This year’s Wild team could be summed up almost perfectly by Sunday’s 5-4 loss, with a lifeless 40 minutes to spot Dallas a four-goal lead in an elimination game at home, and then a frantic final surge that came within a half-inch or so of sending the game to overtime.
This team made you sorry you turned the TV on and just as sorry you turned it off.
What we shouldn’t lose sight of, though, is this: this is an organization with a lot of flaws right now; the problems were there when the score was 4-0 and they were still there at 5-4. When I asked observers on Twitter what the single biggest problem facing this franchise is, the answers were so varied that a consensus is impossible.
Among them: they’ve overvalued their young players, signed free agents whose play is a notch below their pay grade, and the mix of the two has left them a level below elite teams while hard-pressed to improve because of salary cap woes. You could attribute that to general manager Chuck Fletcher.
They lack a pure goal scorer, and in this series against Dallas two of their closest approximations and two of their biggest free-agent splurges — Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek — were injured.
Beyond that, responses correctly delved into harder to define areas of mental toughness, leadership, the inability to have a sense of urgency until pressed and inconsistency.
If you’ve concluded that it’s impossible to pick just one thing, you’re not alone.
Veteran defenseman Ryan Suter and interim coach John Torchetti first pointed to inconsistency as the team’s main problem when asked Sunday. Looking at all the team’s losing and winning streaks this season — and the way the Wild can go from on fire at the end of Game 5 to sleep-skating to start Game 6 to electric at the end — this makes sense.
The problem with labeling a problem “inconsistency” is that it’s sort of a blanket that covers almost all of the other things mentioned above. Torchetti, to his credit, circled back on the answer and pointed to mental toughness as a major component of that inconsistency.
“When you’re being pushed, you’ve gotta want to be pushed,” Torchetti said. “You’ve gotta want to do it for each other.”
If mental toughness is, indeed, the biggest problem then an impending decision on a permanent head coach will be the most important decision the Wild can make this offseason. A coach, over the long-term, can make a difference in that area.
If inconsistency turns out to be nothing more than a nice way of saying the Wild just doesn’t have the right mix or talent level to compete with the best teams, then the past four years are going to be about as good as it gets. Making the postseason, maybe winning a series and at least throwing a scare into a better team is nothing to apologize for, but it’s not the stuff of parade routes.
In the smaller picture, it was good that a crowd of 19,310 — the largest at the X this season — saw Sunday’s game. The Wild might want to believe the final 20 minutes defines how it can play, but the full 60 defined this season.