In the wake of their season-ending 5-0 loss in Game 5 to the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild players were obviously dejected when they spoke to the media postgame.
How could they not be? It was another first-round exit for a team that had much higher aspirations than just five playoff games before booking their tee times this summer.
But while the quotes from the players were generally the same, there was one quote postgame that stood out above the rest.
In response to being asked about goaltender Devan Dubnyk being chased from the game after giving up four goals on 10 shots, winger Charlie Coyle offered up the following:
“It’s not right. It’s not right. It’s not fair to him,” Coyle said. “We left him out to dry. That’s not what a good team does, especially in a big game. It’s unacceptable.” – via Michael Russo/The Athletic
Coyle’s words are dead on here.
In a must-win game to save their season, not only did the Wild lay an egg, they absolutely deserted their goaltender who had kept them in every game of this series. Without Dubnyk’s stellar play — .930 save percentage in the first four games against the Jets — the Wild would have been swept with results pretty similar to what we saw on Friday night.
But that is not the main point here.
When Coyle says, “That’s not what a good team does,” it makes you think…
Just how good are the Minnesota Wild?
As regular seasons go, the Wild have hit the 100-point mark three of the past four seasons and have been a playoff team for six straight years.
While that sounds pretty great, those seasons have come with great ups and downs as the Wild have needed extended stretches of winning to counteract long swoons of losing. The 2017-18 season was the only one in the playoff era where there was no real definitive swoon, but that comes with quite an extreme split of home and road games.
Then when you look into Minnesota’s postseason success — or lack thereof — you are pretty much staring into the abyss. You will find more joy looking at a weather report that says 18 inches of snow is about to be dropped on your doorstep than looking at Minnesota’s postseason results in the Chuck Fletcher era.
For a team that can get 100 points regularly, you would think they would be able to find some kind of success in the playoffs. But they apparently just don’t have that next gear required to do so.
“It doesn’t matter what’s in the past. This year, we couldn’t get it done,” captain Mikko Koivu said when asked about once again not meeting expectations. “We’ve got to regroup and find a way to get better. That’s what it comes to. It’s tough to get to the playoffs, but you can’t be satisfied with that. Right now, it sucks for sure, you see teams moving on and getting to the second round. We’ve got to find a way.”
If there was a quote that has been uttered in the last six seasons from the Wild more than ‘we couldn’t get it done,’ that would be a shock. Well, it might be only rivaled by ‘we need to be better.’
The Wild in the Chuck Fletcher era has never made life easy on themselves. How many regular season games have they let slip away that they should have won to make life in the standings more comfortable? How many road playoff games — especially in Games 1 and 2 — have gotten away from them when they had a clear chance to win?
How many times have you, a fan, have been left saying, “This team could do so much more,” after a game?
The answer is a resounding ‘too many times’.
Also in the quote above from Koivu lies a plea for help. A plea for help for help from his general manager, whomever that may be, to fix the problems that ail this team when it comes time for the postseason.
Which turns our attention to said general manager, Mr. Fletcher.
Fletcher wanted to build the Wild into a perennial playoff contender when he was hired in May 2009, something he has no doubt achieved. But as the playoff appearances rack up, so have the expectations of his team.
These are expectations that are undoubtedly not being met.
Not even close.
As Ben Remington wrote on Friday, you may get a line of excuses from the Wild front office as their season came to a crashing halt. But don’t buy those excuses for a minute.
Not even a second.
This team, as constructed, is currently built just to make the playoffs and go no further. Their roster is lacking a depth, speed, and overall skill — all of which were exposed by the vastly superior Winnipeg Jets in the five-game playoff series.
Also exposed by the Jets was the disappearing acts of Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker — players who Fletcher has heavily invested in.
When your ‘core’ players like that disappear when you badly need them — especially in the wake of Zach Parise‘s injury — does that say more about the players, or does that say more about the guy who brought in those players?
Answers to that question, and the ones above, are being pointed towards Fletcher — the man who constructed this roster and has continued to stand by despite the playoff failures.
In the next few days, Wild owner Craig Leipold will be deciding on the future of his GM. Leipold has a track record of being patient, but in the wake of six straight playoff appearances with underwhelming results, he could make a change to get some fresh eyes on this roster to hopefully spring some changes in these results.
A change, that could very well be on the way.
It’s not easy for change to take place, especially when that change comes at the top of the hockey operations department. Far more jobs see change than just the GM when a move like that is made, which could come with a small step back for the on-ice product the following season.
That is a question for Leipold to answer. Does he make a change knowing those risks? Or does he return with Fletcher and let him try and tweak this roster again to try and bring different results next spring?
These are questions that will no doubt be answered in the next few days.
As for this team, there will no doubt be changes brewing regardless of who is in charge. That is something you can take to the bank.