Voice of optimism (stop laughing at me)
I'm starting to feel like the lone voice of optimism in the Wild blogosphere. The State of the State of Hockey is one of general despair. If we take a step back from the horrible games we've been watching. I know many people will find my optimism foolish. But I mean the following sincerely: Despite this horrible losing the streak, I see the Wild are still very much in the playoff race.
It doesn't matter if the team won a bunch of games first, and then lost a bunch any more than it would matter if it happened the other way around, or if the big winning streak and the big losing streak were instead a bunch of shorter streaks mixed in. However it happened the Wild are about where any reasonable person expected them to be if they stayed healthy. (And certainly they are above where unreasonable person Harrison Mooney at Puck Daddy predicted in his season preview.)
(more below the jump)
My take on the beat
In Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo's post yesterday Yeo is trying to take the pressure off the team. Yeo is being quite open about the trouble of having players in roles above their preseason expectations. I don't think Yeo is so much making excuses here as he is trying to keep players focused on their strengths.
I think I like the reasoning behind the latest line combinations Russo has reported. I've been fond of Cullen and Clutterbuck together, even though Cal often seems to have difficulty hitting the net. And there's no doubt Heatley and Havlat need more attack time. Not that I think Cullen roams too high, but maybe Peters will be faster on the backcheck to turn the play the other way, and perhaps Cullen will me more effective against lesser defensive matchups.
Fletcher is talking about making a trade to keep playoff hopes alive because he owes it to the team for exceeding expectations this year. I like the sentiment, but I also think there is no logic in blowing up the team in hopes of being a 6-8 seed in the playoffs. If a deal makes sense, Fletch will pull the trigger, I just hope he doesn't give up too much in the process. These types of deals are really only beneficial to the teams that are one piece away, not the teams that have been decimated by injury.
Obviously there are players the Wild can move without impacting the core (Zidlicky, Harding, etc...), however these players probably won't provide the return value this season that would bring another top six forward, or a stay-at-home defenseman.
Regardless of whether it's switching lines, players simply trying to find more to give, managers hoping for a deal that could provide a spark, coaches taking a different attitude, or just avoiding the frustration that's built eventually it's up to the players to realize the first rule of holes, regardless of the level talent Minnesota can put out there. To borrow from First Round Bust, it seems to me Yeo is trying to say something different and less critical in this attempt to find (as First Round Bust put it earlier this month) the reset button.
The Playoff Race
There is opportunity in the coming schedule. Following tonight's game at Toronto, the Wild have important games against two fellow bubble buddies. Home for Hockey Day Minnesota against Dallas and then at Colorado on Tuesday. In the Points Behind NHL Standings, the Wild are tied for 8th with Dallas and a scant point ahead of Colorado* after the Avs' victory last night. These are obviously important games if the Wild want to go into the All-Star Break in the right direction.
*The Points Behind method factors in Dallas has games in hand on Colorado and Minnesota and ranks Dallas in 8th, Minnesota in 9th, and Colorado in 10th, not Colorado in 8th, Minnesota in 9th and Dallas in 10th as traditional tables would. (Full explanation here.) Dallas does hold the tie-breaker on Reg/OT wins over Minnesota, but the standings site does not yet consider that in the sort, which is proving to be a tougher nut to crack than I assumed from a programming standpoint.
The Wild have a record as good or better than all of their opponents between today and the All-Star break. Let's see if there's a glimmer of hope before the All-Star Break.
So buck up State of Hockey. Even though the top of the West is a distant memory, there is a hot playoff race to look forward to this season. And Koivu might get healthy sooner rather than later. At the very least if Koivu thinks he could still play in the All Star game, the least the other players and the fans can do is believe in a chance for a victory at Toronto tonight.