The trees are the things right in front of the Wild — the immediate surroundings in the here and now. Since the start of the new year, Wild players have been crashing into those trees at an alarming rate — enough so that it’s all most of us can focus on.
What has caused 2015-16 to go haywire? Slumps, tension, you name it. The Wild has three home games this week and, if it can’t make it out of the trees in these three games, the season could be lost.
In the midst of this, though, it’s also important to skate a few strides backward and take a look at the forest — how this organization is positioned not just this year but for the next handful of years to come.
As alarming as the past several weeks have been, the real trouble — or salvation — lies ahead.
The question starts with the Wild’s roster construction, the core of which is an extreme mix of veterans and youth. Of their top 11 points leaders this season, five are 31 or older (the overall top four, in fact, fit this category: Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek, with Jason Pominville at No. 8).
Five of them are 24 or younger: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba (and all but Zucker are 23 or younger). The only player not in one of those extremes is 26-year-old Jared Spurgeon.
This is noteworthy because it’s a roster filled with players who are on the fringes of the primes of their careers.
According to a study that followed 14 NHL seasons and was published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, forwards are at peak scoring age when they are 28. They are close to that peak between 24 and 32, at which point they start a sharp decline. Defensemen are similar, but they peak at 29 and stay close to that peak until age 34.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk, age 29, defies that trend — but the study also found that for goalies, age has very little bearing on performance.
So the Wild, if we believe the study, have a lot of guys who could break out in the next couple of years … just as some of their high-priced, long-term veterans start to hit a wall. Pominville, who turned 33 in November and has only six goals this season, is the oldest of the group and still has three years left on his contract.
But the really troubling thing is that of that young group, only Coyle has really stepped forward this season. The others could be on the verge as they enter that 24 to 32 age group, but there is also this: Parise (31 goals at age 22), Vanek (43 goals at age 23) and Pominville (34 goals at age 24) already were quite accomplished by this point.
Add in the draft picks dealt away in recent playoff pushes — including second- and third-rounders in 2016 — and the Wild in future years really will be banking on veterans defying their age and having their patience with the young players rewarded.
If not, the forest could prove to be full of the same trees — and maybe more — that the Wild is crashing into right now.