16 March 2011

Leadership Beyond Koivu?

After a near comeback for the Wild on Monday night it's clear the team has missed the captain.

Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo: http://strib.mn/eMBZU7

I don't think anyone denies the asset the Wild have in Koivu. He clearly is the soul of the team, and as Russo explains, he return may have sparked in a good 3rd period effort Monday that came up short.

As Brunette told Russo "Mikko's integral to everything we do. You can patchwork that for a couple of games, but the longer he's out, you get exposed."

On the surface it seems to be a simple compliment to Mikko's extraordinary leadership, but at the same time if Brunette's concerned about being exposed by one player's absense I have to be concerned about:

1) Are the Wild less deep than even I think?
2) Where is the leadership from the head coach.

I had a little Twitter exchange with Russo (follow me @justinjelinek) about the latter.

I don't like being the "fire the coach" guy, but when it's a question of leadership, the coach is supposed to have authority over the players for a reason. Not to say that players can't step up and lead as well, clearly that's beneficial, but it's not a duty the coach can neglect.

I was ready to fire Richards on January 1st, after the Wild quit in their New Years Eve showdown with Nashville (shortly after the same thing against Detroit). However, the Wild went on a run that had them in playoff position in February, making me feel I was too hasty.

Now I'm not so sure, there have just been too many stretches where the Wild haven't played their best, and I don't like that it seems acceptable to hide behind "It's because Mikko's injured."

Let's take a team like New Jersey, before McLean was fired there were no player-leaders on the Devils (not even their $100 million dollar man). Enter a respected coach, and the team is now firing on all cylinders (and Lemaire should easily be coach of the Year if the NJuggernaut as Greg Wyshynski calls it ends up in the playoffs). That's the most obvious example this season, but there are others where a new voice fills leadership gaps on teams.

I'm not suggesting the Wild should never have let Lemaire go (though it'd be tough to blame fans for wanting him back now), but I'm saying it's not ridiculous to expect coaches to have the ability to motivate players. And I really get the feeling that there is no other source besides Koivu.

I don't mean to imply Richards deserves all of the blame, the truth is this team is shallow offensively and has dealt with tons of injuries (which is why I think he'll probably get a pass this summer), last season the Wild also had to purge some high contracts. But the fact that they seem so reliant on Koivu for leadership, I just don't want to give Richards a pass on that. Especially when it seems the only way to get a response is a bag skate. I just hope this is an area in which Richards can grow as he gets head coaching experience, he can fix problems sooner and with less extreme measures.