Sometimes philosophy is shaped by options. I’m not sure if that’s what’s going on with the Wild as it prepares for an important offseason, but it could be at least part of why I got the sense from listening to GM Chuck Fletcher and head coach Mike Yeo field questions Monday that there will be no dramatic changes for the Wild.
Fletcher spoke at length about internal improvement. When asked how to beat Chicago as the years go on, one of the solutions he offered came from the team’s youth: that by his count 10 players the Wild dressed in Game 4 were 25 or younger, while the Blackhawks had just four such players.
Fletcher insisted that Chicago, “didn’t beat our A game,” which is fair enough. He also said the Wild’s goal “is to be consistently good.”
Mission accomplished, but back to that original point: is that a true philosophy or a philosophy that springs from the options the Wild has (or doesn’t have)? Even if Fletcher was inclined to make a major roster shakeup in an attempt to inject more (or a different kind of) talent to the team, could he really do it?
Minnesota will be pressed up against the salary cap, locked in by the big-money players it has already signed and the impending free agents of its own that it wants to sign (Devan Dubnyk, at the top of that list, reiterated Monday that he wants to be here and it sounds from Fletcher like the feeling is mutual, so expect that to be a smooth negotiation and for Dubnyk to be back).
On the youth end, the Wild has a pretty clear picture of what young players are a part of the organization’s future, and acquiring anyone of consequence in a trade would mean giving up high-end pieces in exchange.
So if Fletcher wanted to shake things up, I’m not sure he could (at least not effectively). So is his stay-the-course and hope the young guys find another gear really the course he wants to be on, or is the course he has to be on?
I’m guessing it’s a little from both columns, with self-preservation combining with wise decision-making to steer the Wild with a calm hand. Making it to the final eight teams each of the past two seasons is nothing to be ashamed of, while panicking because of a bad series against Chicago would only serve the thirstiest of fans and not the organization as a whole.
But there’s a part of me, too, that cringes when Fletcher and Yeo talk of bad bounces in the Blackhawks series, even if they do so in a respectful way that doesn’t seek to make excuses. Yes, I saw it, too: the Wild was both the least lucky and the lesser of the two teams in that series. Even if it was just one of the two, though, we all still might be writing about the offseason at the same point in time … and wondering if this is a team built to make the final eight but no more.
Time will tell. Fletcher said it is incumbent on him to make the team better, so I can’t imagine there will be no moves made. He’s been crafty before, stealing Nino Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck. But is that kind of move really the difference between the Wild and Blackhawks? In a different year, with the same players and a less frantic regular season, could the Wild slay that dragon?
I don’t know. I’m all for not panicking, but I’m all for big playoff goals, too. Again, though: The fact that staying on track and relying on improvement from within is the only option doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one.
But fans better hope that a quiet offseason won’t be the equivalent of a Minnesotan who would really love to live by the ocean insisting he’d rather live by a lake.