But here we are, 10 games into the NHL season. After winning their first two games, the Wild are 2-5-1, on a three-game losing streak, and in third place in the Northwest Division and 11th in the Western Conference
This start is certainly not what the Wild and their fans were expecting when the team spent over $200 million in free agency this offseason on superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and adding depth pwith players like Torey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka. Not to mention the plethora of young talent awaiting the call in Houston like Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle.
The stars were aligning in the north.
While Parise has lived up to expectations, the rest of the team hasn't. Suter only has four assists, and his numbers don't reflect how much ice time he gets. Granlund has struggled to adapt to the NHL game. He was originally expected to be the Wild’s second line center, but was flat out benched in last night's 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Coyle has been called up and put on the first line, maybe as a means of pushing Granlund or veteran Dany Heatley (who he replaced) to be more productive.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu is minus-2 on the season. Suter and Kyle Brodziak are minus-7. Cal Clutterbuck is minus-1. Heatley and Matt Cullen are minus-2.
The Wild ranked 26th in the NHL in scoring entering Thursday's game, despite six goals from Parise. They've scored a total of nine goals in four road games (five from Parise), including one in each of their past two road games.
Darroll Powe and Nick Palmieri were traded to the New York Rangers for Mike Rupp in hopes his size and physicality would make the Wild harder to play against, and for his versatility as a winger and a forward. The should-be-dominant first line of Koivu, Parise and Heatley has been broken up.
After firing head coach Todd Richards following the 2010-11 season, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said that his 'job is to put a winning hockey team on the ice and build a team that ultimately gets to where we all want to get to."
Fletcher hired Mike Yeo, who had led the Wild's top farm club in Houston to the American Hockey League in his only year as coach of the Aeros. Yeo had spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, helping them win the Stanley Cup championship in 2009. He was an assistant for six seasons with Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before making the jump to the Penguins in 2005.
The hire looked liked like the hire of the year after the Wild won 20 of their first 27 games in 2011-12 and had the best record in the NHL. But the Wild would lose 12 of their next 14, finish with a 35-36-11 record and miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year and finish with a sub-.500 record for the first time in ten years.
After being picked by multiple sources to win the Northwest Division, the Wild are struggling in just about every aspect of the game and the coach is usually the one to shoulder the blame for that. Yeo was a questionable hire in the first place, as he had one season of AHL head coach experience before making the jump to the NHL.
Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune published this in his column today:
Whether Mike Yeo is responsible for his team's slump is irrelevant.
When you sign two players for about $200 million, print T-shirts that read "Take the Next Step; No Excuses," call up your best prospects, alter your best line, threaten the jobs of a couple of veterans, hold a players-only meeting, trade for an enforcer, watch one of your two incoming saviors play like he's still learning to skate backwards, and then embarrass yourself at home against a prime rival, the owner owes it to his accountants and fans to consider all possible means of improvement. And he's not going to cut Ryan Suter in the first month of a 13-year deal.
The Wild wanted (Zach) Parise to be their guide to that promised land known as the next level. Turns out they need him to keep from scraping bottom.
The Wild's best players (in the loss to Vancouver) might have been rookies Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle. Their more experienced teammates should be ashamed.
As much as the fans like to blame Yeo for the team's shortcoming the last two seasons, Fletcher should shoulder more of the blame. Most of the veterans he has brought in (Martin Havlat, Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Brad Staubitz, Darroll Powe) are or were disappointments. He traded Eden Prairie-native and former University of Golden Gopher star Nick Leddy (the 16th pick in the 2009 draft) to the Chciago Blackhawks for Cam Barker. He also brought in Brodziak, who has been ineffective this season.
Fletcher has hired two young coaches in Richards and Yeo, while the veteran coaches he has passed decided to pass up (St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette), have had relative success.
The Wild are miles away from being out of the playoff chase. They are only two points out of the eighth spot with 38 games to play. However, it will be interesting to see how much more patience Wild owner Craig Leipold has with Yeo and/or Fletcher. There is no reason this roster shouldn't make the playoffs. If the Wild don't right the ship, and soon, Yeo will be the first coach fired this season, and Fletcher could follow shortly.
The Wild will play Nashville, at Calgary, at Vancouver and Colorado from Saturday through Thursday. If the Wild decide to make a coaching switch, look for it to come between February 15 and Feb. 20, when the Wild play one game in six day period.