With the 2009-2010 season approaching quickly The State of Hockey is awaking from it’s summer of neutral zone trap slumber clamoring for Wild hockey. Many of the Wild fans have a bitter taste left in their mouths from the parting with the team’s first coach, Jacques Lemaire. Over the last three seasons the Wild fans have been lulled to sleep by perhaps the most boring unimaginative team in the league.
Perhaps even more maligned than Lemaire was VP Doug Risebrough. Risebrough is the NHL’s version of Kevin McHale with a level of ineptitude approached by nobody else. Trades not turning out, prospects not developing, depletion of prospects, and most of all his incompetence in keeping and dealing with players and contracts.
The players have also been a target of their share of pot-shots from the fans. Brunette has his fans but even more haters, Sheppard, Gillies and Pouliat are all seem to be under achievers for their draft positions and expectations.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Lemaire is not to blame and perhaps should be viewed as the saint of Wild hockey. Sure, the neutral zone trap is boring and might bring narcoleptic fits to those watching but given the talent level of this team it was really the only option to stay competitive. I think his system was well suited for an expansion team because it’s a “compete now” type of system that relies less on overwhelming talent. I also believe that the team could have been more offensive minded under Lemaire if he was given some talent to work with on the offensive side. Yes, Gaborik is clearly an offensive weapon when healthy but we all know the history there.
The fault lies squarely with Risebrough. Some of the players may have underperformed but the inability to keep Gaborik, Dimitra, and Rolston was the true downfall of the team. The lack of talent in the prospect pool didn’t help either. I place all of the blame on Risebrough for these failures. Lemaire may coach boring hockey and was not perfect but his style of hockey was the only thing keeping the team competitive.
So, with all of the above in mind, I look forward to the future with a little more optimism. The Wild will probably struggle in year one of the new regime due the lack of talent left by Risebrough. Add to the mix that the team is adopting a new more aggressive offense (generally these types of offenses require more offensive talent than the Wild have) and they are almost certainly going to have their ups and downs. However, with Chuck Fletcher and Todd Richards taking over, the team will offer more excitement and may be able to amass more talent over the next few years.
Indeed, we Wild fans have much to be excited about.