Wild Insider: Center a big problem

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 26, 2007 - 12:15 AM

Sure the Wild needs to get tougher, but the club first needs to solve its depth issue and the Wes Walz situation.


ST. PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 21: Jordan Leopold #44 of the Colorado Avalanche takes down James Sheppard #15 of the Minnesota Wild in the second period at the Xcel Energy Center October 21, 2007 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

Photo: Scott A. Schneider, Getty Images

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Doug Risebrough tried to send an ear-splitting message to grinders such as Branko Radivojevic on Thursday when the Wild general manager claimed Todd Fedoruk off waivers.

According to the coaching staff's calculations, the Wild created nine scoring chances -- combined -- in consecutive losses to Vancouver, mostly because the team is creating no forecheck whatsoever.

So the Wild claimed a fighter who essentially can no longer fight because it's not looking for him to fight. It already has Derek Boogaard for that.

Fedoruk and minor league callup Aaron Voros are expected to skate and crash and bang bodies. They are essentially supposed to be the type of player the Wild portrayed Radivojevic -- who works hard but accomplishes little -- to be when it signed him two summers ago.

It's good that Wild management recognizes the team's toughness needs to be remedied.

But something else needs to be addressed, and quickly. That's the Wild's depth -- or lack of it -- at center.

I asked coach Jacques Lemaire on Thursday how concerned he is with the center position. He rolled his eyes so high, it's amazing they popped back into position.

"We have a problem," Lemaire exclaimed. "We have a problem!"

Hopefully Lemaire's voicing this as loudly to Risebrough.

There's no doubt Mikko Koivu's absence because of a broken leg is as debilitating as an injury can be. Koivu's been the Wild's best player by far in every area.

But Wes Walz's unusual disappearance has wreaked havoc on this roster. It's now torturous to survive any injury at center, especially when the player is as critical as Koivu. And don't forget, left winger Pavol Demitra has been out because of an everlasting groin injury.

Walz can skate. Walz can play defense. Walz can step into an offensive role. Walz can kill penalties. Walz can light a fire inside an insipid locker room.

Well, Walz quit. And it's no coincidence the Wild has struggled in each of those five areas this month.

With Koivu and Walz out, Eric Belanger is suddenly the Wild's top center. The second line of Belanger, Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, which showed such chemistry early on, has been broken up so Rolston can play center.

And if you've watched Rolston play center, let's just say he's more effective at left wing.

After that, there's James Sheppard, who is only 19, and Dominic Moore, who Lemaire turned into a regular scratch last season and started as a fourth-liner this season.

"I don't want to take anything from Moore, Dominic, he's fine," Lemaire said. "But the thing is Dominic was not playing at the start of the year. Now he's on the top line! You've got to have a problem there.

"You get injuries, lose Walzie, your third line turns out to be your first line. Team's in trouble. That's how it works. Amen."

And Sheppard?

"He's not ready," Lemaire said. "He was supposed to play seven minutes. Now he's playing 15 minutes. Makes no sense. Now the only thing he doesn't do is kill penalties."

This Walz situation has gone on far too long. It's been a month, and quite frankly, a handful of teammates find it hard to imagine Walz walking into the dressing room again. He would have a lot of explaining to do.

Clearly, there's something personal going on, but regardless, it's incumbent on management to either address this Walz situation --right now -- or find a proper replacement --right now.

Otherwise, this season could turn south uncontrollably.

  • WILD WEEK IN REVIEW Record: 2-2 • The Wild put together a horrible three-game homestand that ended with consecutive losses to Vancouver and Columbus. Friday’s 4-0 loss to Columbus was Minnesota’s worst home shutout loss since falling 5-0 to Vancouver on Nov. 11, 2001. It was the Wild’s worst home loss overall since falling 5-1 to San Jose on March 25, 2006. The Wild won at Nashville 3-2 Saturday. STAR TRIBUNE'S STAR OF THE WEEK Aaron Voros, left wing: Finally, a minor-leaguer comes from Houston and makes it difficult to send him back. Voros scored for a second consecutive game (against Colorado) and added a physical element all week. THIS WEEK: THREE GAMES Wednesday: vs. Phoenix, 7 p.m. Friday: vs. St. Louis, 7 p.m. Sunday: vs. Vancouver, 5 p.m. • The Wild opens a three-game homestand, with the Canucks returning a week from today. Mattias Ohlund's suspension will be over, so there's always the potential for fireworks.
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