Monday, May 28, 2012

Wants and Needs

There's a lot that Wild fans might want for next season. A lot that Craig Leipold might want as well. And I think that many of those wants align with each other. But what about what the Wild really need? That's another thing all together.

Want #1: More scoring.
Duh. Of course we want more scoring. More scoring means more wins. More wins means playoffs. Playoffs means a chance. Look at LA right now: riding a hot goalie into the Stanley Cup Finals. The fans want more scoring, and Craig Leipold sure as hell wants more scoring, because that means a more exciting product on the ice, and therefore derrieres in seats. But do we really need more scoring? I don't think so. More on that later.

Want #2: A defensive stalwart.
Nick Schultz was the Wild's Stay-at-Home mensch and de-facto shutdown defenseman. But in the grand scheme of things, he certainly wasn't a top pair D-man, just the best we had. Brent Burns was (and still is) a top pair defenseman, and made Schultz look a lot better than he really is. The reason Schultz/Burns worked so well for the Wild is that Schultz was the safe player and Burns was the risk-taker. Schultz knew he could pass to Burns to move the puck out, and Burns knew that Schultz had his back. But now, no Burns, and Schultz was dealt for Tom Gilbert.

Gilbert is the puck-moving defenseman that Zidlicky was supposed to be, and a minute muncher that only Marty Skoula could dream of when he played for Jacques Lemaire. So a defenseman that can be steady and shutdown the opposition is something that Wild fans are thinking of when they dream of Ryan Suter in Iron Range Red. Marco Scandella is getting there, but he's young, and had a stint in Houston to recharge the  confidence in his game. An older mentor to teach him that part of the game. Stoner is more of a physical defenseman rather than a prototypical shutdown man. And Jonas Brodin might crack the lineup, but from everything I've read, he's not a physical shutdown guy. Yet. So do we really need a defensive D-man? I think so.

Want #3: The kids.
The things I've seen Wild fans obsess more about are those two things, but seeing the kids next year is another big thing that we pine for. Youth and excitement are tied up in the so-called Magnificent Seven (Brodin, Brett Bulmer, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Zach Phillips, & Jason Zucker) Do we really need them? Hell yes. New blood is one thing this team is desperately in need of. That's why I'm such a fan of Chuck Fletcher's no-player-is-untouchable mantra this past season. Good on him.

Need #1: Defenseman.
As I said above, an older defenseman who's not afraid to go against opposing top-line forwards would be a huge boon to the Wild. The younger pieces are there in Stoner and Scandella. And who knows where Tyler Cuma is in the mix. Until I see him regularly in St Paul, I'm not inclined to pin any hopes on him. A veteran who's been there and done that and can teach the kids how to shut down the opposition is sorely needed.

Need #2: The Kids.
To repeat, the Wild badly need an infusion of new blood. Coyle and Phillips just made a run for the Memorial Cup, bringing with them playoff experience that not many Wild players have. Their youthful exuberance should also help the Wild veterans feel young again and inspired to not only teach what they can, but also push themselves to keep up at times. Could we see a rejuvenated Matt Cullen? We can hope.

Need #3: Coaching.
No, I'm not calling for Mike Yeo's head here. I love Mike Yeo, if for no other reason than his birthday is three days before mine, so I can still cling to the dream that I'm younger than an NHL head coach. Yeo had a masterful command of this team until the wheels fell off and he lost three top-six forwards, and was forced to press guys like Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck onto the top two lines. Shutting down the Wild then became a turkey shoot. Shut down Heatley and Setoguchi and you contained the Wild.

The Wild had the fourth worst power play in the League, and took the fewest shots of any team in the NHL. Both of these are inexcusable. Acquiring Heatley and Setoguchi was supposed to address this, and generally speaking, both held up their end of the bargain - neither had career highs nor career lows in shots - in an effort to get the Wild to have a "shooter's mentality." That said, the responsibility for the next step is on the coaching staff.

Just as Chuck Fletcher brought in Rick Wilson to help Todd Richards, I think that the Wild really ought to consider a coach whose job it is to work with the players on shooting and other offensive skills. Yes, another forward who can score would be a nice luxury, but Chuck has done what he can with the roster. The responsibility also lies at the feet of the coaching staff. And as much as I love Darby "Horseface" Hendrickson, is he really the best guy to be coaching about offensive skills and shooting? What's Mike Modano doing these days? (Oh yes I did.)

There's a difference between what we as fans want and what the Wild as a team needs. The key needs are a defenseman's defenseman, the kids to arrive ready and willing to play their asses off, and more emphasis on the coaching side to increase shooting and scoring.

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