The Minnesota Wild are a lot like a used car like the AMC Hornet above (Thanks to Josh Ostrem for the picture). You might be browsing at your local dealership’s lot and you see the car from a distance and you get a little excited. It seems to stand out from the crowd the way you want it to, it looks well put together and if the price is right you’ll want to drive it home today. At least that is how it looks from a distance.
Once you step out to take a closer look and suddenly you notice some issues. There is some painted over rust, and you can see that it appears to be leaking oil and the car is clearly older than you first thought it was and you’re feeling kind of turned off. A salesman waves you down and tells you he can answer any question you may have about the car. Your still anxious, but the salesman gives that famous line from National Lampoon’s Vacation, “You think you hate it now, but what til’ you drive it!” Reluctantly, you decide since you’re there you might as well take it for a test drive. Afterall, how bad could it be?!?
The interior of the car has seen better days but its comfortable enough, and the salesman hands you the keys but issues you a cheeky warning “remember pal, you break it, you buy it?!?!” You turn the key and the engine struggles its way to eventually start with a mild rumble. Clearly, the engine is pretty well worn and you haven’t even started driving yet. The salesman smiles, hoping you ignore some of the funky sounds coming out of the engine as you put the car in drive.
You drive it out of the lot, as the shocks on the car seem to be pretty loose with wear and tear over the years as the salesman asks you if you can feel all that horsepower. You pull out onto the road and hit the accelerator but the car responds a bit sluggishly as the engine labors to get the car up to speed. You notice the car’s handling is a bit stiff, and the brakes are a bit light as you make your way back to the lot. You step out of the car, not all that impressed and the smiling salesman asks, “what do you think, pretty nice car eh?”
Without giving away your disappointment you ask what the price is, since you didn’t notice any sticker on the vehicle. Without missing a beat the salesman tells you $12,000. The salesman can sense the number is a bit high for your liking and he starts telling you of all the ‘features’ of the vehicle. He goes on and on about this and that, but you can’t help but think how the car is not only looking its age but its driving its age (and its not a good thing). You also know the price they’re asking for the car is more than Kelly Blue Book value is. You begin to shake your head and the salesman quickly chimes in with, “ok pal, here’s what I’m going to do, and I only do this because I really like you. How ’bout we throw in a free set of new tires with this bad boy and make it a deal? What do ya say?!?!”
This is exactly what the Minnesota Wild are asking its fan base to accept. Even after dumping its former used car salesman (i.e. General Manager Chuck Fletcher) the team is still trying to sell the idea that this team is just a few tweaks from being a contender. They are selling the same used car its been trying to pawn off as a contender, when its really starting to show its age (literally as the 6th oldest roster in the NHL) and some rust and disrepair (injuries to Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Luke Kunin).
So it is troubling that this team is going to try to soldier on with a well worn engine (weakened offense), soft brakes & shocks (smallish, less physically inclined blueline), dated ugly interior (toxic locker room environment), and its terribly overpriced (cap ceiling squad). You can put brand new tires on the car, but it really won’t do much to hide the fact the car is older and generally declining in performance. The Wild have even changed the driver of the car; going from Mike Yeo to Bruce Boudreau as Head Coach and while the road to the playoffs have been less stressful since ‘Gabby’ arrived the post-season results are pretty much the same.
Charlie Coyle was supposed to take another step forward after a 56-point season in 2016-17 but instead managed a paltry 11 goals and 37 points this season. The 26-year old forward should be in the prime of his career and while he probably spent more time playing on the 3rd line this year than he wanted to, his tendency to pass up on shots drives Minnesota fans crazy. In keeping with the car analogy, Coyle is a like a nice set of aluminum wheels. He looks great, as an athletic 6’3″, a muscular 221lbs winger who is a decent skater but ultimately doesn’t really add much beyond aesthetics rather than on-ice / on-the-road performance.
Nino Niederreiter had a injury-riddled season after signing a 5-year, $5.25 million extension gave the team 18 goals and an underwhelming 32 points. The 25-year old winger has been streaky throughout his career and after this season he is like one of those pine-tree shaped car air-fresheners. It may provide some kind smell, not necessarily a good one or a particularly odorous one either, but disappears when you need it the most. The Wild need him to have a bounce back season for 2018-19 or that contract really starts to look like an albatross.
After the Wild traded for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis as part of the Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville trade, Foligno the 26-year old winger extorted the Wild to pay him just under $3 million a season for the next 4 years. With just 23 points in 77 games this season, Foligno is the bungee cord that you’re using to keep the muffler (Ennis) from dragging on the road. The bungee cord keeps the muffler off the road but if you hit a big bump its still going to hit the pavement every once in a while. Ouch.
But team owner Craig Leipold has stated publicly it feels only a few small adjustments are needed to make this into a championship team, which appears to be an assessment leaning heavily on sentimentality. I get it, many people have sentimental feelings about a vehicle (and Craig has paid a lot for it) they got a lot of enjoyment out of. At some point you just have to face the facts. It doesn’t run (skate) as well, it’s engine (offense) is not as powerful as it once was, and let’s face it is starting to appear a little old no matter how well you maintain it. I loved my car from high school too (an 1988 Pontiac Grand Am) but by the time college was over it was definitely time for a new vehicle.
However this is the sell is what the owner is demanding his salesman make. Whoever the new head of sales (new General Manager) is, they will be tasked trying to get customers to buy in on the idea that this team is actually close to being a Stanley Cup contender despite the fact they’ve only made it beyond the 1st round twice in the last 6 seasons of qualifying for the playoffs and not beyond the 2nd round since 2003. Even the advanced stats (just look at the playoff possession numbers, yikes!) are showing a steady decline from the point in 2013 where the Wild were a powerhouse in this area. Whether that’s Paul Fenton, Tom Fitzgerald, Billy Zito, Dave Nonis, Bill Guerin or anyone else in that job its going to be a really tough sell. Because you have to be a helluva good salesman to sell what looks like to more and more Wild fans as a lemon.
The next question is, would Minnesota Wild accept being bad by stripping down some of the parts (Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Nino and Coyle) of this used car of ours in order to save up for a nice, powerful new car in the next 4-5 years? Here’s what people told me on Twitter a few weeks back.
By a slim majority they said they would be willing to wait in order to get a more powerful car (like the Dodge Challenger below) that could actually give us a real change of being a contender instead of just being a glorified pretender our used car has become. Yes, the draft lottery uncertain. Even if you’re very bad for a long time, the top pick can elude you; just ask the Arizona Coyotes. However I’d argue the Wild have been lucky with the lottery. During the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes, the Wild effectively beat the odds by getting the 4th Overall pick. Its not the NHL draft’s fault we chose Benoit Pouliot with the pick. But picking in the late teens and twenties usually isn’t going to yield many blue chip talents unless you are pretty damn lucky (or clairvoyant).
Isn’t that what Wild fans deserve? A real Stanley Cup Challenger (pun intended)? Afterall if the Wild Fans are #1, a banner that hangs in the rafters means anything at all isn’t that what the team should be working towards? But instead we’re going to try to sell to fans (and season ticket holders especially) that we’re pretty excited about this new keychain we got over the summer and feel it will be the difference so we can finally get past the 1st round of the playoffs!?!?
Afterall, isn’t that what the Minnesota Wild is really trying to sell? Lake Wobegon style, above-average mediocrity? Sorry, I’m not buying it anymore and nor should Wild fans.