When Paul Fenton was introduced as Minnesota Wild general manager back in late May, the word ‘tweak’ was tossed around frequently when it came to how he was going to edit the team he was inheriting.
The team that first took the ice for Fenton in his inaugural campaign as Wild general manager largely resembled that of previous iterations of the team under his predecessor Chuck Fletcher. The core of the team was still intact and only small changes to fringe roster spots had been made.
At the very least, you thought, yeah, this team will scrap and claw their way into the playoffs like they normally do before getting ousted in the first round.[Lee Corso voice] Not so fast!
The Wild got off to an 11-4-2 start and looked like they wanted to make a statement to their new boss about how they mean business, or at least how the players themselves want to stick around. But after that point in mid-November (or maybe slightly thereafter, considering the Wild had a huge win on Black Friday over the Jets), the wheels fell off and the Wild never truly recovered.
Between Nov. 13 and Jan. 15, the Wild won just 11 games out of the 28 they had played. Their goaltending was a big reason for that steep decline, as Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock — who had been given a questionable three-year contract extension at the end of January — had not been able to provide quality starts night after night. Neither had a save percentage in that stretch above .900. Minnesota was getting below league-average goaltending, and you all know that when Wild goaltending takes a nose dive, so does the team in front of it.
To make matters worse, Matt Dumba — who was on pace to do great things offensively from the blueline — went out of the lineup for the season in mid-December following a scrap with the Calgary Flames. The diagnosis was a torn pectoralis muscle, which became a sore spot for the Wild and their fans as the validity of the scrap was put into question.
The loss of Dumba was not totally crushing to the Wild blueline, but Dumba’s offense — 12 goals, six of which came on the power play — was going to be missed, and missed sorely.
Minnesota was now a floundering club without its most dynamic player while getting no help from their goaltending. Re-enter Fenton, who had seen enough of this team, and felt it was time to start making those ‘tweaks.’ And, oh boy, did he tweak.
Fenton sent ripples through the Wild locker room and fan base when he traded Nino Niederreiter on Jan. 17 to the Carolina Hurricanes for center Victor Rask. The trade at the time, and very much so presently, was heralded as a colossal win for Carolina. They were getting a productive winger and, in exchange, they got rid of a player that was not producing since signing a six-year, $24 million deal in the summer of 2016.
A huge win for Carolina and an even bigger loss for Minnesota considering A) what Niederreiter has done since the trade, and B) how ineffective Rask has been for the Wild after his change of scenery. A change of scenery was all Rask needed to get his offensive game back on track, according to Fenton, but the Wild are still looking — like Rask is — for that offense. *shrug emoji*
Victor Rask gets a pass between the circles and backhands a pass to…
…no one. pic.twitter.com/pJRjQPCkQR
— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) March 31, 2019
That was not the end of Fenton’s ‘tweaks,’ if you even want to call them that at this point because they are far too major to be considered just ‘tweaks.’
As the trade deadline approached his team still was floundering, goaltending was still struggling, and the Wild suddenly could no longer win at home. The Niederreiter trade did not have a positive effect on the team, as they picked up right where they left off from before the trade.
With just days before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, Fenton made his next major move by sending Charlie Coyle to his hometown Boston Bruins in exchange for forward Ryan Donato and a conditional draft pick. Another major core piece of the Wild was gone, and in return was a promising young forward who had been buried by Boston in the AHL.
This, however, was another warning by Fenton to the rest of the team that underperforming players will not be tolerated.
“We have underperformed since we’ve come out of the break,” Fenton said in a St. Paul Pioneer Press story. “It puts people on notice that it’s not acceptable.”
At that Feb. 25 trade deadline, another major core piece was moved. Mikael Granlund, who had led the Wild in points for the past two and a half seasons, was sent to Nashville in another one-for-one trade. This time, Fenton was bringing a player he was familiar with — a theme among some of this other minor moves this season (see: Pontus Aberg, Anthony Bitetto) — in the form of Kevin Fiala.
Fiala is a 22-year-old player that Fenton sees as a dynamic game-breaker the Wild need. And while he flashed *some* signs of having those skills, his overall game left much to be desired following the trade and leaves the fanbase wondering if he can ever get to the level that even Granlund was just at.
Kevin Fiala. Bar down. Tie game. pic.twitter.com/vLFW7pAzsb
— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) March 6, 2019
Between all these major moves, Fenton had brought in others — Bitetto, Brad Hunt and Aberg — with minimal results. Also mixed in was another major injury as captain Mikko Koivu suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in a Feb. 5 game at Buffalo.
Now you have plenty of fresh faces, players taking on elevated roles, key injuries and the still remaining poor goaltending.
This was not a recipe that was going to work for the Wild.
As mentioned before, the Wild struggled mightily at home since Jan. 1. That was where their goaltending really took a plummet, and then all of a sudden they could not score goals either.
In the end, Minnesota is going to finish the season with the worst points percentage at home in their franchise history. A black eye for a team that has prided itself on its ability to win big at home, especially in the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter era.
|G||PP||SH||S||PIM||GA||PP GA||SH GA||SA||OppPIM||DIFF|
Eric Staal struggled. Jason Zucker struggled. Ryan Suter needed a decent part of the year before he looked right after a serious ankle injury at the end of last season. More major players on the Wild that just never found a groove when the team needed it.
Minnesota could not put together a sustained winning streak in March, and it sunk in the standings to never recover.
It was like watching them sit in a pit of quicksand and nothing could be done to pull them out.
It was just not meant to be for this team.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau had few options to try and shuffle the deck
chairs on the Titanic to spark the team, as he was handcuffed by roster moves and quality depth players. You could see the helplessness in the head coach from time to time, as he just hoped a different team would show up to a game.
Boudreau may ultimately pay the price for this lost season, but almost none of it should be blamed on him as he overachieved with this team in his first two years on the job before the wheels fell off this season.
There are many ways you can remember the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild. How you choose to remember them is certainly not wrong. There are a multitude of options available to you. Poor goaltending, poor offense, poor roster moves, poor injuries and poor depth.
Poor everything, really.
Fenton is now on the clock. It will be up to him on where he takes this team moving forward. Does he continue to try and de-construct the roster Fletcher built or does he try and load up in the offseason to give this team and the remaining core another run at it in the postseason?
Answers will come forth in a few months, but for now, there are more questions left than answers. Certainly an uneasy time for any Wild fan, as the team descends into a major state of flux.
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