Monday, April 11, 2011

Wild Win, Fire Coach, Start Over Again

by NiNY

*UPDATE* Assistant coach Dave Barr and video coach PJ DeLuca also fired. And thank goodness. Clearly the video coach was the problem this season.

What a frustrating season.

And the effort the boys put forth in last night's finale crystalized my frustration. That was a great 3-zone effort. They played like that for a while, and got into playoff position as a result. But, whether too thin, too weak, not enough leadership, ill-coached, whatever, that train eventually stopped sailing and the wheels came off like nothing I'd ever seen from the Wild. So, last night served to remind us that they CAN play the way they need to in order to win games, they just, for whatever reason, didn't.

Now the introspection begins anew for the Wild.

With the announcement that Todd Richards has been fired as head coach this morning, it's time to start wondering things like "Were the last two seasons worth it?" And "Will this be a 'careful what you wish for', if Fletcher replaces Richards with a defense-first coach?"

Russo touched on this, and it's something I've kicked around a bit too, but there's an argument that these two years were going to be rough no matter who the coach was. Transitioning from such a specific system/mentality under Lemaire, and with the cupboards as bare as they were thanks to Risebrough, it's arguable that only Lemaire himself could have made the Wild competitive (read: screwed up their draft position just like he did for the Devils this season).

So, maybe this transitional period had to happen for the Wild to move on. And, if that's the case, then Richards was destined to be the scape goat. That's kind of a bummer for him, but coaches have a way of getting another kick at the can in the big leagues.

And, let's be honest: Richards was set up to fail this year. From Leipold, to Fletcher, to the players (Madden), the playoffs was set up as an expectation for this season for the Wild. Funny how, coming into a season, the legit playoff teams don't ever have to talk about making the playoffs as an expectation - it's just assumed that they're going to make the playoffs. You never hear Detroit saying, "I think we're a playoff team this year."

Here's what I said about hiring Richards back in June, 2009:

"I like this move. I like that it meshes with what Fletch has said he's looking for. I like that it allows him a bit of familiarity with the key person on his staff. I like that Richards will be a hungry, young coach. I like that, if anything, coaching "at home" will add more pressure to him, not less - I don't think he'll just be at Manny's every night letting people buy him drinks and stuff. I like all of those things.

Mostly I like that this was done now and not later. Because I think the team is ill-equipped to play this style and win games this season."

This is a league where 53.3% of the teams make the playoffs. Other than in meterology, name another industry where finishing in the 53rd percentile is "success". Simply making the playoffs shouldn't be an accomplishment for an NHL team. It should be an expectation....that you can finish better than 47% of the other teams. You'll know when the Wild's a good team when they don't have to talk about making the playoffs as an expectation for the season no mo.

So, we head into the off-season - hosting the draft in June - right back where we were, for all intents and purposes, when Lemaire walked away and Riser got the axe two seasons ago. We've got some kids (granted, some more and some better ones than we did two years ago) who we might give shots to next year. We've got a goalie and a decent defense corps. We've got a couple 2nd liners playing on the 1st line. And a bunch of 3rd and 4th liners playing on the 2nd through 4th lines.

We have one 9th overall pick and, at this point, a 10th overall pick to show for our failure to finish in the top 53% of the teams in the league the last two seasons. Oh, and that 9th overall pick got dinged for not-one-but-two concussions this season.

Ten years of mediocrity. Zero years of glory. Zero years of abject failure - the kind from which little green shoots (in the form of top two or three picks in the draft) emerge to give hope for the future.

Ten years of small runs of good play that are ultimately swamped by larger runs of ineffective play. Ten years of hoping this career third liner can thrive in hockey-mad Minnesota and become the 2nd liner he always hoped he'd be. Ten years of hoping for a Norris-winning season from a defenseman with shoddy defense skills that can carry a patchwork offense to that "two or three more wins" that means the difference between counting balls in the lottery and playing (however fleetingly) for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Ten years of being told we're the model franchise, the model fan base, the model rink. Ten years of having sunshine blown up our butt, while the league only tosses us the odd European game, draft and 'nationally-televised' game on Versus in terms of actual respect. Not that we've earned it.

Ten years of swatting away the "Minnesotans First!" crowd. Ten years of putting up with the false bonhomie of the "State of Hockey" shtick, which was basically methodone to keep us compliant during this protracted period of mediocrity.

When you look at it from the 30,000 foot view, it's really been a pretty unremarkable ten years for the Minnesota Wild.

And, yet, there is hope.

We might have to take a couple steps back to put ourselves in a position to realize that hope, but there is.

We've got an enviable core of 2nd and even 3rd liners. Yes, they're a little expensive, but shedding cap space wherever we can this summer is undeniably a good thing in any event. We've got a good goalie. Yes, he's a million bucks too expensive, but it is what it is, and that million bucks means he's our guy at least for a couple more seasons - so it's good that he's good. We've got a couple high-end offensive defenseman. Yes, one of them is the best trade bait we have so maybe he doesn't come back next season. I still believe we've got a good GM. We've got an owner who was willing to spend money on the team. Didn't get him a winner, but, hopefully that portends well for his expenditure approvals down the road.

And we are a good fan base. And we do have a great building.

So there's hope. Into each life a little rain must fall. Well, we've been floating around for our forty days and forty nights. It's always darkest right before dawn. Tomorrow's another day. Good things come to those who wait. Time will tell.

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