What's wrong with the Wild? Start with their system.

The Wild have taken amazingly little flak for their lousy season. The consensus is that they should be awarded a mulligan on the basis of the changes made in the front office, behind the bench and within the system.

Mikko Koivu
Mikko Koivu, who scored two goals in Saturday night's season finale, was one of the few bright spots for the Wild this season. Associated Press

The Wild have taken amazingly little flak for their lousy season. The consensus is that they should be awarded a mulligan on the basis of the changes made in the front office, behind the bench and within the system.

I'll give them the mulligan, but only under protest. Excuses come in all flavors. And make no mistake, the Wild are full of excuses. Most are not valid.

They lost in their finale to Dallas on Saturday night. Based on the way they played, the loss was exactly what they deserved. Fortunately, Wild fans likely could look past a typical mistake-filled performance and spend their evening cheering for Mike Modano, in what likely was his last NHL game.

There are a lot of reasons why the Wild failed to seriously contend during this long, tedious season. I'll give you the two main ones. First, blame the system. Actually, it might be an OK system with a coach and players who are able to implement it properly. Todd Richards and the Wild could not. Too many players couldn't handle their newfound freedom on the ice.

The result was that they scored exactly the same number of goals that they did the previous season, 219, while allowing 45 more. Forty-five! Was that new style entertaining enough for you? The Wild consistently jumped over the boards and tried to score three goals on the first shift. Usually, they fell behind before you could say "up-tempo."


The defensemen, as a group, generally were terrible. And that began on Day One after what can only be described as a curious training camp. Richards spent too much time looking at and experimenting with players who had no chance to make the team. Meanwhile, there was a lot of work to be done toward implementing his new system. It didn't make any sense.

The Wild gave up two-on-ones, three-on-ones and, in Philly, even a four-on-one. Nik Backstrom is what I would call a scientific goalie. He plays the angles and anticipates the play. I'm no longer sure he's the right goalie for this system. The Wild need an acrobat, not a tactician, between the pipes.

Richards should have reined in some of that freedom. But no, game after game, odd-man rush after odd-man rush, the Wild put Backstrom and their chances of winning at risk. Maybe Richards was waiting for the ghost of Toe Blake to appear and take charge. Whatever the case, the Wild did the same things wrong on a nightly basis.

At first, well, it was a matter of getting used to the new system. That was the excuse for the brutal start. But after Christmas, when everybody should have been used to the new style, the Wild faded. Yes, there were injuries. Every team has them. Last year, the Wild were without their best player, Marian Gaborik for most of the season and still came closer than this group to making the playoffs.

Richards may yet prove to be an outstanding coach. But in 2009-2010, he didn't impress me at all. His players were undisciplined on the ice, starting with the defensemen. Meanwhile, conscientious forwards such as Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen were left to go down with the ship.

The Wild either need to change systems or change players. It's not working with these guys. I don't think they'll become more proficient at it over the summer. They had a one-goal lead in the third period against the Stars on Saturday. But they have no lockdown mode. That went out with the old playbook.

The second reason for the misery is more tangible. The Wild still remain paper thin at the center position. After Koivu, there isn't a center on the roster who can anchor a decent line. And if you're banking on Cody Almond and Casey Wellman, who is a center by trade, good luck.

That's quite a leap of faith after just a handful of games. Both are young and skinny. They shouldn't be learning their craft on the Wild's second line next season. General manager Chuck Fletcher absolutely has to come up with a quality center iceman for next year.


Fletcher made a lot of moves throughout the season. Some were good; some weren't. At least he was active. The trade for Guillaume Latendresse paid immediate dividends. The signing of Greg Zanon made the Wild better than they would have been otherwise.

But Kim Johnsson and No. 1 pick Nick Leddy for Cam Barker? I'd heard Barker was a good player. He looked good in his first couple of Wild games and then disappeared. Now that trade doesn't look so good. Neither does the trade that sent Alexander Fallstrom and Craig Weller to Boston for Chuck Kobasew. Weller was just a plugger, but Fallstrom, out of Shattuck-St. Mary's, is a heck of a prospect.

Anyway, OK, give the Wild a mulligan. And that goes to for everyone from owner Craig Leipold on down. Clearly Leipold was seduced by the notion of sexy, "up-tempo" hockey. I wonder how this Wild team looked to him in the harsh light of morning.

Mulligan granted. But if the Wild shank that first tee shot next October, they don't deserve to be cut any slack. Not even one little bit. All the excuses have been used up.

Tom Powers is a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press

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