Minnesota Wild: 5 Lessons Learned From Playoffs


The playoffs in any sport are like a crucible, where every team is brought down to its most fundamental parts.  It will reveal your strengths and weaknesses with tremendous clarity.  After being bounced unceremoniously in the 2nd round in a 4-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks the Minnesota Wild have a lot of questions to answer.

"“Bottom line is until we prove that something’s different, then nothing’s changed.” ~ Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo before Game 1 against Chicago."

I’m sure in the next few days the Minnesota Wild’s front office and coaching staff and players are going to go through their regular post-season debriefing.  They will try to identify what progress they made and the areas in need of improvement.  This can be an uncomfortable process.  While the Minnesota Wild will finish in the black financially, this is a team that had high expectations going into this season and being swept by Chicago after forcing the Blackhawks to six games the season prior is pretty tough to spin as progress as Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Michael Russo wrote here.  So what went wrong?  What did we learn about the Minnesota Wild through the playoffs?

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1.  Mike Yeo finally realized he had to tweak the power play – It took until the last game of the playoffs, but he finally started to use some different personnel on the power play.   Until that time, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo stubbornly continued to use Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, with Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter on the points.  This drove Minnesota Wild fans crazy and Twitter was filled with vitriol towards this momentum killing group, and finally he relented and used Mathew Dumba in place of Vanek.  The result was more quality chances but it was still too little and far too late to make a difference.

Towards the latter stages of the regular season he began to shorten the amount of time the top power play unit had on the ice.  Trimming it back from about 1:25-1:20 to about 55 seconds.  This gave the 2nd unit a chance to set up and have an impact, which was made of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie CoyleJared Spurgeon and Dumba more time to work and the result was more power play goals.  The Wild had the top power play in the playoffs this season, so if you need a silver lining, the team can probably solve this with a few simple personnel shifts.

Yet this revelation should have come a lot sooner, heck I even wrote about this issue back in August.  The puck movement of the veteran group was not only predictable but slow and plodding in terms of its puck movement.  Teams were sitting back from Ryan Suter hoping the Minnesota Wild would just settle for a long-range shot from the point which they often did.  A regular season finish with the 28th ranked power play and just 1 power play goal the entire season for Suter summarizes how effective that was for the Wild.

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  • 2.  Thomas Vanek is not the answer the franchise had hoped – Remember what I said about how this can be an uncomfortable process?  The disappearance of Thomas Vanek in the playoffs for a 2nd straight season has to be one of considerable concern for the Minnesota Wild front office.  After having signed the enigmatic Austrian to a 3-year, $6.5 million a season deal it was hoped he could give the team the sniper it lacked.

    Besides not shooting the puck Vanek appeared disinterested throughout significant portions of the season and even the playoffs.  The real disturbing part is if you listen to his account of his play versus what happened on the ice.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Jim Souhan wrote an excellent and scathing piece on this topic.  There was certainly a disconnect, when the team wanted to increase the tempo he was slowing it down, when it wanted him to shoot the puck he was only looking to pass.

    Simply put, Vanek was a -7 with just 4 assists and no goals in 10 playoff games.  That makes you wonder if he wasn’t making $6.5 million if he would’ve been a player the team would’ve scratched instead of a player like Erik Haula or Jordan Schroeder.  The worst part is the Minnesota Wild are likely stuck with Vanek for the next two seasons because of his contract.

    "“A bad dream, a nightmare, I don’t know…just a bad year” ~ Wild Defenseman Ryan Suter on summarizing the team’s 2014-15 season."

    3.  Ryan Suter has lost a step to his game – The team’s lone All Star is a proud player who has had tough season off the ice with the loss of his father Bob due to a heart attack.  While one can certainly empathize with the Wild defenseman with the loss of a parent, the truth is he had a very rough season by his own high standards.  With just 3 assists and was a -8 and he appeared to struggle mightily against the Blackhawks’ speed and quickness all series long.  I realize he’s not an offensive defenseman but with the amount of ice time he logs both at even strength and on the man advantage he has to be more productive than he was.

    I think its time to ask the question of whether the Wild have played Ryan Suter too much.  Since Suter knows its very likely he’ll be asked to log over 25 minutes a game, he tends to pace himself during his shifts.  Some may see this as patience, but often times it slows the team down when it wants to speed up the play.  Taking him off the top power play would be an easy way to shave at least a minute or two from his ice time each game.  Either way, as KSTP 1500’s Dan Myers says its time to start reducing Suter’s minutes.

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  • 4.  Devan Dubnyk wasn’t superman in the playoffs – I am not blaming Dubnyk for the Wild’s exit from the playoffs but I think its undeniable to say his play declined from where it was in the regular season.  The numbers bear that decline rather significantly.  Devan Dubnyk went from having a 1.78 goals against average and a .936 save percentage in the regular season to a 2.53 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in the post-season.  The ‘soft’ goals that he very rarely gave up in that remarkable late-season run were uncomfortably regular in the playoffs.

    I do not think his play was poor enough to make Minnesota 2nd guess itself by trying to re-sign him this summer, but it might make them a little cautious of offering him a big money deal.  Dubnyk certainly saved the team’s bacon in regards to making the playoffs, but his goaltending quality was a little problematic when combined with its goal-scoring woes.  Rebound control, closing down the 5-hole were certainly a little suspect against Chicago and St. Louis.  He needed to be better if the Wild were to have had a chance to beat Chicago.

    5.  The team still needs to find a go-to scorer in the post-season – With all due respect to Zach Parise, to the franchise’s all time leading playoff scorer in just his 3rd season with the team the Wild must find or establish a go-to scorer in the post-season.  As Star Tribune columnist Jim Sohan noted in an article I mentioned earlier, Parise scores his goals through sheer effort and hard work.  Yet that skilled, reliable sniper never emerged throughout the playoffs.  When the team was able to score goals it was by committee, but in the end it wasn’t nearly enough to even put a scare into Chicago.

    The Wild have tried awfully hard to find goal scorers over the years through trades and free agency but haven’t been able to make it happen.  Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker could potentially be that type of player.  Otherwise it is going to have to find another player outside of the team via trade (as it did with Niederreiter) or draft one.  The only issue with drafting that player is that it might take a few seasons for that player to develop into a regular NHL’er and time is of the essence.  This team’s core of veterans is not getting any younger and the franchise can ill-afford to spend many more seasons spinning its wheels as Parise and others start to slide from their prime.

    Next: Jordan Leopold: More Than Just a Feel Good Story For The Minnesota Wild

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