After early playoff exit, Wild ask where it all went wrong
ST. PAUL—After yet another good-not-great campaign, the Minnesota Wild were mercifully laid to rest Friday night, April 20, at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, following an embarrassing 5-0 loss to the rival Winnipeg Jets.
The past week has served as a not-so-subtle reminder that the Wild are far from competing for a Stanley Cup in their current form. Although the organization might take solace in the fact that the team has qualified for the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, it has advanced past the second round only twice in that span and has lost 16 of its past 20 playoff games.
"We couldn't get it done," said frustrated captain Mikko Koivu. "We have to regroup and find a way to get better. That's what it comes down to."
Nobody in the Wild locker room had an answer for how to actually do that. At least not 15 minutes after watching helplessly as a once-promising campaign fell by the wayside.
Frankly, it's not surprising considering there are so many questions that need to be answered heading into the offseason.
Perhaps the biggest question of all right now: Where did it all go wrong for this version of the Wild?
Maybe it was toward the end of Game 3 of the first round, when Zach Parise fractured his sternum on a random play near center ice, effectively ending his postseason before it could really even get going.
Maybe it was a couple of weeks before that, when Ryan Suter fractured his ankle on an innocuous play along the boards.
Maybe it was a month ago, when Jared Spurgeon partially tore his hamstring while crashing into the boards.
Maybe it was way back in mid-October, when both Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter suffered lower-body injuries that plagued them the rest of the way.
Maybe it was last offseason, when general manager Chuck Fletcher decided to run it back with the same core that has never gotten over the hump in the postseason.
"It's tough to say right now," said Eric Staal, who led the Wild with 42 goals this season. "That's a tough question after experiencing this playoff series and everything we invested throughout this season. That's something to chew into over the next coming days."
It's hard not to wonder where the Wild would've ended up this season with a healthy roster. They were plagued by the injury bug, playing fewer than 10 games with a full complement of players.
"Well, it's bad luck," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I know every team goes through these types of things. Unfortunately with our team, every player that's got hurt has been a Top 6 player or a Top 4 defenseman."
Not that anyone is using that as an excuse.
"I don't think we'll think about it too much," goalie Devan Dubnyk said. "That's kind of a losing perspective if we start looking at it that way. We certainly had a capability in here to get through that ... It's not something that's going to help to look back on."
Regardless of how the Wild look at this missed opportunity, it's reasonable to assume there might be changes ahead.
Although Parise and Suter are unmovable based on their matching 13-year, $98 million contracts, guys like Coyle and Niederrieter might have finally worn out their welcome after following up disappointing regular seasons with scoreless postseasons.
"You know, one game does not make a season," Boudreau said, defending the collective group of the players who underperformed. "We know it was an important game. You can tell sometimes who's ready to play those big games. I wouldn't say if somebody had a bad game that that's the defining moment of their season."
Then there's the decision on whether to sign restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba to high-paying contracts this offseason. Zucker scored a career-high 33 goals but went scoreless in the playoffs; Dumba finally started to realize his potential as an elite offensive threat but still makes head-scratching plays on the blue line.
No matter what happens in the offseason, it's clear this season didn't go as planned for the Wild. And with the rest of the Central Division only getting better, perhaps it's time to blow the thing up.
"You can't be satisfied with (getting to the playoffs)," Koivu said. "It sucks to see teams moving on and getting to the second round. We have to to find a way."