When my editor asked me to come up with a Thanksgiving idea, I came up with a banger of an idea. “Patrick Reusse’s Turkey of the Year” by Tony Abbott.
It was swiftly rejected.
But it’s Thanksgiving, so copyright infringement be damned, it’s time to talk Turkeys. So I elected myself President of Minnesota Sports, and with the office comes the power of Presidential Pardons. I took submissions for the biggest Turkeys in Minnesota Wild history. Got a lot of great responses, so now it’s time to go through this list and decide who to Pardon. Let’s go.
We’ll start with an easy one. And by an easy one, I mean “A guy I had to Google.” I have no idea who Henry is. Wikipedia tells me he played 133 games for the Wild around the lockout and had 11 points. Even for a defenseman in the Jacques Lemaire Era, that’s pretty bad. At the same time, I can’t in good consciousness condemn someone I can’t even remember.
On the other hand, I do remember Skoula. When any Wild fan thinks of “bad defense,” they think Martin Skoula. In fact, they should have called him “Martin Skoula” because there was no “d” in his game. That joke would’ve worked better if he had a “d” in his name, but it still works, I think. Looking at the analytics we have on him, Skoula was honestly just mediocre as a defender, but instead a black hole on offense. Good news for those wanting the thumbs down here, though: That’s a worse crime, for me.
Mike Yeo (Joe Bouley)
Yeo’s defenders will point out that he had a lot to deal with during his tenure as coach. That’s not wrong. Having to weather the storm of veteran egos from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — who were great and productive enough to have them at that time — was a challenge. No other coach was able to bridge the generational gap between the Wild’s veterans and youth at the time, either.
Still, was he a good coach? “Neo” way. It’s no coincidence that in the first season after Minnesota fired Yeo, basically every Wild player under 27 enjoyed career years. Unless you really value two trips to the second round of the playoffs, Bruce Boudreau got more out of the same core than Yeo could’ve ever dreamed of.
The Wild traded two second-round picks for Moulson, who scored 13 points in 20 regular-season games. He earned some scratches in the playoffs, scoring a disappointing goal and three points over 10 games. Not great, but trading for a garbage-goal scorer as the missing piece of your team when Minnesota a) Already had Parise and b) never shot, which leads to few rebounds is an even worse decision. Gonna say Moulson’s not the guy you should be mad at here.
Gillies earned a nomination by being a first-round pick who was bad at hockey. The Wild’s brains had been so broken by Chris Pronger‘s Anaheim Ducks Paul Bunyan-ing them out of the first round that they decided the only way to beat them was to give them a second-round pick so they could trade up for this guy.
Imagine if they had instead stayed at Pick 19, taken Max Pacioretty (who went 22nd), and kept the 42nd overall pick, and used it on P.K. Subban (who went 43rd)! This is a classic case where a kid gets blamed for stuff that’s not his fault. He didn’t pick himself, much less trade a second-round pick to do so.
Zidlicky was the original “But Turnovers!” guy, with 158 giveaways in 263 games with the Wild. His defense is legendary in these parts for being bad, in part due to being a minus-34 in his career with Minnesota. He had one really good skill, though, which was as a power-play specialist. If he could’ve been a third-pairing guy they used as a PP quarterback, he’s probably remembered a lot more fondly. At the same time, he wasn’t very good, even if he was stretched thin on incredibly bad Wild teams. It’s a close call.
Veilleux played almost 3,000 minutes for the Wild in the Analytics Era and finished at exactly 0.1 Win Above Replacement. If you ever try to explain WAR to a Wild fan and they ask what a Replacement Player is, tell them “A guy who’s just barely worse than Stephane Veilleux” and they’ll immediately get it. For that alone, his soul is saved.
Hanzal is down in history as the worst trade in Wild history. The Wild got the big center to be the missing piece for a team on their way to winning the Western Conference. Instead, their goaltending collapsed in March, and Jake Allen‘s St. Louis Blues goalie’d them out of the playoffs.
Hanzal catches a lot of blame here, but he largely did his job. He scored 13 points in 20 games on the Wild’s third line while dominating possession. Did his presence in the lineup disrupt team chemistry? Maybe, but that’s not on him. Did the Wild pay too much to acquire him? Yeah, those first, second, and third-round picks would’ve come in handy. Also not on him.
The real Turkey here is the weak trade market at the 2017 deadline, and perhaps a fragile Wild locker room.
The Wild signed Kyle Quincey to be their Jordie Benn, a veteran guy to provide stability to the right side of the third-pairing. One problem: Quincey refused to play the right side of the defense after saying he would during free agency. Not that it would’ve helped much if he had played there. One could argue Quincey was victimized by bad goaltending, but he also was terrible, which never helps anyone’s case. Minnesota scored five goals and allowed 12 with Quincey on the ice at 5-on-5 play. He also took a whopping nine penalties in 18 games. That’s right — it took just 18 games for the Wild to bail on that experiment.
All that makes for a compelling stuffed case. At the same time, let they who’s never lied at a job interview cast the first stone.
Marian Gaborik (Patrick Reusse, 2008)
Gaborik is the only member of the Wild to ever win Turkey of the Year, getting the honors in 2008. This came before ditching Minnesota for New York, but after suffering the injury that would limit him to 17 games in 2008-09 and spurning the Wild on multiple lucrative contract extensions. He also underwhelmed in the playoffs the previous year, scoring no goals on over 40 shot attempts in six games.
History’s vindicated Gaborik since. Only Parise eclipses Gaborik’s 0.76 points per game in Wild postseason history. Gaborik was right to bail from Minnesota, and eventually won a Stanley Cup (and should’ve won a Conn Smythe Trophy) by leaving. Dude did nothing wrong.
The Wild traded a third-round pick for Bergenheim as a response to losing Jason Zucker to injury. Bergenheim seemed to make sense, given his track record as a middle-six guy who shot a lot. Instead, the Wild got one goal on 25 shots over 20 games, including playoffs. Pretty bad!
Gabriel was an enforcer whose biggest skill was getting whooped. According to Hockey Fights’ voters, he got the better of his opponent in just two of his seven NHL fights (and is 4-for-15 in his career). But the highlight of his time in the Wild organization was this AHL fight against Vince Dunn, where he took an L, game back for more going down the tunnel, and got one-punched by Dunn again, earning a suspension.
But Gabriel shines in being one of few people in the NHL to vocally support the LGBTQ+ community. He became the first NHL player to use pride tape on his stick during a game, and his advocacy goes beyond mere lip service. Legitimately cool and good!
Sheppard is enshrined in Wild Infamy for being yet another first-round bust. He had quite a bit more skill than Gillies, though, scoring 30 goals and 84 points during his draft year in the QMJHL. He flamed out of the Wild pretty quick, finding his way out of the organization by age-22. Michael Russo recently gave a glimpse as to why, recounting a story of Jacques Lemaire getting mad at him for eating ice cream after a game on his podcast. But let’s face it, if any of us had a choice between listening to Grandpa talk about the Left Wing Lock for the eight-thousandth time or eating ice cream, we’d all be joining Sheppard for a pint of Cherry Garcia.
Besides, who else was the Wild going to pick ninth overall in the pretty bad 2006 Draft? History doesn’t change much if the Wild picked Michael Frolik, Bryan Little, or Chris Stewart instead. 5’11” Claude Giroux (22nd overall) wasn’t walking through that door, and we all know it.
Many fans will say that the original sin of Risberough, Minnesota’s first GM, was to try to field a competitive team rather than tank for high picks. It might have been better, sure, but the Wild advanced to their only Conference Final under Risebrough’s plan, and tanking sure didn’t work out for their expansion contemporaries in the Columbus Blue Jackets or Atlanta Thrashers.
No, the real sin of Risberough’s tenure was not being able to adapt to the New NHL. In a game quickly centering speed and skill, Risebrough doubled down on defense and toughness, acquiring a never-ending string of enforcers and slow defensemen. That and a staggering run of ineptitude at the draft mid-decade left Minnesota completely bereft of talent when he was fired. Early success aside, you can’t leave the organization in such disarray and expect to be pardoned here.
Chuck Fletcher (@stateofstats)
Fletcher came into clean up that mess, and from the ashes rose the most mediocre phoenix the NHL has ever seen. Fletcher’s teams made the playoffs six years in a row after signing Parise and Suter but only advanced to the second round twice, winning just two games in those excursions.
Fletcher’s faults are many. He absolutely left the cupboard bare with unremarkable trades for Hanzal, Moulson, and Stewart. Fletcher allowed Yeo to stunt the development of many of his young players for far too long. He couldn’t manage the salary cap to save his life.
But there’s a lot of good in there, too. Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Kirill Kaprizov, and Joel Eriksson Ek are all part of his legacy in St. Paul. Spurgeon and Eric Staal are two of the three best free-agent signings in team history. Their drafting didn’t yield a superstar until too late, but their track record was very solid. The good more than outweighs the bad.
There’s revisionist history with Paul Fenton. Kevin Fiala vindicated the 1-for-1 trade with Mikael Granlund. Dean Evason has a sparkling record as the Wild’s coach. Matt Boldy looks like a super prospect. Even the Mats Zuccarello signing looks okay now.
Let’s not fool ourselves, though. This is the same guy who flipped Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask. He laid an egg with the Charlie Coyle trade. Drafting Filip Johansson was baffling at the time, and he turned out to not even be the best right-handed Swedish defenseman to go in the mid-to-late 20s in 2018’s draft. He alienated basically everyone in the organization and was on his way to losing Spurgeon. Only divine intervention stopped him from trading Jason Zucker for peanuts.
Even his crowning achievement, the Fiala trade, is about to be undone by his own hand. He traded for a game-breaking player, then hand-picked his next coach to be someone who clashes with his star player and is about to run him out of town. It’s a Fentonian Tragedy.
There is no revisionist history here. Fenton was a Turkey then, and he’s a Turkey now.