Everyone needs a little time to process and calm down from what was another disappointing finish to a Wild season. After the best regular season in franchise history the team bowed out in 5 games to the St. Louis Blues. Just take a deep breath and try to put thoughts about the trades the team will likely have to make to free up cap space behind you. Its going to be ok, who knows you may end up liking some of the necessary changes they’re going to have to make or you can just embrace the denial Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is promoting.
My guess is you probably could use a little levity. So I’m going to attempt to review the 2016-17 season in such a way that its a little nerdy and funny at the same time. A while back I wrote up an article about if the Minnesota Wild were Magic: the Gathering Cards. I’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering since 1994 and its kind of my escape beyond my job and sports. I will do my best to explain the card that I hope helps illustrate what happened this season with a little humor in mind. Stick tap to MTG Cardsmith for helping me produce these fine cards! Enjoy!
Boudreau, Chaotic Savant
Bruce Boudreau‘s arrival as head coach really got Wild fans excited going into this season. As Minnesota’s offense overwhelmed foes by attacking in waves, Boudreau almost seemed like a miracle worker. The Wild were 2nd in the NHL in goals for by season’s end, averaging 3.21 goals per game. Minnesota had 13 players who were in double digits in goals. The card empowers players enjoying casual play by giving their creatures haste, flying and trample in addition to being able to make opponents’ creatures unable to block as an activated ability. However the drawback is obvious, just as the well-known knock on the well-respected coach when he came to Minnesota.
If a player is playing in a tournament (aka the playoffs) then everything seems to fall apart. The Minnesota Wild’s 2nd leading offense from the regular season disappeared and became the 2nd worst offense of the 16 teams to qualify for the playoffs this season. Even prior to the start of the playoffs, as the team struggled its way through a slump Boudreau appeared to be quick tempered and stressed out. So needless to say Boudreau appears calm and controlled when things are going well but in the face of sustained struggle he almost seems to add to the level of despair. This is referenced by the fact any player employing Boudreau, Chaotic Savant must lose in the 1st round of a tournament they are playing in. We love you Bruce, but until the team takes that next step the card remains accurate as painful as that reality may be.
Fletcher, Frustrated Wizard
A few days after the Wild season came to an end at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher amazed and befuddled fans and media with his inability to admit the team’s shortcomings. Instead of addressing the reality that the team hasn’t made it past the 2nd round after qualifying for the playoffs 5 consecutive seasons in a row he retreated towards ‘safe places’ like touting the team’s regular season record and a number of other random favorable statistics. When you’re trotting out favorable even-strength scoring stats for guys like Jason Pominville you’re really reaching for good things to say after what has to feel like another epic disappointment.
When asked if there would be changes he would double down saying he felt confident the team still has what it takes to be a Stanley Cup contender. Fletcher’s denial seemed to be a stark contrast of Chicago Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman stern pledge to make significant changes after their team was bounced from the 1st round by the Nashville Predators. Chicago has a few Stanley Cup Championships to their credit and they’re promising making significant moves while the Wild who have gone nowhere of significance are saying they’re doing just fine with the group they have was a bit of a head scratcher to say the least.
With the card, Fletcher is a wizard who usually inspires a ton of confidence early on. The team is doing well and his moves seem sensible and appear to boost the team’s performance. Yet when you get closer to crunch time, his late season moves have at times disrupted team chemistry and help lead toward disappointment which is why he provides +2/+2 right away but as you grind towards the home stretch that confidence erodes to panic where the players seem to disappear which is why I gave them the much-loathed ability phasing. I gave Fletcher, Frustrated Wizard vigilance because of his dogged insistence that everything is just fine.
Finnish Baby Jesus
Ok, the 2016-17 season wasn’t all bad. It did feature some notable individual performances. From Eric Staal‘s comeback season, to the re-emergence of Jason Zucker but by far the breakout of Mikael Granlund was the most remarkable. Since he was drafted in 2010, Wild fans had hoped he’d be the go-to offensive star the team desperately needed and in the regular season he was just that as he led the team in points (69) and was 2nd on the team in goals with 26. It was Granlund’s goal scoring that really took a big step as his 26 tallies was double that of his previous best (13) and was probably the biggest sign that ‘Finnish Baby Jesus’ really was possibly the young savior the team was hoping for.
I cannot take full credit for starting the ‘Finnish Baby Jesus’ name, that goes to @Dave1420. It was Dave who created a meme where Mikael Granlund was depicted as Baby Jesus in a nativity scene along with then-Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo, team owner Craig Leipold, General Manager Chuck Fletcher and alternate captain Zach Parise standing in awe of the little guy that was supposed to save our flagging Stanley Cup hopes. My only part in this was that I shared that meme Dave made in an article and then that article drew some international attention. For a while it seemed uncertain whether Granlund would develop or become that go-to star that he had been hyped about since we drafted him 9th Overall in 2010. After a bit of sneak peek at wing under interim Head Coach John Torchetti and then a full-time assignment by Bruce Boudreau and suddenly we were seeing all of that potential rise to the surface.
A broken hand made him a non-factor in the playoffs, but during the season he was the team’s best skater most nights. For his card I gave him haste as he seems to strike quickly as well as menace making it necessary to block him with more than one creature due to his elusiveness. I added an ability to cast small enchantments for a minimal cost in recognition of his team-leading 43 assists but I also did note how bigger clubs can at times eliminate some of his effectiveness. It was clearly his best season in the NHL and barring a trade and whatever happens in the expansion draft the Minnesota Wild will need to hope he continues to play at level similar to what he accomplished this year.
Dubnyk’s Cursed Goalie Mask
Devan Dubnyk was an absolute wall in the first half the season. With a save percentage at nearly .940 and with 5 shutouts to his credit he was among league leaders in wins as well through the first half. Dubnyk seemed well on his way to being in the conversation for the Vezina trophy against such luminaries as previous Vezina winners Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky. After the Wild’s league-mandated furlough after the NHL All Star Break, Dubnyk introduced a new mostly green hockey mask.
The new mask unfortunately coincided a painful month of March where the Vezina candidate struggled mightily as he went 3-8-2. Not only were wins tough to come by, but he gained a terrible penchant for letting in the soft goal and suddenly the Wild were giving up close to 3 goals per game. While the mask really was not the cause for the setback, after 6-7 games Dubnyk would go back to his old mask and his play seemed to improve marginally. Yet overall he wasn’t the same and while his numbers were not terrible, they were not elite and his tendency to let in the untimely soft goal kept haunting him all the way into the post-season.
The card is an artifact can use to curse other opposing team’s creatures, both weakening them and making them unable to block anything. While that might seem a bit harsh for something that was likely more coincidental than anything else, it is of course a recognition that Dubnyk’s game slid a bit. Was it fatigue, was it the break, was it the lack of goal support that brought about the decline? It probably was a combination of those factors, but either way it was significant enough the team called up Alex Stalock from Iowa just to give Dubnyk a few days rest to reboot and refocus. No matter what, the team’s disappointing finish demonstrated just how sensitive they are to any slip in Dubnyk’s performance whether that’s fair or not.
Nordy’s Blind Rage
Professional sports use mascots to add an element of fun and engage young fans in the experience of being at the ‘big game’ and for the most part they give out high fives, hugs and photo opportunities. In one of the more bizarre moments of the 2016-17 season was the incident that occurred during an intermission during a January 12th, 2017 game against the Montreal Canadiens. Under the guise that they were celebrating Wild team mascot, Nordy’s 5th birthday there were a bunch of mascots from other NHL clubs including St. Louis, New Jersey and Chicago. Prior to the game the Chicago Blackhawks’ mascot Tommy Hawk smashed cake into the face of Nordy. So that led to the 1st intermission where the team decided to play the popular children’s birthday game of bashing open a pinata only of course Nordy didn’t hit the pinata as much as he delivered a savage beat down of Tommy Hawk. After the initial strike with a baseball bat, the announcer encouraged to keep striking Tommy Hawk who laid motionless on the ice. You can see the full incident here in this article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The Wild managed to beat Montreal 7-1 in that game, but afterwards the team had a lot of fans; both Blackhawks and Wild fans alike commenting on the violence of the skit. After being prompted by the NHL, the Wild issued a pretty weak apology saying they didn’t intend to offend anyone. I am not sure I’m buying that assertion by the team but it certainly got people talking more than the win against the Canadiens did.
With the card, the player (like Nordy) will destroy the creature that they target with this instant spell. While that may be rewarding, you also receive 2 public relations damage as some fans (and probably parents of young kids) felt you went too far. The Wild may want to warn fans the next time they decide to have a savage mascot beat down or perhaps just avoid such tomfoolery altogether.