If the NHL is a bottom line business, then the Wild’s season was a disappointment.
They finished second in the West, yet were upended in the opening playoff round to the wild card St. Louis Blues — a team they finished 17 points ahead of in the standings. Minnesota lost all three games at home, managed just one win, scored just eight goals and, perhaps most disturbingly, had a shorter postseason run than last year, when it lost in six to Dallas.
With that in mind, here’s what Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had to say at Tuesday’s end-of-year media availability.
When asked about his group: “It’s still a very good core. It’s a strong team.”
When asked about a major overhaul: “Wholesale changes? Absolutely not.”
When asked about the loss to St. Louis: “A disappointing five-game series that could have very easily gone either way.”
If this sounds familiar, well, it should.
At last year’s exit interview, Fletcher was a beacon of positivity. He insisted Minnesota was a team on the rise, not decline, and remained steadfast in his belief of the group despite media skepticism and a displeased fan base.
To his credit, Fletcher answered the critics.
Hiring Bruce Boudreau as head coach was a terrific move, and buying out Thomas Vanek to free up money for the Eric Staal acquisition worked out beautifully. The organization was also buoyed by how well four of its prospects — Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin — performed at the World Juniors. Given those are all Fletcher draftees, it was another feather in his cap.
Losing to St. Louis shouldn’t negate all that, and it hasn’t.
But should it alter the Wild’s perspective?
Remember, this season wasn’t a one-off. The core leadership group of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter has been together for five years now, and never advanced past the second round. And in the last two years, the Wild have won a grand total of three postseason tilts.
Some have suggested the bar needs to be raised.
Consider, for a moment, Chicago GM Stan Bowman. Like the Wild, the Blackhawks have been bounced in each of the last two opening rounds. And like the Wild, the Blackhawks were bounced really early this year — albeit in four games, rather than five.
Here’s what Bowman had to say in his end-of-year presser:
“Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves. We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that’s unacceptable.
“Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It’s not close to good enough for anybody. And I think it’s time right not to take a look in the mirror and face facts.”
The biggest difference between the Wild and Blackhawks is that the Wild, quite justifiably, could argue they outplayed the Blues and the only thing keeping them from Round 2 was Jake Allen. Chicago was dominated by Nashville in nearly every statistical measure. So Bowman didn’t have that to fall back on.
But it’s the second part of Bowman’s statement that’s key. “Completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season.” Things were over quickly for the ‘Hawks, just like they were for the Wild. But to hear Fletcher and Boudreau speak today, you couldn’t help but feel the organization believes it just wrapped the most competitive five-game, first-round series in playoff history.
Well, the Wild brass does anyway. For the players, the message seemed to be quite different. And quite telling.
“Right now, we can’t take any positives,” Koivu said, per the team’s Twitter account. “Just disappointment.”