Randball: Michael Rand
For virtually the entire season, the Wild’s position among Western Conference teams has been prefaced by the clause, “If the Wild can get healthy …”
A slew of injuries early on put the Wild in a hole, while nagging setbacks along the way have often kept Minnesota from consistently playing to its full potential.
Injuries are an inevitable fact of sports, but the latest casualty — losing defenseman Jared Spurgeon to a partially torn hamstring — could prove to be the ultimate make-or-break case in the big picture of the Wild’s season.
Spurgeon was injured Tuesday night against Colorado. The team announced his injury a day later, saying he would miss a minimum of four weeks. It just so happens that four weeks is the exact amount of time from that announcement to the start of the NHL playoffs.
The Wild is still fighting just to get into the postseason. After Saturday’s game at Arizona, four of the next seven games are against Nashville (the best team in the West this season) and Dallas (a team within striking distance of the Wild in the playoff chase), so there will be plenty of tests and anxious moments along the way.
But just getting in isn’t the goal of this franchise. After five consecutive playoff trips — three one-and-dones and two times advancing to the second round before losing — the Wild wants more.
If Spurgeon is a slow healer and doesn’t make it back in time for the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine a deep playoff run. If he does, maybe we can say “the Wild is finally healthy” right when it matters most.
Michael Rand is the senior digital writer for Star Tribune sports and keeper of the RandBall blog at startribune.com/RandBall.
There’s no concealing just how much the loss of Jared Spurgeon for four weeks impacts the Wild. Losing a top-pairing defenseman in a playoff hunt is never ideal. The Wild is still in decent position in the standings to make it into the playoffs, and it has overcome injuries all season, including a nine-game stretch Spurgeon missed. The Wild went 6-3 in those games.
But in March, this hurts. Spurgeon was having a fantastic season, the best of his career. He was poised to set career marks in points. But the advanced metric that stands to help show how good a season Spurgeon was having was his high-danger Corsi percentage during 5-on-5 play.
That’s a metric that measures how often a team registers shot attempts from the most dangerous locations around the net when a player is on the ice. Spurgeon’s was 62.9 percent, meaning Spurgeon helped the Wild limit opponents’ good scoring chances while helping create more on offense. The only Wild player who posted a better mark in that category while playing more than 30 games this season is Mikael Granlund (63.3 percent).
Coach Bruce Boudreau could just trot out Spurgeon and Ryan Suter and not have much reason to worry for nearly 25 minutes per night. Spurgeon has played nearly 900 minutes 5-on-5 with Suter this season, according to naturalstattrick.com. That’s a lot of dependability to replace. The Wild did it once before this season, but it might be tempting fate trying to do it twice.