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  • The Wild Need To End the Top-Line Hartman Experiment


    Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA Today Sports
    Tony Abbott

    No one can say anything other than that Ryan Hartman took full advantage of a rare opportunity. After bouncing around the NHL, getting traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Nashville Predators, the Philadelphia Flyers, and Dallas Stars (where he never played), Hartman was a rare 25-year-old journeyman when he signed with the Minnesota Wild.

    Through the first two years, he more or less looked the part, scoring 16 goals and 42 points in 120 games while mostly playing third-line minutes.

    We know what happened next. In 2021-22, the Wild needed someone, anyone, to anchor their dynamic duo of Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Hartman did it, and performed better than anyone could've imagined. Over the past two years, he scored 49 goals and 102 points in 141 games. That's nearly as many career goals (58) and points (131) as he'd had in his 365-game career before his new home at the intersection of Kaprizov Ave. and Zuccarello Court.

    Altogether, that's 29 goals and 60 points over an 82-game pace since Hartman seized his opportunity. Even last year, his 82-game pace was 21 goals and 51 points. That's pretty good, and he probably gets more flak than he should for the job he's done as the Wild's de facto No. 1 Center.

    But if the Wild are truly aiming to build a long-term winner, they will not go into the season with Hartman on the top line again.

    The math is this simple: If Hartman is on the top line, there's no room for Marco Rossi in the top-six. Dean Evason long used Eriksson Ek as a checking-line center despite showing potential for more offensive responsibility. Last year, with 61 points in 78 games, Eriksson Ek showed without a shadow of a doubt that he belonged in the top-six. Guerin and Evason broke up Eriksson Ek's checking line, which Evason called his security blanket, permanently when they traded Jordan Greenway to the Buffalo Sabres.

    There's little chance of a reunion with Marcus Foligno on the third line, not after Foligno's seven-goal season, nor the hot streak Boldy went on with Eriksson Ek stabilizing him. So where does Rossi play if Hartman is in between Kaprizov and Zuccarello?

    That'd be on the third line, at the very most. Who'd be his wingers? Most likely, he'd line up alongside Foligno and Freddy Gaudreau. Rossi's generally a playmaker, and there aren't a lot of candidates for the "finisher" role outside of Minnesota's top-six. And unless someone like Adam Beckman or Sammy Walker can emerge as that threat, Rossi might once again be set up for an underwhelming season.

    Thus far, the Wild brass' attitude towards Rossi is something like this guy needs to earn the biggest opportunities and work his way up. It can be an appealing sentiment, as it's fair to someone like Hartman, who did work his way up from a bottom-six role to where he's at today.

    But that's entirely too idealistic for what the situation demands. The fact is the Wild have invested a ton in Rossi. They picked him ninth overall in 2020. They put in two years of AHL development and premium minutes into him. Minnesota might well have had a chance to trade Rossi and recoup draft capital if they were disaffected with him, and they didn't. Another year of struggling will drive that price down by next summer. It's too late to pull the ripcord and get solid value for him.

    A not-insignificant percentage of the Wild's hopes and dreams rests on Rossi's shoulders. It's time to see what he can do. If Minnesota kicks the can down the road another year in favor of Hartman, it signals that they aren't prioritizing their future like they should.

    It sounds harsh towards Hartman, but it has little to do with him. You can argue that Hartman on top of the lineup gives Minnesota the best chance to return to the playoffs next year. Over the past two seasons, Hartman's given the Wild 4.7 Standings Points Above Replacement. That's sixth on the team, behind Kaprizov, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Boldy, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Zuccarello.

    The problem is, is that going to be the best thing for the organization long-term? After the Wild were eliminated from the first round, Guerin told the public that a first-round playoff win wasn't his goal, if it didn't lead to a Stanley Cup. Extrapolate that point further: Is sacrificing a top prospect's long-term development to chase a playoff spot in a year most agree is outside Minnesota's competitive window?

    Besides, Hartman has one year remaining on his three-year deal which carries an incredibly team-friendly $1.7 million cap hit. He's going to be due for a raise next summer, and he deserves it. He's shown he can play down the middle and be productive.

    Are the Wild going to pay for that raise, though? You can't rule it out. We've seen Bill Guerin want to keep the band together as much as possible. Minnesota will also have more cap space to play with next offseason, especially if the cap goes up, despite still having nearly $15 million in buyout penalties to reckon with.

    They probably shouldn't, though. Hartman's next deal will kick in when he turns 30 years old, which is a big red flag for pretty much any free agent. And with the first wave of this great Wild farm system kicking in, these kids have to play somewhere.

    That includes Rossi. The Wild can hand him the keys to a top-six spot next summer, after a potential Hartman departure, but that'd be unwise to wait so long. Rossi is their future (or at least, his progression is vital to it) and Hartman very likely isn't. The Wild need to give their young center a real shot to see if he can do the job they drafted him to do. Doing anything else with a top-six center spot would be a massive missed opportunity. 

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    The top line center spot cannot be given to Rossi, he's got to earn it, and knock Hartman off the top spot of the ladder. I don't believe training camp was set up last season to allow for such a thing to happen. It will also be interesting how Hartman progresses from last year's shoulder injury. 

    That said, as a coach, you have to go with the guy who earns the spot. Evason has shown that he doesn't really put the vets in for preseason. I think you've got to showcase both players on that top line somehow. And in preseason, not just any top line, but THE top line. 

    Personally, I believe a Zuccarello-Rossi-Kaprizov line is too small. If Rossi gets that opportunity, he needs a larger winger than Zuccarello. Boldy would be my choice. But, then you mess with the Boldy-Ek-Johansson line. So, my solution would be moving Ek up (and Zuccarello & Kaprizov are now pretty familiar with him) and place Rossi between Boldy & Johansson. 

    But the main thing to be taken away from this is Rossi's got to climb the positional ladder and knock Hartman off of it. If he doesn't do that, giving him the position should cause some problems internally. We saw that with how Talbot was treated. Hartsy is on a very team friendly deal and has exceeded his contract pretty well. Transitions can be messy, and that's why sometimes if the prospect hasn't knocked off the incumbent, he has to wait for an opportunity which usually presents itself in the form of an injury. And even then, that prospect has got to make it clear he has leaped over the vet.

    Coaches and players are not concerned about the future, they're concerned about the now. GMs and fans are concerned about the future. And while it may be best longterm to place Rossi into the position and sink or swim, what do you do with Hartsy? I think you'd need to trade a guy who felt he'd found a home and signed for significantly under his market value, not a good look for other veteran players. Although, if you find him a home where he fit, it might show that Guerin will work with players whose fit has expired. 

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    1 hour ago, mnfaninnc said:

    The top line center spot cannot be given to Rossi, he's got to earn it, and knock Hartman off the top spot of the ladder. I don't believe training camp was set up last season to allow for such a thing to happen. It will also be interesting how Hartman progresses from last year's shoulder injury. 

    Personally, I believe a Zuccarello-Rossi-Kaprizov line is too small. If Rossi gets that opportunity, he needs a larger winger than Zuccarello. Boldy would be my choice. But, then you mess with the Boldy-Ek-Johansson line. So, my solution would be moving Ek up (and Zuccarello & Kaprizov are now pretty familiar with him) and place Rossi between Boldy & Johansson. 

    But the main thing to be taken away from this is Rossi's got to climb the positional ladder and knock Hartman off of it. If he doesn't do that, giving him the position should cause some problems internally. We saw that with how Talbot was treated. Hartsy is on a very team friendly deal and has exceeded his contract pretty well.

    100% agree with everything said here. Hartman has shown he is more than capable and is an absolute bargain with his current contract. 

    I like the thought of Rossi on the top line being a 1st round pick and all the hype but the execution of it I don’t like. Parroting you here but he indeed has to earn it. However, the coaching staff do need to loosen the reins a bit and be paired with skilled wingers and not stuck being a 4th line grinder.  

    Preseason is the time to try different combos but there is a crowded forward room and the coaches are going to have to navigate where to put guys where they’ll succeed. At this point I don’t even have a prediction of what the lines are going to look like starting out.

     

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    1 hour ago, mnfaninnc said:

    my solution would be moving Ek up (and Zuccarello & Kaprizov are now pretty familiar with him) and place Rossi between Boldy & Johansson.

    This is what judds hockey show predicted and I think it makes a lot of sense.   3rd line: maroon/Fred/Foligno (ie. shock and awe line, French meat ball sandwich line).  4th line: Hartman/Dewzy/Duhaimezy (fire and ice line, Grizzly line, roughneck central)

    i predict Dewzy becomes a regular middle sixer by mid season unless Rossi’s play keeps him back.  That said I’m excited to see Dewzy take next step this year

    Edited by Pewterschmidt
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    1 minute ago, Pewterschmidt said:

    This is what judds hockey show predicted and I think it makes a lot of sense.   3rd line: maroon/Fred/Foligno (ie. shock and awe line, French meat ball sandwich line).  4th line: Hartman/Dewzy/Duhaimezy

    Swap Hartman and Moose in this scenario or Duhaime and Moose then I’m intrigued. 

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    This is a quandary. Rossi's skill set should place him on the 1st line. But how does he "earn" it in a training camp where the veteran players hardly play? I agree that he would fit nicely on the Boldy line and Ek can play 1st line. Hartzy is one of my favorites but his skill set screams 3rd line and I think teamed with Moose and Freddy it could be a very good line. That leaves Dewer, Duhaime and Maroon for the 4th line. Walker and Beckman are going to have to be fill-in players in Iowa (and I like both of them). The team has to use this season to see what they currently have before newer guys come over next year. I really think they are going to have to thrust Rossi into the fire and play him up-line. If it doesn't work they will know what they have going forward. Like Tony wrote, this is not the year for the Wild to project SCF success. It is time to start the player refresh before the bulk of the team's major prospects becomes available.

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    Ek already had a chance on line 1, and it didn't 't work, but the line 2 combo did. Boldy and Ek have good chemistry, and Johansson fits in well with those two, so the 2nd line is likely set for next year.

    Rossi either plays line 1 or line 3 in that scenario. Rossi is a smaller center, so needs to be paired with a larger winger. Line 1 would be a poor fit, since Zuc and Kaprizov are both under 6ft. However, line 3 would lack a skilled goal scorer like Boldy or Kaprizov, depriving Rossi of a chance to maximize his skills. Rossi seems to be more of a setup man at this point, so you need a finisher to put the puck in the net, which line 3 lacks. 

    I am normally a fan of keeping the Zuccarello and Kaprizov combo together, but if the Wild could upgrade Zuccarello's spot and insert a larger body, then Rossi could play the 1C role.

    Rossi needs to be given a chance to show what he can do, but the Wild don't seem to have the right line opportunities for him to do that.

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    Agree that a line of Zuch, Rossi, and Kaprizov is just too small.
     

    I think Rossi did earn that chance with a solid preseason last year, the problem is that he didn’t take advantage of it. One could point out that he wasn’t set up to succeed because of who he was lined up with, but it’s tough to argue against one career point in 21 NHL games. If he’s the player we hope he’ll be, he’d make those around him better, especially as a center/playmaker. Like all Wild fans, I truly hope he becomes a stud, but we can’t just will it to happen by handing him the 1C spot. There’s always going to be a few Galchenyuk/Drouin types out there that don’t live up to their draft hype. I hope I’m wrong, and he turns it around, but he just looks too soft. I’m mean, seriously, it took the guy two whole years just to tell us we were all mispronunciation his name!

    (For those who don’t know, it’s actually pronounced like Row-si, not Ross-sí).

    One final point on the whole Rossi debate: it’s entirely unfair to bash Brackett if Rossi never makes it big (and we see that a lot). The health issue he went through set his career back in ways most people will never fully appreciate. He likely would have been a much different player had he not been robbed of a critical year of prime development time. This is just bad luck, and not something Brackett or the Wild could have predicted. Fingers crossed that he continues his recovery and becomes the stud center we desperately need. 🤞 

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    20 minutes ago, Secord Sucks said:

     it took the guy two whole years just to tell us we were all mispronunciation his name!

    Looks like the plan is working to perfection. He's developing that FU attitude BG was wanting...🙃

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    I'm firmly on the side of putting Ek with Kaprizov and Zucc (they've had decent success on PP1, let them work out the 5v5 kinks in camp), and having Rossi center Boldy and MarJo.  Rossi and Boldy were quite the dynamic duo when they were both in Iowa.

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    Tony's May 17th article showed Hartman numbers are pretty good. Not far off from 1Cs. I don't think there's an automatic placement of the apathetic Austrian in the top six. Maybe, but Hartman-grizzle works. He can get hot. I'd like to see him continue with Kaprizov and the Norwegian Hobbit instead of experimental line-shuffles. That was BB's go-to move. Hartman in the playoffs against Vegas when they had Fleury was awesome. Under-rated player. Gotta try to keep him.

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    4 hours ago, bisopher said:

    I'm firmly on the side of putting Ek with Kaprizov and Zucc (they've had decent success on PP1, let them work out the 5v5 kinks in camp), and having Rossi center Boldy and MarJo.  Rossi and Boldy were quite the dynamic duo when they were both in Iowa.

    I agree with this, Rossi needs to step up and show what he can do but its not fair to put him in a 3rd or 4th grinding line, that just sets him up to fail .Give him a chance with 1st or 2nd line and if he can't do it move on.

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    17 hours ago, Will D. Ness said:

    Doesn't Rossi weigh more than Hartman?

    No, he does not. Hartman is right around 200 pounds. Rossi is around 185.

    Hartman has decent size and the grit to hold his ground in front of the net for the 2 most dynamic playmakers on the Wild.

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    17 hours ago, Tony Abbott said:

    I like that a line with a two 5'9 guys and a 5'8 guy is too small but swap one person out for someone who's three inches taller and it's big enough.

    It's playing style too. Hartman brings a dimension to that line it would not have with Rossi. 6' and roughly 200 pounds for an NHL veteran is quite a bit different than a 5'9" 182 pound rookie.

    Those small lines can work at the high school level, but when things get to the best of the best, does any NHL team play a line with two players 5'9" and under that doesn't have someone with size as their linemate?

    Which one of them takes the punishment in front of the net for tip ins? Kaprizov is the strongest of the 3, but is that how you want to utilize him regularly? We saw in the Dallas series what happens when you try that.

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    17 hours ago, Tony Abbott said:

    I like that a line with a two 5'9 guys and a 5'8 guy is too small but swap one person out for someone who's three inches taller and it's big enough.

    For me it's not the height but the weight. Kaprizov will hold his own on any line, he's thick in his frame. However, both Zuccarello and Rossi are slight builds and would get engulfed by larger checking lines. 

    If Boldy were on that line instead of Zuccarello, it could work, as he is larger in weight and anticipated to be even thicker. Or, if Eriksson Ek was at center, he would add about 25-30 lbs. of muscle on that line. 

    I'd love to believe that Rossi is 185. I simply don't believe it in looking at his build, they must have weighed him with his jersey soaked and all equipment including skates were on. The build debate has been settled in the past, but unless Rossi has gained a significant amount of strength this offseason, upper and lower body, I wonder if he can keep up physically. He's also got to find that upper gear far more smoothly than he did last year. His speed and edges should be pretty special, but we haven't really seen that yet.

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    19 hours ago, UncleWalt said:

    Agree with 1C Rossi 100%. The Wild haven’t given him anything after two years in Iowa. 

    This is indeed accurate as written. But, the fact remains, in the 1st year, by finding the myocarditis, the Wild gave Rossi his life. Since then, Rossi has had to build himself back up again but hasn't earned anything. And, that is the issue, the difference between given and earned. Earned is usually done behind closed doors at camps and practice. And, Rossi hasn't "taken" someone's spot. 

    If you give it to him, you really have lost many members of the team, because they've been told you have to earn it and proceeded through the process. You can't just move Rossi to the head of the line because he was your #9 pick 4 years ago. 

    I would like for training camp to reveal the ladder players must climb, and to have that ladder determined in the 1st week of camp where every player starts at the same place. Perhaps, then, you could find out who is playing the best. If Rossi is blocked on the ladder by other players and never has a chance to challenge Hartman, then the process is a bit flawed.

    This is typically why young players in any sport have to wait for an opportunity which generally comes in the form of an injury. Next man up is the motto, and that young player must be ready to take the reins and not give the position back. It's happened time and again with this team, that the young player fills in nicely but not quite nice enough to fully take the position.

    It's been said you don't lose your spot due to injury, you get it when you come back. This was the expectation of Talbot when he got hurt, even though Kahkonen was hot. But, when Talbot was ready to return, Kahkonen suddenly could make the same stops. We saw Boldy catch fire after Kaprizov was out, but when Kaprizov came back, Boldy cooled off. You've got to get hot and remain hot as a young player and be so good that you've captured the spot. Don't look back or take any breaths, keep the foot on the gas and keep performing!

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    21 hours ago, Quebec1648 said:

    Ek already had a chance on line 1, and it didn't 't work, but the line 2 combo did. Boldy and Ek have good chemistry, and Johansson fits in well with those two, so the 2nd line is likely set for next year.

    Rossi either plays line 1 or line 3 in that scenario. Rossi is a smaller center, so needs to be paired with a larger winger. Line 1 would be a poor fit, since Zuc and Kaprizov are both under 6ft. However, line 3 would lack a skilled goal scorer like Boldy or Kaprizov, depriving Rossi of a chance to maximize his skills. Rossi seems to be more of a setup man at this point, so you need a finisher to put the puck in the net, which line 3 lacks. 

    I am normally a fan of keeping the Zuccarello and Kaprizov combo together, but if the Wild could upgrade Zuccarello's spot and insert a larger body, then Rossi could play the 1C role.

    Rossi needs to be given a chance to show what he can do, but the Wild don't seem to have the right line opportunities for him to do that.

    Ek had his chance for a brief stint 2 seasons ago. But, this was before they got used to each other on the PP. I think going back to that line and seeing how it looks would be the best thing possible right now. Ek's game has grown as has Kaprizov's. Ek's got a lot more skill than people give him credit for. 

    Looking forward, this is Zuccarello's last season. To me, it looks like Yurov, not Boldy, ends up being the replacement for him. I have no idea where Khus$^&* ends up, but there will be competition. 

    Hartsy is also in the back pocket and can fill in anywhere in the lineup. I think some experimentation is in order. Early on in the season, maybe Evason takes out BB's blender and spends the 1st 10 games seeing who has chemistry and who doesn't? We've got some good combinations already established, but could we have better ones? Also, having some familiarity with each other certainly helps in the case of injuries.

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    1 hour ago, Imyourhuckleberry said:

    No, he does not. Hartman is right around 200 pounds. Rossi is around 185.

    Hartman has decent size and the grit to hold his ground in front of the net for the 2 most dynamic playmakers on the Wild.

    Ok yeah, somewhere I read Hartman was like 180.  15 lbs will make a difference but then again Rossi might close that gap this off season.

    Rossi is supposedly working out hard.  5 lbs?  Easy.  10 lbs?  Good target.  15 lbs?  Maybe asking too much in one summer.

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    18 hours ago, Tony Abbott said:

    I like that a line with a two 5'9 guys and a 5'8 guy is too small but swap one person out for someone who's three inches taller and it's big enough.

    So much this...

     

    19 hours ago, Will D. Ness said:

    Doesn't Rossi weigh more than Hartman?  The problem isn't size, it's attitude.

    And even more so, this. If Rossi develops that F.U. attitude that GMBG wants, That line (Zucc-Rossi-Kap) will be big enough, especially since Kap plays bigger then his frame already.

    Edited by goaliemon
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    1 hour ago, mnfaninnc said:

    Ek had his chance for a brief stint 2 seasons ago. But, this was before they got used to each other on the PP. I think going back to that line and seeing how it looks would be the best thing possible right now. Ek's game has grown as has Kaprizov's. Ek's got a lot more skill than people give him credit for. 

    Looking forward, this is Zuccarello's last season. To me, it looks like Yurov, not Boldy, ends up being the replacement for him. I have no idea where Khus$^&* ends up, but there will be competition. 

    Hartsy is also in the back pocket and can fill in anywhere in the lineup. I think some experimentation is in order. Early on in the season, maybe Evason takes out BB's blender and spends the 1st 10 games seeing who has chemistry and who doesn't? We've got some good combinations already established, but could we have better ones? Also, having some familiarity with each other certainly helps in the case of injuries.

    I really am coming around to Ek on the top line. There needs to be someone big enough to take the physical toll off Kappy. I agree that Ekker has a lot more to his game than folks give him credit for. Hartzy has the grizzle but that is not lost on the 3rd line with Moose and Freddie.

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    23 hours ago, Quebec1648 said:

    Ek already had a chance on line 1, and it didn't 't work, but the line 2 combo did. Boldy and Ek have good chemistry, and Johansson fits in well with those two, so the 2nd line is likely set for next year.

     

    That is sort of the consensus, “Ek didn’t work on line one”. I feel it was at least as much if not more that Ek on line two gave us more balanced scoring. An article laying out the minutes played together, scoring, etc., might better show what the facts are. Rossi between Boldy and Johansson would seem a much better fit than having him between Kap and Zucc. 

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    11 hours ago, Sviginak said:

    Rossi between Boldy and Johansson would seem a much better fit than having him between Kap and Zucc. 

    I'm not sure Rossi is a great fit with either of those lines. Eriksson-Ek had some heavy lifting to do defensively alongside Boldy and Johansson and I'm not sure Rossi is up to that task. Those two were -5 through 6 playoff games without him.

    Evason might stick with Hartman and JEE centering the top 2 lines. They've been solid there. Rossi might get the 3rd line with Gaudreau and Foligno. Dewar setting up Maroon and Duhaime seems reasonable.

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    On 7/15/2023 at 3:23 PM, Will D. Ness said:

    Doesn't Rossi weigh more than Hartman?  The problem isn't size, it's attitude.

    Hartman out weighs Rossi by 15 lbs.

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