Throughout the Wild’s January disintegration, the questions from frustrated Wild fans have been plentiful. So it’s time for another rendition of a Russo’s Rants Q&A.
Questions were submitted on my blog, Star Tribune Facebook page or Twitter account:
Armchairgm: Between the young forwards’ lack of development, Chuck Fletcher throwing away picks in trades and the Jason Pominville contract, is there pressure on Fletcher’s job?
Russo: Owner Craig Leipold has always maintained loyalty and commitment to Fletcher, but if the Wild collapses or shows it’s regressing, all bets are off.
Hatorade: Is it time for a coaching change?
Russo: I’d be stunned if Mike Yeo was in trouble in-season. Fletcher has always stuck with him during the toughest of times and the Wild’s always propelled out of the doldrums a better team. Fletcher is clearly trying to make a trade. Five years in, though, there’s always concern players are tired of the same voice. If the Wild crumbles, the staff could pay the price.
FreshSweaterGuy: With Jonathan Drouin essentially holding out, do you think he is a good fit for the Wild?
Russo: I don’t like what the Lightning prospect’s doing (demanding a trade, refusing to play for Syracuse, frankly after not producing there), but the Wild had him at the tippy top of its draft list in 2013 for a reason. My question: Is he more a finisher than a playmaker? Statistics say the latter, and I believe the Wild needs a goal scorer. I’d also wonder how he’d be accepted in the room. When word was announced that the Lightning suspended him Wednesday, it was a huge conversation starter among Wild players. I’m sure it was that way throughout the league. Wherever he ends up next, this kid better be awesome because this will stick with him. As for whether this will cause the price to drop, I can’t imagine Steve Yzerman will be strong-armed into giving Drouin away. I think I would have taken a different tack than taking on a beloved Hall of Fame former player. There’s no pressure to trade Drouin, so I’d think he’d wait for the right price, especially with so many interested teams (Wild, Montreal and Anaheim, to name a handful) desperate.
Cjvirnig: Given that most of the team’s forwards are frustratingly streaky and seemingly not progressing, how much longer can Fletcher bank on continued development?
Russo: Great question. Were these kids overhyped? This is something the Wild brass must figure out and maybe react to. Other than Charlie Coyle, it’s tough to say any of the young players have taken the next step this season. Because so many high-priced vets that are tough to move like Jason Pominville continue to regress, it’s the younger guys whom Fletcher may need to move.
Quickrick: Your feelings about the power play and how they might fix it?
Russo: An exorcism? Honestly, no clue. As a Wild fan tweeted the other day, “Wild PP is looking like Taco Bell’s menu, just rearrange same ingredients.” To me, it’s still up to the players though. Scheme, system, whatever the problem is, these are talented players who should still be able to outscore an opponent 5 vs. 4. You can have a stationary power play if you zip the puck around fast. But the Wild’s power play is stationary AND they don’t move the puck. It’s so easy to defend. Plus, entries are abysmal.
Gkloner: Could you see the Wild trading Nino Niederreiter?
Russo: The Wild is small up front and doesn’t want to get smaller, but I could see this. Like disappointing Mikael Granlund, the Wild has to soon make a long-term decision on Niederreiter. Is the Wild going to be willing to commit to him long-term when he often leaves you wanting more? It’s a huge decision and it’s going to depend on whether the front office still believes he has what it takes to be a consistent goal scorer.
Neeney: If a defenseman or two were traded, does that open the door for Dustin Byfuglien in free agency?
Russo: Until there’s more clarity and I can count dollars, it’s hard to envision the Wild affording Big Buff or, say, Kyle Okposo or David Backes. The cap won’t rise a lot, so we have to see which players move before free agency and whether anybody’s bought out.
Jbushy: Is Pominville a candidate for a buyout?
Russo: I’d think so, but it’s costly. There’d only be less than a $1 million cap charge next season, but it’d be $4.6 million and change in 2017-18, then $2.1 million and change followed by three years of $1.5 million and change.
Matthew Nehring: Why haven’t they called up Tyler Graovac?
Russo: After missing the first 2½ months with a sports hernia, he has struggled in Iowa. By all accounts, he hasn’t been skating with pace, has lacked grit and clearly isn’t scoring. He has one goal and three assists in 14 games and is minus-12.
Norrisdiv: Wasn’t Marian Gaborik’s agent the same agent orchestrating Drouin’s departure from Tampa? And now that I think about it, Martin Havlat’s agent, too?
Russo: Yes, and Petr Sykora’s departure from Minnesota. The agent is Allan Walsh, who to be clear was Gaborik’s first agent when Gaborik held out at age 21, not his second agent, Ron Salcer, who turned down a 10-year, $79.5 million contract.
zzzzzz1: Is it just me or is the Wild truly worse scoring (or even shooting) on odd-man rushes than other teams?
Russo: It’s not just you.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7:30 p.m. vs. Arizona (FSN+)
Tuesday-Feb. 1: All-Star break
Player to watch: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes
Swede is third in the NHL among blue-liners with 13 goals and tied for fourth with 33 points.
“Bottom line is these are the guys that are going to have to get us out of it.”
— Coach Mike Yeo on the Wild’s dismal power play.