Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild's collapse continues with another unsightly loss; How long does Richards have?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild game coverage Updated: March 27, 2011 - 12:02 AM

I've covered a lot of bad situations inside seasons. I don't know if I've ever covered anything like this at the end of one.

The Wild has crumbled to pieces right before our very eyes, a team that was lauded for its character and its leadership and its chemistry.

Have they quit? Checked out? Given up?

Are they just so emotionally devastated from not making the playoffs that they can't even try anymore, connect on a pass, attempt a simple shot, track back on a backcheck, support the puck on a forecheck, catch a simple shot or play for each other?

However you want to define it, as I wrote in my Insider the day after the 8-1 loss to Montreal, things would get "ugly" if the Wild didn't start playing the game the right way again.

Well, ugly doesn't even describe this team anymore.

Since, it lost 3-0 to Toronto and tonight lost 6-3 to St. Louis in a game I felt was worse than the 8-1 loss (as hard as that is to believe).

Against Montreal, I felt the Wild didn't execute because they all tried to do way, way, way too much.

Tonight, I felt the Wild didn't try.

The "paid professionals," no doubt letdown because of the missed postseason, are now counting the days to the offseason. It was swept on a four-game homestand (0-3-1) and is now 0-7-1 in its past eight, the first time it's winless in eight since a nine-game drought (0-6-3) in early 2002.

The Wild was outshot 17-4 in the first period, took its first shot of the second period and fifth of the game at 30:19 and was outshot 47-16 in the game.

After that fifth shot, the home crowd, which has booed all season, basically laughed at the Wild. This is what it's come to. The fans let loose a loud, mocking Bronx cheer when Chuck Kobasew took a harmless shot from above the circles because it was the fifth shot 30 minutes in the game.

How bad did it get? When Marek Zidlicky turned it over with an errant pass in the slot and St. Louis hit the post, Todd Richards called timeout to scream his head off.

That might be the first time I've seen a coach call time after a turnover. But that's what this team was playing like at the time.
 
Marty Havlat played 10:55 tonight. He looked to be coasting, turning pucks over and was finally benched. On one play, after he didn't take a shot from the circle with two guys going to the net, the turnover led to Chris Stewart's go-ahead goal (3-2). Twenty-three seconds later, it was 4-2 on David Backes' breakaway.
 
Havlat was minus-3, along with linemates Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak.
 
When I asked about the line, Richards said, "I thought Butch worked hard. He did some good things throughout the game. He worked his butt off coming back into his own zone. Wasn’t perfect, but he worked. Brodzy, I thought worked too. Marty at times was OK."

The obvious inference was Havlat didn't "work."

When I asked if he was saying Havlat didn't "work," Richards said, almost somberly, "Nope, he was OK."

Niklas Backstrom had an unbelievably tough night, too. Yes, St. Louis had 47 shots, but Backstrom was fighting it all night. I think he, too, has just lost his game due to the deflation of not making the playoffs for a third straight year.

Chuck Fletcher wasn't at the game. Craig Leipold is out of the country for his kids' spring break.

There is no doubt in my mind, as I wrote today, that Richards is in trouble. With the Wild continually getting humiliated on home ice, it really wouldn't shock me if the Wild pulled the trigger before the season was over.

It wouldn't surprise me, but I don't think it's logical. Right now, the Wild would pick 11th in the draft. Yes, that's all the Wild would get for this horrific meltdown (The Minnesota Wild: where midrange draft picks come to roost every single year).

So is it worth firing Richards now just to get a few more wins and a 13th pick? Or is it worth losing a few more and getting an eighth pick?

I just don't see what the point would be, but I also understand that when your team has become a laughingstock on home ice every game with your own paying customers, you've got to react at some point.

This is the very definition of a lame-duck coach. 

Man, this has been tough for me to write because I do respect the athletes in that locker room and the coach of this hockey team, but this is a team that's showing no sense of pride right now.

And sadly, their coach will pay the price for that, a coach who continually comes out and protects these players, a coach who continually -- even tonight -- praises the character and leadership of these players.

And what's the return? These players aren't fighting for him.

As I always say, be careful what you wish for. The Wild went young and inexperienced with the first coach under Chuck Fletcher. You can bet the next one will be a veteran, with experience, who's not going to protect these players publicly.

Man, I just cannot believe how this team unraveled. What an absolute shame.

Check out the game story once the final one is up. Great quotes in there.

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