For many fans, this the 'Parise/Suter era' of the Minnesota Wild, or possibly the 'Koivu Era'. This mostly depends on whom you want to place blame for their lack of playoff success, and how you feel about the money that they've earned in their time here, or most befuddling, how much you care about sweater patches.
The question was raised to me this summer: how could this captaincy collective take this team to the next level? After many promises and dollars, how are Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter going to finally deliver some postseason success?
I'm not saying they're not as in it's impossible for them to; I'm saying they're not as in it's not on their shoulders anymore.
If anyone is expecting more from any of those three, they're probably doing so foolishly. Koivu is what he is, a second line center with passable production and stoic leadership.
Parise is what he is, a talented player who produces when his health allows him to do so.
Suter is what he is, a steady back-end defender with enough puck-moving skills to contribute some offense. None of these players are making seismic leaps in production anytime soon.
So that leads to a natural conclusion that other players will have to step up their game for the Wild to see improvement. Luckily, there are plenty of candidates. Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both enjoyed breakout seasons last year, just in time for dual paydays. Mikael Granlund finally found solid production a year before that.
While these players have shown that they can do it, the important thing for them now is to keep it up.
That leaves a handful of players who leave Wild fans wanting more. Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon are the most notable among them. All have shown their talents on occasion, and have had some mildly impressive production in the past. However, if the Wild are to go from being a popular pick to miss the playoffs to a team that's a bona fide contender, they'll need to improve.
Spurgeon is a great player, and asking him to do more may be a little silly given how good he looks away from the conventional stat sheet. But if he could go from a 37-point defender to one who scores 50 points, that'd certainly be welcome.
The other three probably have further to go. Coyle and Niederreiter were just 37- and 36-point forwards, respectively, and Brodin netted a paltry 21 points in nearly a full season.
There are more names besides theirs of course, as Wild fans look to youngsters like Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and perhaps even Luke Kunin and Nick Seeler to play more prominent roles this season and produce accordingly. These kids all have talent as well, half of them being first-round picks, but the results so far are less than inspiring.
[caption id=attachment_42829" align="alignnone" width="4644] Sep 24, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek (14) and Dallas Stars left wing Roope Hintz (24) in action during the game at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports[/caption]
If the Wild are to really change who they are as a team, without Kirill Kaprisov being smuggled overseas, they'll need better seasons from all of the players mentioned above.
That's not only in the regular season, but also in the playoffs.
The Wild have been a fine regular-season team for years, but the scoring seems to dry up as soon as the playoffs start, regardless of the opposing goaltender. That's hardly on the captains, as Koivu and Parise led the team in scoring in the five lackluster games this spring while Suter's absence was painfully obvious on the back end. Meanwhile, Zucker, Niederreiter and Coyle all failed to even register a point as the high-flying Jets peppered Devan Dubnyk to no end.
It's an easy knee-jerk reaction to blame the captains for the lack of Wild success.
It can even check out logically to some, as the leadership of the team perhaps could be questioned if the team doesn't succeed. But really, how much effect do the captains have on the production of the rest of the team? Sure, they are leaders, but can they actively make other players score through just leadership?
I don't think so, and even if one were to make that argument, it's flimsy at best.
With that logic, coaching could be questioned as well. The Wild saw several players take statistical leaps forward after Bruce Boudreau arrived and removed the stifling Mike Yeo system, but some of those players have since regressed. I'm in no way suggesting that coaching is the issue, and I think that's proven by some players thriving, while others are not.
The difference between those two groups of players isn't coaching.
[caption id=attachment_42830" align="alignnone" width="4628] Sep 24, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the game at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports[/caption]
Two types of articles I don't particularly enjoy are ones blindly defending players, ignoring their flaws and especially articles 'calling out' players for not producing. While this is arguably both of those articles in one, it's also neither of those articles.
The captains have plenty of flaws, and I'll be the first to agree with them. Meanwhile, it's not calling the younger players out for their lack of production, so much as it's explaining that they're the lynchpin to the Wild getting better as a team, and I don't think that's particularly harsh or untrue.
With a team lacking an elite superstar, their depth is going to have to be their strength to succeed, and they'll need production up and down the lineup for that to be a strength. While it's fair that conversations with the Wild start with Koivu, Parise and Suter, they should end with the rest of the team, as well.