The Wild finally has settled into its comfort zone. Forget all that prosperity nonsense. Welcome back to Desperation Town.
Times like this require a hashtag. #FireYeo.
Sorry. Old habit. Can’t blame that guy for this latest stumble through the wilderness.
Actually, on second thought, maybe Mike Yeo is to blame. The Wild’s 2-1 loss to Yeo’s St. Louis Blues triggered an annual swoon that has become remarkably inevitable. Is that hockey karma or irony?
The Wild has coughed up a comfortable cushion in the standings with seven losses in eight games, including five in a row.
On Feb. 18, the Wild held a nine-point lead over the rest of the Western Conference. The Wild now trails the Chicago Blackhawks by seven points with the San Jose Sharks closing like a Lamborghini.
A 16-point free fall in one month is vintage Wild.
Why is this team so fragile sometimes? Why does every season have to include these maddening periods?
Every team experiences ebbs and flows, even slumps, during the grind of an 82-game season. The Wild’s ebbs and flows feel more like stock-market crashes. They pick a particular month and detonate it.
Doesn’t matter the coach, either. Yeo couldn’t avoid these doldrums. Now, it appears that Bruce Boudreau has reached wit’s end, too.
Check out Boudreau’s 28-second interview after Sunday’s 5-4 loss at Winnipeg. He took two questions before storming off. Boudreau was so angry that he couldn’t stomach a question loaded with faint praise.
In that sense, bravo to Boudreau. His team lost. Moral victories won’t pull the Wild out of this rut.
Ordinarily, we’d suggest everyone take a deep breath and don’t panic. But we’ve seen this movie before. Maybe not this exact plot because the Wild usually collapses earlier in the season, making the final month a desperate sprint to the playoffs.
The Wild isn’t in that same predicament, but this team was supposed to be different in every way. That’s what makes this stretch so frustrating. The Wild isn’t inspiring much confidence that a prolonged playoff run is imminent.
Goal scoring has dwindled. Devan Dubnyk isn’t impenetrable anymore. Boudreau is playing musical chairs with his line combinations. And the Blackhawks look like the Red Army.
Deep breaths, people.
The Wild played too well for too long to think this can’t or won’t turn around. The lineup looked deep and cohesive and unflappable and many other superlatives in rocketing to the top of the standings. A stretch of dominance like that wasn’t a fluke.
Every move Boudreau made the first 4 ½ months of the season turned up roses. If he shuffled line pairings or gave more playing time to a certain player, he usually got positive results.
Nothing seems to be working now. Boudreau is constantly changing his lines in search of a spark, almost as if he’s conducting science experiments. If Boudreau can’t settle on his top six forwards by now, that doesn’t bode well for playoff success.
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher held a conference call in late February to discuss a trade that brought in veterans Martin Hanzal and Ryan White in exchange for prime draft picks. The mood was celebratory.
“We’re just putting our chips in the middle of the table for this year,” Fletcher said that night. “We think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete [for the Stanley Cup].”
Concern over how those new additions would affect chemistry on the ice was minimal compared with appreciation shown to Fletcher for taking an aggressive approach in bolstering his roster.
Many observers, myself included, applauded Fletcher for having the guts to go for it. The trade hasn’t provided desired results yet, but to criticize it now would be hindsight sniping. That verdict will come after the season.
Boudreau had not lost five consecutive games in his coaching career until now. It will require all of his acumen to get the Wild back on track.
This swoon has created anxiety because the Wild gave people reason to believe. Real belief this time, not false hope.
One thing will define this season, and that hasn’t changed: Can the Wild get past the Blackhawks in the playoffs?
I answered with more confidence a month ago.