A Short History of the Minnesota Wild (part 2)

This is the second in a two part article about the Wild. Read the first part here.

originally published in Volume 1, Issue 3 of Ramblin’ On

When we last left the story things weren’t looking so great for the Wild. New owner Craig Leipold and General Manager Chuck Fletcher were attempting to pick up the pieces after nearly a decade of floundering under Bob Neagele and Doug Risebrough.

While the problems they received couldn’t be fixed overnight their first couple moves weren’t very impressive – the hiring of rookie coach Todd Richards, another rookie coach in Mike Yeo, the signing of Martin Havlat, etc. etc. Initially it seemed like things were moving in the same direction as the first regime.

Then came the summer of 2011. The Wild made three very, very good trades (I’d say “blockbuster” but this IS the Wild we’re talking about). First there was the draft day trade that sent Brent Burns and the Wild’s 2012 second round pick to the San Jose Sharks for their 2011 first round draft pick, highly touted prospect Charlie Coyle (their first round draft pick last year), and 24-year-old potential rising star Devin Setoguchi. Merely weeks later came another big deal, the Wild sending bust Martin Havlat flat-out to the Sharks for Dany Heatley. Finally, in a relatively minor move, the Sharks gave up their 2013 third round draft pick for James Shepherd, a former first round pick who has done about as much for the Wild as I have. Actually, considering the fact that I work at the Xcel Energy Center, he certainly did even less. You could even say nothing. Except eat up salary cap room.

These deals were all, by my estimation, lopsided in the Wild’s favor. Brent Burns is a great player and lovable guy but his identity crisis as a defenseman who couldn’t play defense was often infuriating. It was sort of hard to give him up but when considering what the Wild got for him – three number one round draft picks in all – it becomes obvious that the deal was too good to pass up. The defensive depth in the Wild’s farm system also proves how good this move is.

The Havlat for Heatley trade has already proven, and will continue to prove, to be another trade in the Wild’s favor. The Wild learned something about Havlat in his tenure here that wasn’t disclosed to them when he signed his contract: he’s not very good. Heatley, while not a superstar, is at least good, especially when teamed up with playmakers, the type of guys the Wild have in abundance, both on the team and in their farm system.

A rare moment in which James Shepherd has something to celebrate.

The Shepherd trade, while the most low-key of the bunch, was more a mental victory for the Wild than anything. Shepherd, a Risebrough number one round draft pick bust, is possibly the biggest stain on the Wild’s stain-filled resume of poor decision-making. Unleashing him for anything – even a third round draft two years down the road – is a victory in the Wild’s favor.

These trades, combined with the Wild’s replenished, deep farm system (the Houston Aeros, their minor league affiliate, almost won a national championship last year) make the future for the Wild seem pretty pleasant. They have no lack of defensemen and goal tenders, some hot looking prospects, and a solid core in Koivu, Heatley, Setoguchi, and Cullen. Add a hot shit goal scorer (Zach Parise?) and this team will become a perennial playoff team in the years to come – and even make an appearance or two in the Stanley Cup.

Postscript: 2011-2012 Season

This season looked really promising for the Wild at the beginning. For the first time possibly ever they had not only a real, actual first line that could run with the best (Koivu, Heatley, Setogucci) but also some depth behind them. Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were a formidable second line while the perpetually overachieving Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck anchored a more than respectable third.

Unfortunately, as has happened to often in Minnesota sports, injuries really ruined everything. Latednresse and Bouchard missed significant portions of the season and Koivu and Setogucci each also spent weeks on injured reserve.

Considering that it’s impressive that the Wild were still in the playoff picture until about the last month or two of the season. There were just too many obstacles for them to overcome with all the injuries to key players, the already tired rookies constantly having to bounce from Houston to Minnesota, and a rookie coach with a new system trying to keep it all together. Better luck next year, boys. Your time will come.

Update: the Wild made a BIG splash in free agency with the signing of Stephane Veilleux.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.

 

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One response to this post.

  1. […] The second part in my two part series on the current state of the Minnesota Wild, a defense of the Detroit Lions oft-criticized Ndomakan Suh (get it? a defense?), and why I […]

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