Wednesday, January 19, 2022

John Shipley: Change Feels Good on the Wild

The Minnesota Wild is an almost entirely different team than the team that has been disappointing its fans for the better part of 20 years. For wild fans, this should feel good.

Forget for a minute how good Wilde has been this season and enjoy not just hearing about the “young corps” or the steady veteran leadership of Ryan Sutter.

Origin of Chuck Fletcher? Hardly anyone is left. Sutter and Zach Paris? Went for less than 25 games and was already forgotten. The Wilds entered Tuesday night’s game as one of the best teams in the NHL and looked every part in their 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the Xcel Energy Center.

Coyotes, to be polite, are not very nice. But Wilde handled them the same way a good team doesn’t handle a very good team. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was fun to watch.

Sometimes making a change, making a change is the answer.

Paul Fenton didn’t last a full year as Wilde’s general manager, but he was here long enough to ask a question that absolutely had to be answered: why are we still married to Charlie Coyle, Mikel Granlund, and Nino Niedreiter? Are you?

There were no good answers, so he got rid of them, sometimes, well, not much. But it was a start and should not be ignored.

Current GM Bill Guerin was finishing his second season as Fenton’s replacement when he tackled another key piece of the old business: Are Parris and Sutter still helping us?

Guerin determined the answer was no, he bought out his remaining $98 million contracts on financial penalties, and the decision is hard to argue with. Following Tuesday’s win, Wilde is 15-6-1 and tied with Calgary on 31 points in the Western Conference standings.

“I think it fits where we need to be, where we expect to be,” said winger Jordan Greenway.

“We’re playing well enough to be at the top of the leaderboard. So, yeah, I think that’s where we should be, and that’s where we should be stopping for a while.”

A second-round draft pick from Boston University, Greenaway played his first full season in 2018-19, the tail end of Fletcher’s 10-year reign in Minnesota. Fletcher drafted a lot of players who are still helping Wilde, most notably Blue Liners Matt Dumba, Jared Spargoen and Jonas Brodin and Kirill Kaprizov, a fifth-round (!) pick in 2015. The man knew what he was doing.

But Fletcher had come so close to his plan that he failed to change course after it became clear it would not work. The forwards he had drawn for his “young core” – Cuckoo, Niedreiter, Granlund and Jason Zucker – were all counterproductive but did not work as a unit. Paris and Sutter had missed their window and got into more trouble than they deserved. Still, Fletcher was reluctant to change it.

Enter Fenton, who was like an ox in a china shop, but served the team by taking the crucial first step of the dirty work. Guerin shows a skill for connecting congruent parts – Cam Talbot, Ryan Hartman – and makes the shockingly difficult decision to separate Paris and Sutter at the time, but only because of the money the team is still paying them.

The two of them didn’t remember what they brought on the ice or in the dressing room. It’s a confident, dialed-in team that’s fun to watch. He leads the NHL with 83 goals, one better than the Washington Capitals and 19 more than he has allowed.

“We’re not teaching, we’re not coaching any differently,” coach Dean Evans said. “I think we’ve got some depth scoring that everyone is producing. They’re all playing the right way and the same way, and if we do that we think we’ll be able to score.

Sport is a fickle business, and hockey is fickle at best. Maybe it won’t work. Maybe Wilde bounces again in the first round of the playoffs. Who knows? But one thing is certain: If it goes belly up, or is just plain disappointing at the end, it won’t be for the same reasons as the last 10 years. It wouldn’t happen because the team was afraid to do something different.

Doesn’t it feel good?

Nation World News Desk
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