Frustrating season. Few positives, several negatives, plenty of blahs.
In the end, the result was what a lot of us thought it would be as the season started: missing the playoffs, growth year.
But that damn run in November and December...I was taken in by it, against my better judgement, and I paid for my foolishness. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Some of the positives include:
*Chuck Fletcher. I know he didn't deliver the depth to get us through the ghastly run of injuries. But who really can withstand losing four of your top six forwards for any length of time, much less a protracted number of games? I continue to think Chuck is moving the organization in the right direction.
*Mike Yeo. For a grade, I'd give him an incomplete. But the injuries were not his fault. I like and respect that not once did I hear him blame or even allude to the injuries as an excuse/explanation for the losing. The same coach that was at the helm when the team went down in flames was leading the charge when the team was tops in the league. We're going to have a lot of kids next season, and in his one full season as a coach, Yeo showed he can work with kids.
*Craig Leipold. He has said he's a hands-off owner, and this year he really proved it. At least publically, he never stepped on Fletcher's, Yeo's or the team's toes. Now it's likely no coincidence that the team will probably not be at the cap (at least going into) next season. But if ever there was a season for Leipold to get frustrated and go all Ed Snider on Fletcher, this was it.
*Kyle Brodziak. For the time being I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that his career-best points didn't happen solely because it was a contract year for him. Realistically, he's a third line forward - and a good one at that. On a team with either reasonable depth, reasonable luck with injuries or - God forbid - both, he isn't forced into top or even second line minutes. But you need Brodziaks on the third line.
*Dany Heatley. I'll be honest, when we got him I didn't think he'd play all 82 and lead the team in goals (82-24-29-53). In a season marred by inconsistency, he was a constant. I'm sure he wished he could have provided more than 24, but he was rarely on a line with the same two forwards for more than a couple games at a time. He may not be the elite sniper that he used to be, but he was our biggest weapon this season and you can't ask for more than that. On the other hand, the Sharks could (care to guess to whom the 39-7-20-27 belongs?).
*Organizational x-ray. Okay, so it's not much, but Fletcher now knows a lot more about the ceiling for a lot more of his players than he did in October. For better or for worse, he was a better pulse on the depth chart for the injuries this season. Particularly with so much up in the air this summer (including the resolution of the CBA negotiations), I imagine he'd rather know what to expect of a Chad Rau than not.
*Organizational x-ray. The downside to knowing what you've got is seeing the vacuum it represents. This team continues to be remarkably shallow on top end talent. Yes, the kids are coming and there could very well be some top end talent there. But put the best few of them in the lineup for next season and the Wild's still only a Mikko injury away from looking like Edmonton. The Wild simply won't materially move up the standings without a significant infusion of skill.
*Defense. While individual components (Spurgeon) were good, this is a corps that is both inexperienced and without distinction. Lots of third pairing guys, really no top pairing guy. Gilbert is Schultz defensively (that's not a compliment), and essentially looked like this season's Zidlicky offensively (also not a compliment.) Every player is capable of flashes of brilliance. Gilbert, and his cap hit, needs to perform at a higher level than it appears he's capable of in order to make me happy. And, if he can't, then we're back to having players making top pairing/line money with second pairing/line skill (see Koivu, Mikko.) That simply perpetuates the cycle of mediocrity.
*No help from the draft. Thin at the top to begin with, and we're essentially picking outside the money picks again, the Wild will not get that home run player in the draft this year. Again. I look forward to the day when we don't have to talk about the Wild's void where all its first round picks should be. I fear I'll see the Vikings win a Super Bowl before that day comes.
Looking ahead, this is arguably the most important off-season in team history. Fletcher needs to navigate the draft, be the guy who signs the big-name UFAs - above all other guys, and maybe pull off a trade or two. He has to make big decisions about several key, or potentially key (Latendresse, Harding/Hackett) players, and re-enthuse a fan base.
Fletcher did a great job enthusing the fan base last summer. But, fool me once....
It starts on April 10th with the draft lottery, even though there's little chance of the Wild winning it.
Should be an interesting summer. Fletcher better hope it is, anyway.
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