.
Previously in the Minnesota Wild play-in report card series:
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