Being a Minnesota Wild fan this week has felt like varying degrees of Episode 7 of Season 3 of the American sitcom series The Office. For those who are not a fan (first of all, how dare you), the episode is centered around the two Dunder Mifflin Paper Company branches as they battle to ensure their office is not the one shut down by corporate. Who knew so much could hang in the balance between Scranton, Pa., and Stamford, Conn.?
The entire episode offers an inside look into each location as the employees scramble to make sense of the situation. Will their branch thrive, or will they all be out of jobs? Should each employee give it their all to will corporate into understanding how important they are to the company's success? Or should they waive the white flag and just accept defeat already?
At one point in the episode, the manager of Scranton Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott, receives news of a potential closing and waives the white flag. He stands in the middle of the room, asks for everyone’s attention, and exclaims, “It’s over…. We are screwed.”
And that’s what the past week and change has been for the Minnesota Wild. Through the ups and downs of the entire season: a slow start, followed by a coaching change and winning streak, culminating in an injury-riddled month, which has the Wild tumbling back towards the basement of the standings. Maybe it’s time for the Wild to accept their fate.
After a week of non-competitive games and the recent announcement of captain Jared Spurgeon’s season-ending injuries, nobody could have blamed general manager Bill Guerin and exclaimed to his team, “It’s over… We are screwed.”
Okay, that’s not what he said, at least publicly. To the media, Guerin has said what all general managers say about this position with an aging roster that never wanted to take a step back. He plans on replacing Spurgeon with a potential trade and urged his team to press on.
But should he? All signs point to this team potentially clawing their way back into a Wild Card spot, at best, but most likely missing the spring dance altogether. Nobody loves the word “tanking” in the State of Hockey, which has been so accustomed to playoff hockey the past decade. But in Wild's case, waiving the white flag on this season is as much about what it could do for the current roster as the potential for a top-5 pick in this summer’s draft.
The roster could use a reset. Plain and simple. Give Guerin and the front office some credit; they’ve built a competitive team with a bright future through the cap hell years from the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. But much of their leadership group is getting older, and the injuries are nagging more than ever.
Spurgeon, now 34, is out for the year. His longtime blue-line teammate, Jonas Brodin, has had one of the best years of his career. But at age 30, he also missed time and played through injuries. Marcus Foligno, 32, plays a brand of hockey that has always led to injury risk. But at his age and with a contract extension that hasn’t kicked in yet, he is also someone who could allow his body to reset.
That’s the key. This roster is set, almost in stone. With the number of extensions with trade protection dished out over the past couple of years, there isn’t much Guerin can do to save this season or move on from most of the players next year. That’s not a dig on the players Guerin has extended; that’s a topic for another day. It's more an honest assessment of where this team is at the moment.
Guerin clearly wants to compete this year, but I’m sure he wants to compete again next year. And the year after that. Wouldn’t it make the most sense to waive the white flag on this season, even if just to give your veteran leaders, the same leaders you will depend so heavily on next year, a head start on rehabbing their bodies and resetting mentally for next year?
Spurgeon is already getting a head start. It will be interesting to see how refreshed he looks come September when he doesn’t have to spend the beginning parts of May through June rehabbing from a surgery he delayed until after the postseason.
I’m not saying the likes of Brodin and Foligno should fake season-ending injuries. But pushing your body into dangerous situations as you play through an injury can only make matters worse for a team that is not playing for anything meaningful.
Plus, the Wild have young and unproven talent in Iowa, particularly on the blue line, who could benefit from a handful of NHL games toward the end of the season. Their potential development could be just as beneficial as the rest would be for their veteran stalwarts.
Guerin probably doesn’t need to declare defeat quite just yet. But if the Wild continue to stumble as they wade through a pool of injuries, it might be prudent to get the core of your team a head start into the offseason so they can regroup and have the best chance to start healthy next year.
Because if there is any result the State of Hockey probably dislikes more than a middle-of-the-pack finish and missing the playoffs one year, it’s seeing their team potentially finish there in back-to-back seasons.
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