Wild seeks answers to injury issues

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2012 - 6:04 AM

Minnesota is trying to see if there is a pattern to its injuries.

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Don Fuller tended to Wild goalie Josh Harding.

Photo: Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

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Hockey is a physical sport, so many injuries are unavoidable. But the Wild will spend part of the offseason trying to analyze why it has been so prone to injury the past couple of seasons.

"[Athletic therapist] Don Fuller will put together a report on the injuries, how the injury occurred, the treatment prescribed and how quickly the player came back to play, and just look for any pattern that we can find that would lead us to maybe do something different going forward," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "At first blush, looking at the injury list -- you see a lot of shoulder injuries and head injuries and injuries that happen from a high-impact collision or violent collision. I am just not sure how you avoid that.

"If we had a lot of soft-tissue type of injuries -- a lot of groins or a lot of lower back injuries or a lot of hip flexors or those types of injuries, then maybe we would have to look at the conditioning level of our club or how we train or practice."

Fletcher noted that "a lot of our injuries seem to come after a period of time where we have a whole bunch of road games on the West Coast and we're bouncing around, so maybe fatigue had something to do with it, but I'm just guessing."

The Wild didn't play its first road game in the Central time zone until Dec. 13 at Winnipeg. That came after the Wild's second West Coast swing and in a 24-hour stretch when the Wild lost three players.

Fletcher said he hopes when the Wild eventually moves into a more geographically sensible division (realignment, for now, will be delayed) that it would "take a lot of the wear and tear off our team."

Heatley's production

Dany Heatley's 24 goals were the fewest of his career in a full season, but Fletcher said Heatley was "outstanding."

"I would make that trade again tomorrow," Fletcher said in acquiring Heatley for Martin Havlat. "When I look at him and the minutes he has played and the matchups he has had to play against, and the fact he has scored over 20 goals and is a plus player in light of the injuries and lack of production we have had from our blue line, I think it's been a tremendous season for him.

"Surround him with a healthier lineup and a little more skill in certain areas, he is obviously going to score considerably more than he did this year."

As for Devin Setoguchi, who scored 19 goals, coach Mike Yeo said Setoguchi played with a "purpose" in his game in the season's final days, and he believes he can do that over a full season.

"I do expect him to be an extremely motivated player next season," Yeo said. "I expect him to have a great summer of training. That'll pave the way to a successful season."

Backstrom still No. 1

Goalie Niklas Backstrom is 34 and entering the final year of a contract that pays him $6 million. He played only 46 games, winning 19.

Fletcher says, "Backstrom is clearly our No. 1 guy going into next season," but the Wild will have to decide on how it fills the No. 2 hole. Fletcher will talk to Josh Harding, a potential free agent. If he wishes to move on, the Wild likely will sign a veteran backup so Matt Hackett can continue his development with the majority of minor-league starts.

"[Backstrom] clearly had some injuries, but there is nothing to say that he can't come in and play 55, 60, 65 games next season," Fletcher said.

Another evaluation

With so many prospects coming and the Wild looking to upgrade, it seems unlikely that Erik Christensen will be re-signed. He had no points and was minus-13 in his first 15 games with the Wild before scoring six goals in a 10-game stretch when the Wild no longer had a shot at the playoffs.

Yeo said the Wild has to evaluate which was the real Christensen.

"When we're looking at guys that we want wearing a Minnesota Wild jersey, there's certain elements and there's certain characteristics," Yeo said last week. "I think one of them has to be a gamer -- a big-game player.

"You want guys that want to be on the ice when the game's on the line, you want guys that perform at the best when games are most meaningful."

So there is a chance?

The NHL draft lottery will be televised on NBC Sports Network at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Wild currently will pick seventh at the June 22-23 draft in Pittsburgh. It has a 4.7 percent chance of winning the lottery, and the lottery winner can move up a maximum of four spots, which would move Minnesota to third. If a team in the eighth to 11th spot wins the lottery, the Wild would move back to eighth.

The bottom five teams -- Columbus, Edmonton, Montreal, the New York Islanders and Toronto -- are the only ones with a chance of getting the first overall pick.

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