Like clockwork, my proposal for a Thanksgiving Article, “Patrick Reusse’s Turkey of the Year, By Tony Abbott” was rejected once again. And the problem with Pardoning the Biggest Turkeys In Minnesota Wild History last year is, you can really only do that once. Or at least, you have to wait until there’s more Wild History, which doesn’t replenish in a year.
Luckily, Minnesota’s stepped up in a big way. Sporting a losing record by Thanksgiving gives the State of Hockey plenty of Turkeys to talk turkey about. But being as merciful as I am, I am here to offer Pardons to some of the biggest culprits in the Wild’s slow start. I asked Wild fans to nominate persons to rule on, so we must ask: Will they be Pardoned or Stuffed?
A slow start is always going to draw attention to a coach, and this year is no exception. Everything Evason touched turned to gold for his first two full seasons, and this year appears committed to balancing the scales. The Wild are barely staying afloat, and Evason’s knack for finding the right line combination mixes has disappeared. Fans are also grumbling over a lack of progress and opportunities for Marco Rossi, an important young player.
With that said, if you look at a lot of stuff that’s within Evason’s control, the Wild are doing well. They have hit a shooting slump on the power play, but are flirting with the top 10 in terms of generating chances. The penalty kill went from abysmal last year to above 80% now. Evason’s 5-on-5 system isn’t nearly as explosive as last year, but he tightened up the defense and slowed the pace down when his goalies most needed him to get on track.
Coaches get scrutiny when things go wrong, it’s just how the job works. But most of what’s wrong with this team isn’t really in his control. They don’t have the depth to withstand the loss of Ryan Hartman, Jordan Greenway, as well as their missing players like Marcus Foligno for a good stretch. He hasn’t been perfect, by any means, but on the whole, it’s hard to point the finger at him.
Marco Rossi – @JereHalver07
Might as well take on Rossi’s case since we’ve just mentioned him. One point in 16 games for the rookie after a brilliant pre-season. It falls very, very short of expectations, and while he’s not lost in his own zone, that offense has to get better before he gets the opportunities everyone wants to see him get.
That said, if you have your knives out for a 21-year-old after 16 games, you might want to pump the brakes. He’s not had consistent ice time, he’s not playing a role anything like he’s used to, and he has a new set of linemates every night. The guy’s had success from the American Hockey League down, maybe just give it a bit.
Marcus Foligno – @puckovaglass
Foligno is a leader on and off the ice. Minnesota trusts him with an extremely important shutdown role, and for his entire time with the franchise, he’s delivered. Over the past two seasons, he’s even added an offensive component. He’s the perfect role player.
Until this year, that is. After shooting 25% for two years, you can forgive the guy for cooling off a bit. But not only is he shooting just 7% this season, he’s not driving offense like he used to. He’s neither scoring (one goal, four points in 13 games) nor creating dangerous chances on the forecheck. Even worse his defense, the key component of his game, has taken a slip as well. He hasn’t been able to work on a line with Joel Eriksson Ek, which has thrust the lineup into instability. The Wild badly need him to turn around, and until then…
Ryan Hartman – Derek Felska
Hartman was a scapegoat three games into the season. All the frustrating things about his game were on display: the bad penalties, careless play with the puck, and defensive lapses. But after getting demoted from the top center spot, he looked great as a secondary scoring winger alongside Eriksson Ek and Matt Boldy. Until…
What are you doing there? You’ve got to answer the bell against Jarred Tinordi? You have to show the bottom-feeding Chicago Blackhawks that you’re tough? Why? You don’t want to blame guys for getting hurt, but this was completely unnecessary, and it’s cost Minnesota big time.
Did you know that Marc-Andre Fleury has a .928 save percentage this season? Did you also know that the calendar skips from October 12 to 16th and that the days in between are an elaborate illusion carried out by our government, and are thus not real?
Alex Goligoski – @JereHalver07
I get it – Yes, that $2 million Goligoski collects to be the Wild’s seventh defenseman would have, of course, been better spent towards Kevin Fiala. But that overtime goal is fresh in my mind, and as for getting paid, good for him.
Tyson Jost – @JereHalver07
Come on, he’s in Buffalo. That’s punishment enough.
Matt Boldy – @JereHalver07
With just one point in his previous eight games, it appears that Boldy is a human being. Two things work in Boldy’s favor, though. The first is, those first 10 games were unbelievable, with six goals and 10 points. That player is still there.
The second is a complete lack of stability. He’s being shuffled all over the lineup, and it’s perhaps unfair to ask someone so young to carry so much of the offense with such little consistency. Until he can turn it around, though, seeing that Boldy is a mere mortal forces me to confront my own mortality. I will die someday, and that I possess this knowledge is all thanks to an eight-game slump from Boldy. Thanks a lot.
Verdict: STUFFED UNTIL HE STARTS LOOKING SUPERHUMAN AGAIN
Mats Zuccarello – Joe Bouley
No one’s saying Zuccarello is playing super well as of late, but he’s also second on the team in scoring. It’s hard to pin anything on him, given that. His scoring slowdown is also coinciding with his line performing better defensively, and while his contributions need to be in the other end, that’s bringing more to the table than other lines on this team.
All I’m saying is: Liam Öhgren and Brock Faber better be worth it. If those prospects fall short of expectations, the Fiala trade is a massive, unforced “L.” We don’t need to repeat the whole story of how we got there, but we do need an update on how Fiala’s been since the trade.
He’s been a point-per-game player so far, with seven goals and 21 points, on pace for 26 and 78 to follow up last season’s 33 and 85. The Los Angeles Kings are in the playoffs on Thanksgiving, whereas the Wild aren’t. Fiala has been worth 0.9 points in the standings for LA so far. Line up all the players often cited as cap casualties had Fiala stayed — let’s say Matt Dumba, Goligoski, Jon Merrill, Jake Middleton, Jost, Greenway — and their combined return on their $16.65 million cap hit is… minus 2.1 points in the standings.
That three-point swing is the difference between being solidly in a playoff spot, and where they are now. And his best answer to fixing the team so far is: Take that salary cap freedom they got gifted from Buffalo claiming Jost, and immediately blow it all on arguably the worst forward in the NHL.
We’ve got to see better.
Tony Abbott, 10K Rinks
I felt very bad at the thought that someone was going to nominate Dumba, a player who has unfairly taken a lot of heat throughout the years, and may perhaps finally have been in line to be judged negatively based on the actual merits of his play this season. Alas, no one nominated Dumba for this exercise, so I will not do it. There was a time you could have made me, but you can’t anymore. Better luck next year.