Souhan: No more one step forward, two steps back for Wild

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2014 - 7:43 AM

The Wild has behaved like an immature franchise for years.

Under Doug Risebrough, the organization ruined its farm system seeking an encore miracle playoff run.

Under Chuck Fletcher, early in his tenure, the organization often seemed to make moves just to distance itself from Risebrough’s regime.

The Wild replaced its wise old head, Jacques Lemaire, with one rookie coach, then another, and force-fed youngsters onto the big-league roster, hoping one or more would stick.

For much of the past decade, the Wild behaved like a losing gambler placing his faith in one more roll of the dice.

That changed in late March, after the team captains held meetings with all of the players. The Wild accumulated 13 points in its next seven games, and a season that could have been lost, that could have led to coach Mike Yeo’s firing, produced a seventh seed and led to two series of high drama in the playoffs.

Over the past two months, the Wild has displayed the maturity, if not the roster composition, of a champion.

The impetuous owner, Craig Leipold, held off on making any rash decisions on Yeo when he could have justified a midseason coaching change. He was rewarded with six home playoff payouts.

Fletcher, the energetic general manager, stuck with his best young players even when they slumped during the regular season.

He was rewarded with outstanding playoff performances from Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula, among others.

The button-pushing coach, Yeo, calmly guided his team during playoff crises, refusing to wallow in self-pity or referee-bashing, keeping his players’ eyes on the obstacle to be cleared, not the one that had just tripped them.

The team leaders, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu, didn’t always play well in the postseason, but each displayed his own form of leadership.

The Wild’s best young players performed better in the playoffs than in the regular season.

The Wild’s fringe veterans, Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley, accepted playoff benchings without complaint and rose to make the plays that won Game 7 in Colorado.

The common theme: Maturity. This team, and organization, matured before our eyes.

The next step in the Wild’s growth might not be so obvious, or linear.

While fans will expect the Wild to take the “next step’’ next season, by winning a second-round playoff or earning a top seed in the Western Conference, that might be difficult even if the Wild continues to improve.

Not many of the other top teams in the Western Conference are graduating seniors.

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