Wild

Mailing It In: Feeling Like Groundhog's Day for the Wild

Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Hello friends, I’m back with my monthly mailbag, and thanks to some (somewhat snarky) friends of mine on the internet, I have answers for their questions.

It’s tough to tell if my friend Derek from The Athletic was hastily pumping out questions and ended up with typos, or if he was just tweeting in the ‘PFT Commenter’ style of Twitter, so I’m just going to assume the latter.

The most likely Wild player to be loved by people with open minds and love in their hearts is probably Matt Dumba. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and as we draw closer to Valentine’s Day, the longing for Dumba is strong as we enter into the third month without him. Dumba is so loved right now, even his haters miss him.

The most likely player to stay is Mikko Koivu, for obvious reasons, and also Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, for also obvious reasons. Devan Dubnyk, Jared Spurgeon and (gasp) Eric Staal all have modified no-trade clauses in their contracts, so that makes them tricky to move, but it’s just a list of teams they can’t be traded to for each of them, I believe, so perhaps not that tricky.

For what it’s worth, the most likely player to get moved at the deadline¬†is Staal, given his expiring contract, but I wouldn’t rule out Jonas Brodin, Spurgeon, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle or Dubnyk being moved right now, either.

Well, Barry, there’s a complex answer there. What’s happening right now is Paul Fenton taking over his new team and doing things as he sees fit. This includes acquiring former Predators draft picks, left-handed defensemen, a bad center, and more left-handed defensemen. But that’s all his prerogative, and he can do whatever he wants. He’s the GM.

I answered a question many mailbags ago on what Chuck Fletcher’s legacy with this team would be, and my answer was that it would largely depend on Fenton’s success. It’s also true that no one can ever tell is going to be good upon his hiring, it’s like buying a car, when roughly 50 percent of cars are lemons. I’m not saying that Fenton is going to end up looking bad in the end, I’m just saying it’s entirely possible he’s a bad GM and we’re getting our very first taste of it now with the Nino trade. It’s still hard to tell at this point.

The thing that is absolutely the most concerning to me is the Wild’s complete disregard of analytics lately. The Wild very famously hired away the War-On-Ice folks a few years back, but every move Fletcher made as he was trading his way out the door spat in the face of any kind of analytics anyone could be looking at. Fenton’s Nino trade smacks of the exact same attitude. I’m not saying analytics in hockey are the be-all, end-all, but if you went through the trouble of hiring very smart people, why are you ignoring them?

To tie into my last answer, my friend Tony brings up a great point. Lots of Wild fans really liked Nino Niederreiter and were very hurt when he was dealt. This would’ve been the case had he been dealt for Auston Matthews. However, he wasn’t, and the backlash of what seems like a terrible trade involving a fan favorite has been swift and nonstop since it happened, expectedly so.

The Cam Barker trade is great parallel, as many fans were upset to see hometown boy Nick Leddy shipped out, in what quickly turned out to be a flop. While it’s unfortunate that it was in Fletcher and Fenton’s first moves, people need to also remember that GMs make mistakes. Like, every GM, ever. So if Fenton gave away Nino, which it appears to be, and then proceeds to build a Stanley Cup-winning team, will Wild fans be upset about Nino? I’m guessing probably not.

As for a learning curve, I think that’s absolutely the case. No matter how good you are at any job, when you get a promotion into a whole new stratosphere, which Fenton did, there’s going to be a learning curve. Fenton’s a seasoned front office vet, but this is the first time he’s been the trigger man on a trade. While some of us won’t make big mistakes our first few months on the job, some folks will, and they may still end up being pretty good at their job.

I would absolutely love to see Bruce on Jeopardy! I think they could reasonably do a hockey week. Let’s get him, Jeremy Roenick and Don Cherry behind the buzzers at the same time and fire up the most entertaining version of Celebrity Jeopardy of all time, perhaps surpassing the laughs from the SNL sketches.

Bruce might just have plenty of spare time to be on Jeopardy soon too, because I’m guessing this whole Wild thing comes to a head soon. He’s got one year left on his deal here in Minnesota, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he resigned at season’s end, especially if they fail to make the playoffs. Bruce has expressed frustration time and time again with this team, and at age 64, might not want to try to struggle through another season with the Wild, especially if they try a reload/rebuild on the fly kind of offseason, where they’ll struggle next season.

As I mentioned above, no, Brodin is not safe. If the Wild were to make some kind of move shaking things up further, Brodin’s name could very well be in the mix. Brodin is still well thought of enough in many hockey circles to get a decent return on a trade, even though his contract may be just a tad bloated to be super attractive to buyers. But if he were dealt, the Wild certainly have plenty of left-handed defenders to backfill.

Keeping Brodin possibly safe could be Spurgeon’s contract, which expires after next season. Spurgeon is definitely more important to the Wild, but could fetch a fairly sizable return from the right team, especially given his right-handedness. I’m not suggesting the Wild should deal Spurgeon by any stretch, but his relatively upcoming free agency could force the issue, this season, or more likely, this summer.

Thanks for another lovely question, Derek. Staal received the third alternate captain’s patch in the game on Thursday, and that probably makes a ton of sense, because he was a former captain himself. However, with Staal seemingly on the chopping block, it’s interesting to think who’s next in line, or someone else that could’ve gotten it instead of Staal. I think Coyle’s name has been thrown around quite a bit as a future captain, and that’s a swell idea, as would be giving the mantle to Luke Kunin, a known leader on all of his previous teams, despite his young age.

But my answer? Dumba.

Sure, he’s out with an injury now, but when he returns, with Koivu out, and perhaps Staal dealt, Dumba should wear an ‘A’. This isn’t even about performance, as much as some people swear captaincy is, it’s about finding new voices for the next generation of the Minnesota Wild. Dumba has shown to be a loud and supportive teammate, and as boisterous as he is, if that ruffles feathers, I don’t see that as a bad thing either. I think a little nod to the changing of the guard on this team is a good thing, and logical, given their unfortunate position.

It sort of has, yes. After his rough November, Wild fans have been waiting for Dubnyk to fire up one of his patented hot streaks that help to balance out the stretches where he’s cold, but he really hasn’t been able to get on a roll yet. He did have a fantastic October, posting a .937 save percentage, and that has helped mask the horrid November, but he’s only been middling since then. His .912 save percentage on the season is somewhat disappointing, coming in 14th out of the 30 goalies with the most games played in the NHL. Also, the advanced metrics point to him having a much easier workload than virtually every goalie in the league, as the Wild do well in limiting quality shots on net near the top of the league.

Alex Stalock has been even worse, ranking 61st in save percentage among the 68 goalies who have had more than 10 games this year (again, facing an easier workload). If you want a completely fair criticism about Fenton that can’t be argued, Stalock’s three-year contract extension probably fits the mold even more than the Nino trade.

It’s obviously a little bit of both Fletcher and Fenton at this point, as Fletcher left Fenton with several problems to solve, and if the Wild miss the playoffs, obviously Fenton hasn’t solved those problems yet. Or worse yet, created new ones.

But if co-conspirator No. 3 is Norm Green, it’s all his fault.

This is a tough call. Part of me wants to cite The Dinner Party, but that episode is so chock full of painfully awkward situations, it’s pretty tough to watch. The Fun Run episode, the Roast of Michael Scott, and the Weight Loss Challenge are favorites of mine as well. But I’m going to have to go with the episode where Dwight gets a concussion and Michael burns his foot on his George Foreman grill. I’m admittedly not a big slapstick guy, but that episode had a great combination physical comedy, wit, and giving Rainn Wilson an opportunity to have some fun with Dwight’s character.

This is a great question from Tony. It really allows one to go down the rabbit hole of a rough few months for the Wild back in 2017. I’m going to make my choice on what gets the Wild closest to winning a Stanley Cup, because that’s what matters, right?

I think the easy one for me to eliminate is the expansion draft. As much as I really didn’t like how that went down, and even wrote an article on my redux of it, in the end, it probably hasn’t cost the Wild a Stanley Cup. Sure, Alex Tuch is great, and Wild fans would love to have him back, and Erik Haula is possibly equally as important, but versus my plan, they ended up keeping Brodin. I’m not the biggest Brodin fan, and would take Tuch and Haula over him, but I also recognize that Brodin isn’t worthless, either, the Wild did retain some value in keeping their top-four defenders intact.

From there, you have to wonder where the 2016-17 Wild would’ve gone had Jake Allen not had the best five games of his career. If the Wild win that series, they end up not facing Chicago again, but rather the meteoric rising Predators, a team they were 3-2 against during the regular season, and they seemed to have some success against Pekka Rinne. Had they beaten the Predators, which is no certainty, they would’ve faced Boudreau’s former employer in the Anaheim Ducks, who historically have been a thorn in the Wild’s side, and played the Wild to a 1-1 series on that season. Beating the Ducks would’ve been tough, but perhaps tougher would’ve been beating the Penguins and Matt Murray, who both were on some kind of roll that postseason.

While having a nice, deep playoff run would’ve been exciting, the possibility that it doesn’t really happen is very much there, and losing in the conference final, or even worse, second round probably would’ve been just as disappointing to Wild fans as running into a goalie that’s the surface of a sun in round one, depending on how those following series went down.

So that leaves me with Kirill Kaprizov. If I’m able to control the negotiations completely, CSKA¬†Moscow angers Kaprizov to the point where he comes over immediately, and joins the Wild for the 2017-18 season, and who knows what happens from there. The injury to Zach Parise probably still happens and effects the team, but the season and postseason could end up being very different.

Also, if I’m playing the long game a bit, I’m going to take the player who’s going to be a round for (hopefully) several (hopefully) very productive seasons, and hope that he’s enough to get this team over the hump they’re currently in. Kaprizov alone could change this team just enough to get them a few deep playoff runs if everything goes right, so I’ll take that over a shot at one deep playoff run, or an expansion draft botch that may or may not have worked out anyway.


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