The Wild's maddeningly dumb early season schedule — during which Minnesota will play exactly twice during a 12-day span that ends Thursday — has a silver lining at least: It gave the Wild, ravaged by injuries to its forwards, a chance to heal.
The bad news, though, is that after playing only four games so far this year — everyone else in the Wild's division already has played at least six times — the schedule is about to accelerate to a much faster pace. And there's a good chance a few of the best forwards will see their missed games start piling up in a hurry.
For a team that started the season 1-2-1 as those injuries mounted, that's troubling.
Starting Friday at Winnipeg, the Wild will play 21 times in 42 days — once every other night. That's not an unreasonable pace, but it is one that will test their depth in multiple ways.
Marcus Foligno, who suffered a facial fracture during his fight last week in Chicago, seems to have the best chance of returning to the lineup Friday in Winnipeg.
Mikael Granlund could also return from a groin injury that has kept him out since the opener Oct. 5. Even if Granlund doesn't make it back Friday or Saturday (Calgary is the second of the back-to-back road games), he should be back soon. But that's where the good news ends.
Charlie Coyle broke his right fibula against Chicago last Thursday and was expected to miss six to eight weeks from the time of the injury. If he misses seven weeks, right in the middle of that estimate, it would keep him out through November and this entire stretch of 21 games in 42 days.
Nino Niederreiter sprained his ankle last week against Chicago. If he came back exactly three weeks after the injury, he'd still miss the rest of October and the six games remaining this month. If it lingered any longer, he'd miss a bunch more.
That brings us to the big unknown: Zach Parise's injury. He hasn't played yet this season and suffered a "setback" at Monday's practice. At the very least, the Wild can't count on Parise being on the ice for a game any time soon.
In the meantime, Minnesota is so tight against the cap that it's shuffling reinforcements back and forth between Iowa and Minnesota during long stretches without games. Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson had to skate during the past two practices just so the Wild could fill three forward lines, let alone four.
In the short term, the Wild actually has held up pretty well in the face of all this adversity. Three of those injuries happened during the Chicago game, when the Wild managed its only win of the season. Minnesota at least grabbed a point in its home opener against Columbus with all five of those players missing, losing in overtime after leading much of the game.
But a suddenly faster-paced schedule will test the Wild's depth, exposing less-heralded players to bigger roles more often. If losses start to mount, it could create the kind of hole that either exhausts the Wild as it digs its way out and into the playoffs or causes Minnesota to miss the postseason altogether.
For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, the Wild's games in October and November suddenly are far more meaningful than we might have imagined just a couple weeks ago.