Remember, professional sports are meant to be entertaining, so let’s not pretend there weren’t high points in the Wild’s 4-0 loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
Late in the second period, with the Wild trying to kill a 5-on-3 power play, Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo twice broke a stick taking shots. The crowd roared.
There you have the Minnesota Wild 2019 highlight film. It lasts 1.8 seconds. Please dispose of your Milk Duds containers on your way out.
As they recover from such a rollicking good time, Wild fans are entitled to ask this:
Does their team lack character?
It’s a sad question to ask at this juncture. It’s also fair, and would have been even if Zach Parise and Marcus Foligno hadn’t admitted its fairness.
“I just don’t feel like we’re really competing that hard,’’ Parise said.
“It just feels like we’re slouching a little bit when we get behind,’’ Foligno said.
The Wild continues to hang around the playoff race. These games should be more important to them than they are for teams that are either safely on their way to the playoffs, or already effectively eliminated.
Yet the Wild has lost eight of its past nine and five straight at Xcel Energy Center. Four of those home losses have come to teams that were playing on the back end of a back-to-back, including the past three. The Wild blew a three-goal lead against a poor Philadelphia team, lost to a bad New Jersey team, and on Sunday got embarrassed by a surging St. Louis team.
During its streak of six straight playoff appearances, the Wild has often looked like a gritty team that lacks goal-scoring skill. That’s frustrating for fans who yearn for a superstar, or at least a Marian Gaborik replacement, but they could comfort themselves with the notion that their guys were hard workers who played hard.
Should they still think that?
This team has many problems — lack of pure scorers, a system that hasn’t produced enough game-ready talent, an organization raided by the previous general manager in a desperate attempt to win big.
Sunday, though, the Wild didn’t look like it was missing a player or two, a goal-scorer or two. It looked like it lacked competitiveness. That’s the worst thing you can say about a hockey team.
Generalizations are rarely fair, but in a team sport, team performance determines perception. This team deserves to have its heart as well as its stickwork questioned.
Here are the two biggest questions facing a team in freefall:
• Should coach Bruce Boudreau be fired?
This isn’t his fault. That doesn’t mean a firing won’t happen. If General Manager Paul Fenton is planning to install his own coach after the season anyway, firing Boudreau now wouldn’t be a shock.
• Should Fenton make trades to improve the future of the franchise, or the current team’s chances?
In either case, the answer is: Only if he can make better deals than Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask. Niederreiter was having a terrible season, but he is far superior to Rask as evidenced by his eight goals in 13 games for Carolina. The Wild can’t survive many more deals like that.
“Trade everybody’’ is an easy fan sentiment, but making bad trades out of desperation or to make a point will only weaken an already-needy organization.
If Fenton makes more trades like Nino-for-Rask before next Monday’s deadline, he will cripple the franchise.
If he trades veterans for draft picks, he will cripple the franchise for the next few years.
He has two logical options:
• Make hockey trades (current NHLer for current NHLer) that make the team better right now, in hopes of inspiring a playoff berth and run this season. That would be difficult to do, but it’s been done before around here.
• Make hockey trades that bring in rising talent — the likes of Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund or Jonas Brodin for younger players with more goal-scoring potential who can help in the near future.
There are no sure cures to what ails the Wild. It can either keep rolling out this uninterested and uninteresting team, or it can let Fenton prove he knows what he’s doing, while ignoring the evidence that suggests he doesn’t.