Analysis: Wild's early progress is long forgotten

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2011 - 1:05 AM

A dismal finish left GM Chuck Fletcher with many issues to address, starting with depth and a lack of young talent.


Down, yes, and out of time for the 2010-11 season, the Wild and Matt Cullen are now forced to figure out how to get back up.

Photo: Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press - Ap

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

As the Vancouver Canucks skated onto the ice Thursday, the crowd at Rogers Arena roared, drowning out the U2 in the background.

There was an incredible anticipation as the President's Trophy rested on a carpet waiting to be presented to the NHL's finest team.

A dozen feet from the ice, underneath the stands, the Wild was forced to sit in its locker room and listen to the muffled sound of that party. The festive noise had to feel like a dagger to the heart.

A few hours later, after the Canucks capitalized on their star power and the Wild's lack of it, the Wild's locker room was a silent, depressing place to be.

Matt Cullen's face was one of frustration. Mikko Koivu's was one of anger. Kyle Brodziak's was one of demoralization. Todd Richards' was one with no answers.

Six months ago, the Wild opened the NHL's season in Helsinki with all this hope. Sunday night, the Wild will close the NHL's season in St. Paul with all this despair.

It's been three years since the Wild has made the playoffs, eight since it won a playoff round.

"You look at this year, I thought we made progress in a lot of areas. The last three weeks have essentially wiped out a lot of the gains we made," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Friday.

Not time for prospects

With the Wild at a fragile juncture because of its increasingly frustrated fan base, the franchise faces myriad offseason challenges with no easy-to-see, quick-fix solutions:

• First, the Wild plans to transition to a young, faster, hopefully more talented team the next two seasons, but in all likelihood, next season's first wave won't include the promising 2010 draft class that features Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker.

"We can't afford to ruin some of our better prospects by force-feeding them onto the NHL roster," Fletcher said. "Someone once told me, 'A player's never been ruined by developing too long,' but there's been a whole host of players rushed to the NHL and had their potential curtailed.

"This is a tough league for 19-year-old players, so my expectation is they're going to need more time. We're not in a rush to get them here. We'll talk to them after the season, but if they turn into the players we think they'll be, it'll be worth the wait."

So the types of players expected to vie for spots include Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, Marco Scandella and Colton Gillies. The Wild also hopes to sign Swedish Elite League leading goal scorer Mikko Lehtonen, although it will have competition because he's being flooded with contract offers from Europe.

• Second: This summer's free-agent pool is shallow, and the Wild doesn't have a lot of salary-cap room to dive in anyway. That means other than Koivu, you can bet Fletcher would listen to anything and everything in terms of trade.

That includes Brent Burns. Because he's a year from unrestricted free agency, he could command a Brent Seabrook- Dustin Byfuglien-like extension north of $5 million annually. Burns, who had an erratic second half after a great first half, could be the type of asset the Wild could use to acquire an impact forward or some promising prospects.

"We want to leave all our options open," Fletcher said, talking generally. "We're going to be very open-minded. We're going to look for creative ways to get better. We're going to try to aggressively add more prospects."

• Third: Make no mistake: Richards' job is on unsteady ground.

Fletcher, who heading into last season's offseason said steadfastly, "I remain as committed to Todd as I was last summer when I hired him," would offer no such proclamation this time.

Fletcher won't address Richards' future in any way, although to be fair, Fletcher was vague when it came to specific players, too.

Fletcher said he'll take time after the season to analyze every facet of the franchise.

"Right now, there's so much emotion. Everything's raw," Fletcher said. "People always want instant solutions and what happened and why it happened. I understand that, but it's not always that easy.

"There's such a fine line between winning and losing. This is regrettable and disappointing for everybody. It got away from us. I need to wrap my head around a lot of things here. We've got a lot of good people working for us. I'd like to hear some opinions and I think it's important to listen and learn."

Deficient in depth

Simply, regardless of a 2 1/2-month stretch of good hockey, the Wild's not good enough, proven by how a Koivu injury was all it took for it to fall apart. The Wild just doesn't have the high-end depth to overcome such a loss.

Because of poor drafting and exorbitant contracts that created little flexibility, the Wild is a team more deficient in high-end skill and youth than most teams.

It has created offensive shortcomings, not helped by Guillaume Latendresse having his second season with Minnesota destroyed by injury. The Wild was the second-lowest-scoring team in the West (most disconcertingly, athome, too).

"To compete with the best teams in the league, we need to score more goals," Fletcher said. "For a lot of the season, we were a hard-working, good-defending team that found ways to win. But it takes a real toll on a team when you don't score goals easily. When you have to work as hard as we did to win games, you expend a lot of energy, players are more prone to getting injured and it's harder to win games as the season progresses because of fatigue."

Building from the bottom

So, Fletcher has identified the problem. Now how does he fix it?

Through draft-and-development and adding more and more kids to the system, Fletcher says. In the next few weeks, the Wild expects to sign a handful of college and European free agents.

There's no doubt Fletcher inherited problems. But when you're already hamstrung and then compound matters with a few mistakes of your own (the Chuck Kobasew trade, the Cam Barker trade, more expensive contracts), the margin for error is nil.

Fletcher felt pressure to make the playoffs immediately even though the Wild had obvious holes. So he tried to do two things at once -- win in the short term while building the prospect pool long-term.

There are signs between last year's draft class and Houston's impressive season that things are looking brighter. Short-term though, things look murky, and Fletcher's trying to shovel the Wild out from being stuck in mud.

"I've learned you can try to patch things up and scratch and claw and be competitive in the short term, but you really need good young players to win in this league," Fletcher said. "The best teams have good young players. ... We haven't had the depth, so we've had to be more aggressive in the free-agent market than what I would have liked.

"The lesson learned is we have to be patient, we have to draft well, we have to develop and we have to make sure we find more good young players. When you do that, you can be successful for a long time."

That path will take patience from everybody. Youth movements can temporarily worsen the pain, but the eventual dividends are usually worth it.

"There's a lot of challenges and not a lot of easy answers," Fletcher said. "But I believe in our long-term plan and vision, and I know we're going to get better."

  • THE WILD'S SEASON: ANALYSIS Today's finale: 5 p.m. vs. Dallas • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN (830-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 55 3rd Qtr
San Antonio 56
Oklahoma City 33 2nd Qtr 8:48
Dallas 42
New York 8:00 PM
Toronto 8:00 PM
Phoenix 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 0 1st Prd 16:29
Anaheim 0
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 40 2nd Half 5:49
Alabama 43
Stony Brook 4 1st Half 15:24
Washington 6
Buffalo 7 1st Half 16:18
Wisconsin 8
CS-Bakersfield 9:00 PM
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 37 2nd Half 11:40
Louisiana 43
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 7:30 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question