Maybe no one has been talking about it because it’s too obvious.  Maybe no one is talking about it because they’ve already exhausted themselves.  Maybe the whole blogosphere is just sick and tired of beating the same old, tired, annoying, and already-way-beyond-dead horse.  It doesn’t really matter, because I don’t think I can contain myself anymore.

Antti Miettinen has easily become the most complete and glaring microcosm of the Wild’s problems.  He is, more than anyone else, a constant source of frustration for all Wild fans- or if he’s not, he really should be.  After all, the Wild hasn’t had someone this good at making himself into a scapegoat since Mr. Scapegoat himself, Martin Skoula.

Stats, rants, and details after the jump.

I’m sure I’ll take some heat for the Martin Skoula comparison….but please, let me explain!

In the case of Skoula, most of our frustration came from watching his overall general lack of hockey skill.  Frustrated Wild fans watched him make mistake after mistake, cough the puck up in many costly situations, and generally play VERY poorly, yet still Lemaire would put him on the ice in important situations.  I would even go so far as to say Lemaire’s love of Martin Skoula is probably the single greatest remaining mystery of Lemaire’s tenure with the Wild.

So, in fairness, it’s worth noting that Miettinen’s old, ripped skate laces probably have more natural hockey talent than Marty Skoula can ever dream about.  And I also really do believe that Miettinen’s level of hustle and effort is consistently high.  But with Miettinen, the problem isn’t really that he’s that bad at hockey….it’s just that he really isn’t that good at hockey.

Miettinen has spent most of his time in Minnesota playing with Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu.  He is often used in a ‘top-six forward’ role, where he is getting a ton of ice time with offensive players.  For much of this season, he’s been on the first powerplay unit, and he’s been put on the ice in many key situations.  And one of the biggest issues I have with Miettinen is that he really just doesn’t seem to be a fit for that role.

In the 6 complete seasons he has played in the NHL, he has never scored more than 20 goals (career high in 2009-2010) and 29 assists (career high in 2008-2009).  He looks to be on pace to put in about 16 goals and 44 points, which is about what he has done in the past.  Now I know that offensive numbers aren’t the only relevant statistics when it comes to hockey, but clearly Miettinen has been given enough ice time, enough years to develop (he’s not 25 yrs old anymore), and enough responsibility to let his true hockey character shine through.  If he was going to become a real offensive threat, let’s face it- he would have done so by now, and I wouldn’t be writing a blog like this one.

So…maybe he’s more of a penalty kill specialist with good offensive upside?  While Miettinen isn’t a total liability on the PK, he’s also not exactly a specialist either.  He seems to lack the speed and gritty character that many other Wild players have used so well in PK situations in the past.  He seems to be a fairly smart, positional player, but he lacks the brawn, the speed, and the determination to really be considered a PK specialist.  Plus, in spite of being routinely used on the PK in Dallas and in Minny, he has only managed to score 2 shorthanded goals (and only 2 shorthanded assists) in his entire career.  Matt Cullen has 3 shorthanded goals this season alone (although keep in mind that Cullen has more than 1.5 times as much shorthanded TOI).

Maybe Miettinen is more of a physical force than we give him credit for?  Hardly!  His 145 hits over the last season and a half is reasonable, but his 215 total career PIMs lead me to believe they are generally the kind of hits that fans don’t notice.  Of course, with guys like Cal Clutterbuck on the ice, it’s going to take a pretty big hit to steal the hearts of Wild fans, but nonetheless, the numbers suggest that Miettinen is not what one would call a “physical player”.  He’s not a player that is afraid of being physical, and he does have some decent hits now and again, but the physical side of his game isn’t anything to write home about.

Is Miettinen maybe the kind of player that doesn’t do anything flashy, but who often helps the offense in ways that don’t always show on the scoresheet?  Well, yes and no.  I’d say that Antti does the best he can to help the offense…but he’s still Antti Miettinen, so his effectiveness is somewhat limited.  He doesn’t seem to have great vision, a great shot, great hands, or really any offensive skills that I would call “great”.  He has a decent shot, and he has “good” hands, but saying these things are “great” would be overstating things a bit.

Is he an integral part of the team in ways we don’t understand?  I sure as heck hope not.  Miettinen missed some games recently with a leg injury, and due to the coaches shaking things up every few games he’s been playing with many different linemates instead of being on our first (or arguably called our second line) every game.  Did anyone notice our team being dramatically different with or without Miettinen in the lineup?  Can you honestly say that you felt any Wild players were doing things any better or worse than usual, just because good ol’ Antti was in the lineup, out of the lineup, or playing with different linemates? Did anyone watching the recent games honestly think “Hey, we need MIETTINEN on the ice!” or “hey, this is a GREAT time to put #20 out there!”?  Ok, ok, fine…but how about anyone who’s last name is NOT Miettinen?!

Or how about this one.  In the most recent game in San Jose, even Mike Russo said that Miettinen struggled a bit.  Now, we all watched him cough up a couple turnovers and generally not have his best game, but was it REALLY all that much different than it usually is?  Not in my mind, although I’ll admit that it’s possible Miettinen is just so invisible that even when he’s playing really well I don’t notice it much.

If you’re still not convinced that Miettinen is a living, breathing microcosm that illustrates the Wild’s lack of depth at forward, I have a challenge for you.  Go find a team that’s generally agreed upon as a “playoff contender” this season, and take a good look at the top six forwards on that that team.  Now, if you were coaching this particular team, which top six forward would you bump down a line or bench to give Miettinen a top-six spot?  Which forward is justifiably worse in a top-six role than Miettinen would be?!  No, I’m actually serious here- hit me up on Twitter (@Engine37) if you come up with a good answer to this one.

OK, so let’s review:

He’s not a top-six offensive talent.  He’s not a PK specialist.  He’s not a gritty, physical player.  He’s not a hidden talent, that really makes the whole team around him better.  He doesn’t really seem to have a dramatic effect on the outcome of most games (which is both good and bad, and it is of course WAY more than could ever be said about our old pal Marty Skoula).

So, not to go all “Interview with ‘the Bobs’ from Office Space” on you, but what is it, exactly, that Miettinen does here?

Um…Well, I’m sure he helped sell some jerseys on the Finland trip back in October.  He probably makes a delicious fish casserole.  I’ve heard he’s always got the latest gossip on washed-up reality TV stars, and someone once said he really does a good job of sitting quietly during team meetings. I think he might even let other guys borrow his awesome travel pillow on long flights.

Oh, and he also constantly frustrates Wild fans by missing the net constantly, not having a good enough shot to put away all those glorious scoring chances that are set up by Bruno and Mikko, and just generally by playing like exactly what he is- a solid 3rd-line/2-way forward with some upside who is doing his best to pretend he’s an elite-level scorer in the NHL.