Patrick?! Oh. Sullivan.

I know that it’s still far too early to tell whether Patrick O’Sullivan will turn into any kind of scoring threat for the Wild.  We’ve only see him play in two games now, and that isn’t nearly enough of a sample size to start ranting about how awesome or terrible he might be.

Just the same, first impressions are important- especially for a team that’s struggling as mightily as the Wild has been lately (-5 goal differential over last 3 games due to 2 horrible losses to the Rangers and Flyers).

The early impressions I’m getting are that he will live up to his reputation; he has some skill and he seems to be relatively quick on his skates, but ultimately his lack of focus and inability to put it all together will cause him to be a bit of a disappointment.

Originally drafted in the second round in 2003, O’Sullivan was a pretty highly rated prospect at the time he was traded in 2006. Doug Risebrough, in all his infinite wisdom, somehow “negotiated” to ship Sully and a first round draft pick to the Kings in order to bring Demitra to the Wild.

Although hindsight is always 20/20, it’s also true that you don’t even need to have eyes in your head to see that Risebrough wasn’t exactly a genius when it came to trades, drafting, and now that I think of it, he wasn’t any good at management in general either.  So let’s take any relative value of Sully that was suggested or implied by this trade (or the fact that he was drafted in the 2nd round) with a HUGE grain of salt.

Strangely, when I saw O’Sullivan all over the highlight reel during the 2007-2008 season, I thought we would end up royally regretting the trade.  He became a pretty consistent scoring threat in Los Angeles, and early on it seemed all but certain that Wild fans would end up looking back on that trade and shaking their heads in disgust.

As a matter of coincidence, at the end of the 2007-2008 season, Demitra and O’Sullivan actually had similar numbers offensively.  Sully played 82 games, and put up a respectable 53 points (22g, 31a) while Demo put up 54 points (15g, 39a) in only 68 games.

Somewhere along the way though, Sully’s train ride to NHL stardom came to an abrupt halt.  I’m not exactly sure why things went so wrong for the guy, but he’s now on his 4th team in the last 3 years (5th if you count his cup of coffee in Phoenix), after things didn’t work out with Los Angeles, Edmonton, and Carolina (and don’t forget Phoenix too).  And that makes me a little uncomfortable.

To put it plainly, if Patrick O’Sullivan was really a legit top six forward, he wouldn’t be on waivers, and he wouldn’t have been shipped out by several other teams in rapid succession. I’m not going to pass judgement on him yet, but I imagine it’s a pretty rare case when a midseason waiver claim on a guy like this ended up working out in the long term.

Also consider that the 2 most recent teams who decided to get rid of O’Sullivan are not exactly having a lot of on-ice success these days.  The Hurricanes are exceptionally bad this year, as they are now in full “rebuilding” (aka “Owner-On-A-Tight-Budget”) mode.  The Oilers continue to struggle mightily in spite of having some exciting young forwards on the team now.  But in both cases, the GMs effectively said that Sully wasn’t good enough to keep on their teams.

If it was just one GM or coach that wasn’t a fan of O’Sullivan, it might be easier to ignore this.  But when 2 different teams in 2 different conferences who are both looking for cheap young talent decided to get rid of O’Sullivan, it might be an indication of something negative about the player.  Let’s face it- these teams didn’t ship him out to get cap relief or because he had any amount of trade value.

Now, that being said, it’s obvious that the guy has a considerable amount of natural talent and he’s shown in the past that he can score at the NHL level.  He costs the Wild very little in terms of salary cap space, and he provides us with a possible temporary fix for our injury woes without having to make a trade.

In all honesty, as hesitant as I am about this move, I really don’t blame Fletcher for picking up a guy like this because we’ve got nothing to lose- it’s pretty much a no-brainer from Fletcher’s point of view.  If it doesn’t work out, you can always put him back on waivers at any time without the fans, ownership, or the coach getting very ticked off about it.  His contract is extremely affordable and cap-friendly, so the economics are relatively favorable.  Having him on the team also means you can put a guy like Casey Wellman back in Houston for development.  And if by some crazy miracle Sully does turn out to be an awesome top-six forward that’s good for 20+ goals and 30+ assists, Fletcher will look like a genius.

Personally, I’m still a little less than cautiously optimistic about this.  It’s painfully obvious that the Wild lacks depth up front (especially with top six forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse still dealing with long-term injuries), but I’m not sure this move will do much of anything to address that issue.  And, more importantly, if there is an issue with Sully’s work ethic, attitude, or if he turns out to be a defensive liability (after all his NHL career plus/minus rating was -56 when we acquired him), Fletcher is running the risk of disrupting the mojo (and locker room) of this team.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that the Wild is currently doing all that great in the standings (currently 10th in the West), but the team does sit within 1 point of a playoff spot in spite of major injuries to a few top six forwards.  Several other key players have also missed some time due to minor injuries and/or suspension (most notably Brent Burns, Marek Zidlicky, and Chuck Kobasew).

The point here is that even though the Wild has been horribly inconsistent on the ice this season, the fact that this team is even NEAR the playoffs with this lineup is actually pretty impressive. It might just be that the team has a lot of great leadership thanks to guys like Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette, or maybe everyone is having fun in the locker room thanks to mischievous characters like Cal Clutterbuck  (and his ‘stache of course).

It really seems like hard work, a whole lot of luck (hooray for fluke goals), stellar goaltending, and good locker room chemistry might be the real causes of the Wild’s relative amount of “success” so far this season.  Bringing in a player who has work ethic or attitude issues may disrupt what little mojo this team has going, and as a result it might lead to even poorer on-ice performances (scary thought after the recent games against the Rangers and Flyers).

The bottom line- a losing streak, or even just additional defensive lapses caused by a new guy who refuses to buy into Richards’ systems, is not something the Wild (or it’s increasingly ambivalent fan base) can afford.

So far, O’Sullivan has played relatively well.  To his credit, in his first game back with the Wild, O’Sullivan did show some occasional promise in the blowout loss to the Flyers, and he made a couple nice passes in Friday’s game against the Predators. Two points in two games is nothing to whine about, but there have been times when O’Sullivan has looked a little out of place too.

It looks like he has not been able to find consistent chemistry with his new linemates just yet, as I’ve noticed a few occasions when Sully just didn’t seem to be dialed in with the Wild’s other top players like Koivu and Havlat.  His effort is there, but sometimes it looks like Sully is in his own world instead of being on the same wavelength as his linemates.  Whether this is due to him being new to the team, or just not being good enough at hockey, is still uncertain.  In another week or two, we’ll know a whole lot more about whether or not O’Sullivan is going to fit in with the Wild.

Nonetheless, for the sake of all Wild fans…..here’s to hoping O’Sullivan will make the most of what might end up being his last shot at a legit NHL job, because the Wild desperately needs him to step up in a big way if they are going to stay close to the playoff race until the team gets healthy.

Topics: Andrew Brunette, Brent Burns, Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse, Patrick O'Sullivan, Pavol Demitra, Pierre-Marc Bouchard

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