Scoggins: Wild a team of so many words, so few deeds

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11, 2012 - 8:22 AM

"We weren't mentally prepared," a player said, and that part was obvious. Less clear: Why it happens and how it could.

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Newcomers Devin Setoguchi, left, and Dany Heatley haven't invigorated the Wild's offense this season as many had hoped.

Photo: Adrian Wyld, Associated Press

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The Wild logo is stitched in the carpet in the center of the locker room. Wild players, particularly a few veterans, take delight in berating anyone who has the audacity to dip a toe over the line, on accident or even if the guilty party is unaware of the unwritten rule.

Here's an idea: Maybe players should show the same amount of professional pride in the logo they wear on their jerseys on the ice. That seems like a reasonable request given the team's two-month nosedive that reached a new low Thursday when coach Mike Yeo correctly acknowledged that his team "stinks" following an uninspired loss to Vancouver.

Having slept on it -- if he actually closed his eyes -- Yeo didn't express any regrets for his choice of words. But he didn't skate his players into puddles of sweat either. Instead, the Wild held a team meeting and off-ice workout and then delivered more promises to start playing better and showing more fight.

Frankly, the time for talk is over. This is about results. The same refrain filters out of the locker room on a daily basis. Every game is critical, this is their postseason, they're fighting for their playoff lives. Until the Wild actually plays like that every game, those words ring hollow.

Where's the desperation with this team? That's what made Devin Setoguchi's postgame quote so perplexing.

"We weren't mentally prepared to play the game," he said.

What? How's that even possible? The Wild just got outclassed by the worst team in the league two days earlier, was facing a heated rival at the start of the homestand and was clinging to the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Did the players need a formal invitation?

Veteran Matt Cullen described the lapses as "inexplicable," but truthfully, it's not hard to figure out at all. This team lacks high-end talent. Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley are good players, but who else? The Wild doesn't rank second-to-last in the NHL in scoring simply because of injuries and bad luck. That problem isn't fixed overnight, which is why the Wild has to fight, claw and scrap for everything.

On Friday, several players dismissed the notion that this team doesn't have enough skill or talent to play consistently at a high level, but what are they going to say? The roster is littered with minor leaguers who were pressed into action because of injuries and ineffectiveness. That's complicated by the fact veterans such as Setoguchi, Cullen and Nick Schultz have all but disappeared for long stretches. They aren't the only ones, either. That should be more concerning to team officials. If the veterans and supposed locker room leaders can't elevate their play in tough times and display some accountability, who do they turn to? Carson McMillan and Justin Falk?

The frustration that's engulfed this team stems from the fact that it played so well early in the season. Everything clicked and the question of effort hardly ever came up in conversation. That was a confident bunch.

It seems obvious now that the Wild played above its head in amassing the league's best record, but that stretch of solid play lasted long enough that it shouldn't be labeled a fluke. Something has happened to this team, and the players are running out of time and answers in trying to recapture whatever was working.

Yeo has tried every psychological ploy imaginable to help them regain their edge. He's been firm, and he's been understanding. He's ripped them publicly and praised how much they "care." He has skated them hard and given them days off. He avoided the locker room altogether Thursday night, which was probably a wise decision given his anger level.

The Wild has reached a tipping point. Yeo has expressed his frustration and anger at different times during the skid, but a coach saying his team "flat-out stinks" better get everyone's attention. The Wild faces last-place Columbus at home Saturday, and anything less than a victory and two points should compel owner Craig Leipold and General Manager Chuck Fletcher to do everything in their power to unload some of the dead weight from the roster and look to the future.

Yeo used a boxing analogy to describe the mindset he wants to see. Get in the ring and fight, he said.

Maybe he should take a stroll through the locker room and accidentally step on the logo. That always seems to get his players fired up.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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