Captain's absence creates hole at center with playoffs beckoning.
Mikko Koivu's broken left index finger will not need surgery. But the question remains: How will the Wild react to the loss of its captain over the next few weeks?
That was General Manager Chuck Fletcher's indeterminate timetable, by the way. Koivu had his left hand examined by a specialist Monday, and will be back before the end of the regular season April 10.
"It will be a few weeks," Fletcher said. "Hopefully it's on the shorter side rather than the longer side. In a week or two we'll see how it's healing, and we'll be able to give a more definitive update."
So what will the Wild do?
Fletcher said again that Koivu, a center who plays in every situation, cannot be replaced by a trade-deadline deal. "The thing is, how do we keep our team competitive, what do we do to help our team win games?" Fletcher said. "That's our focus."
With the Wild still is considering a trade as a possibility, Fletcher and coach Todd Richards said they would prefer to find solutions within the organization.
"We want to be careful," Fletcher said. "The guys play hard for each other. They're a well-coached, hard-working team. And we will get Mikko back. So we want to be careful that, in whatever we do, it fits in with that group, and with the character of the group."
That puts the ball in Richards' court when it comes to figuring out lines and doling out minutes.
The Wild called up Cody Almond from Houston, but he played only 4 minutes and 18 seconds against Detroit on Sunday. The Wild's other three centers logged serious ice time. Kyle Brodziak, who has substantially elevated his game of late, played a career-high 23 1/2 minutes. Matt Cullen played 20:58 and John Madden 19:06.
All three said they were capable and willing to play big minutes going forward. Madden, for example, said he feels better the more minutes he plays. But Richards knows he has to monitor minutes.
"We play Tuesday, then we've got back-to-back games [at L.A. and Anaheim]," he said. "So we're playing three in four here, with travel to the West Coast."
Richards said he's reluctant to change lines by moving either Eric Nystrom or Pierre-Marc Bouchard to center. Richards loves the way the Nystrom-Madden-Cal Clutterbuck line has played recently against the top lines from Anaheim and Detroit, and he doesn't want to break up a line with Bouchard and Martin Havlat on the wings.
So giving Almond increased time will be the first move. That could change if Guillaume Latendresse, who practiced with the team for the first time since his multiple surgeries in November, can get back in the lineup quickly.
Latendresse had five procedures, two on groin muscles, two on sports hernias and one to repair his hip. He wore a noncontact jersey during practice Monday, which started with Richards welcoming him back and his teammates banging their sticks on the ice.
Latendresse, who was cleared to return to practice during a Monday morning doctor's appointment, said he felt great to be back on the ice but wasn't 100 percent yet. He is experiencing groin-muscle pain and said he can't push off with 100 percent power yet.
"Those guys have 50-some games on me," he said. "I need to get my conditioning back. And I cannot go NHL speed right now."
Latendresse, who said he was as nervous as he was in his first NHL practice, was pulled aside by Richards during the workout and told the team wasn't going to rush him back before he's ready.
"I hope I can come back and make a difference at the end of the year," he said.
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