Minnesota Wild Should Embrace Being Bad, Because The Reward Could Be Good


In professional sports there exists an interesting paradox where being bad can help an organization’s cause to be good in the long run.  Case in point, the 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins were the worst team in the NHL and thus had the opportunity to draft Mario Lemieux who became the franchise cornerstone that led them to two Stanley Cups in the early 1990’s.  In fact, because of Mario Lemieux the NHL changed its rules due to widespread accusations Pittsburgh ‘tanked’ in order to be in last place and thus be in position to draft one of the best players to ever had played the game.  The NHL, as is the case in most leagues, the clubs that finish at or near the bottom of the standings are placed into a lottery to determine the draft order.  The percentages still lean heavily in favor of the team that finished worst in the league, but as the Minnesota Timberwolves can tell you that doesn’t guarantee you the 1st overall pick.

Yet, when you have two potential franchise changers in the draft then it provides even more incentive embrace being a ‘bad’ team for the greater good it could provide down the road.  Case in point again the Pittsburgh Penguins, where being awful in 2003-04 gave them the chance to draft Evgeni Malkin 2nd Overall after the Washington Capitals had drafted Alex Ovechkin 1st Overall.  Pretty good consolation prize for the Penguins wouldn’t you say?  The Minnesota Wild would be wise to embrace being bad in one of the strongest drafts in recent memory headlined by Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel the chance at a great reward is certainly there.  Even if the Wild are not bad enough to either land a chance at McDavid or Eichel there is lots of great talent available as this list of the top 30 prospects as tabulated by International Scouting Services would suggest.  There are lots of big, dynamic forwards and strong, mobile blueliners to choose from.  The Minnesota Wild are currently 23rd in the league standings (puts the team in Dylan Strome territory), and more directly are 7 points behind 8th place Los Angeles Kings for the last spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.  Raise your hand if you think the Minnesota Wild resemble anything like a playoff team?  I didn’t think so.

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  • The Wild already know the result of being a team that is not quite among the worst teams in the league but isn’t good enough to make the playoffs.  The result is a lot of draft picks where you find reasonable talent, but are not of the quality that can drastically improve a franchise.  You might be thinking, but look at the Edmonton Oilers.  They’ve been awful for the better part of a decade, stockpiling 1st overall picks and other high draft selections and they’re still the worst team in the league.  The Oilers aren’t bad for a lack of talent, they’re bad because they are mismanaged and the moves made put most of its skill up front with little regard to its blueline which has been the source of its troubles for so long.  Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has announced he is not looking to bring in any help and placing the emphasis on the players to figure it out.  However there are other benefits to being bad than just a team’s position in the NHL draft.

    1.  Embrace Up-tempo puck possession hockey, identify what pieces fit and what do not.  The Wild appeared to have embraced the puck possession game early in the season as it was among the league leaders in Corsi Close and Fenwick Close ratings.  As those possession numbers declined, the goals against began to steadily climb.  If Wild feel that was their most effective style of play, which players fit that end and what players should it look to ship out.  I think puck possession has been effective but I’d add that it is most effective when its playing fast.  If a player can’t play that up-tempo style for a lack wheels they should be traded because to continue to use those players who are not fast is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  When the Wild have to slow down their lack of strength and size becomes more evident.  It may lead to some uncomfortable decisions involving high-priced veterans but keeping players that do not fit is not going to lead to positive change.  That may involve asking some notable veterans (Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Matt Cooke) to waive their ‘no trade’ or ‘no movement’ clauses but its better to do that then playing the same guys lots of minutes and expecting different results.

    2.  Find out who can play mentally sharp and physically engaged for a full-60 minutes.  We’ve seen it game after game where the team is ‘on’ one period and then at that crucial moment decides to take a period or two ‘off’ and suddenly they find themselves on the wrong end of the score.  I would take a guess that certain players show this tendency to coast through periods.  Its time to ship those players out, so I hope Chuck Fletcher and the coaching staff evaluate this and demonstrate true accountability and dispatch the slackers.  I am tired of hearing the same “we need to be ready to play a full 60-minutes” speech from Mike Yeo.  I’m guessing we’ve heard it at least 10-12 times at least this season.  The St. Paul Pioneer PressTom Powers hits the nail on the head in this article here.  While Powers did not say that in his article the lack of focus smacks of complacency, and no one should feel that way when you are performing as poorly as the Wild have been.  For the Wild’s Ryan Suter, I think it would be to his benefit to reduce his ice time to under 28 minutes a game which would mean spreading out the ice time more among the rest of the top 4.  That might make him able to go harder for more of his shifts instead of pacing himself as much as he currently does.  Time to start shipping out the pieces that can’t bring it mentally, physically for a full game.  It may resemble a bit of a fire sale, but the alternative is enduring the nightmare we’ve had all season long thus far.

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  • 3.  Do the Wild need a complete reboot goaltending-wise or are they ok?  Last season the Wild went pretty far with its 3rd and 4th string goaltender Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov respectively.  Bryzgalov’s gone and Kuemper has struggled and Niklas Backstrom continues to fade.  Josh Harding, with his self-inflicted pre-season injury put the team in an awkward situation and gave Kuemper the leverage to demand and receive a one-way contract.  The Wild have to figure out a plan for this summer with 3 goaltenders already under contract for next season.  Might as well make the rest of this season the audition for jobs.  If Kuemper can’t prove they he is solid enough over the back stretch of the season then a move has to be made.  I know that many have mentioned the possibility of the Carolina Hurricanes’ Cam Ward, but there might be more (affordable) options available this summer.  The Wild either find they have a goalie they can ride into next season, or if they fail not only does the team know it needs to get a goalie but they probably help their draft position in the process.

    It might seem wrong to embrace losing with half of the season left to play, but with a long-winning streak (which is precisely what the Wild would need for those who believe the playoffs are still a possibility) seeming most unlikely the bitter truth is it would be better for this team to be awful to net an impact player for its future which it so badly needs.  If the Wild’s veteran core stays intact you have take into account that it averages about 30 years old and its not getting any younger.  I think the opportunity to add an impact player via the draft is far more productive to the long-term success of this franchise than deluding themselves to think they are playoff contenders and coming up short anyways.