I was at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night, to see the Wild play the Stars - and to see what turned out to be maybe the worst hockey game I’ve ever been to.
Minnesota lost to Dallas, 8-3. To lose to Dallas, ever, is galling enough - I’ll never forget, and it will always matter to me, and my fondest wish every season is that the usurpers go 0-82-0.
Watching Sunday’s game, though, was pretty much torture. The Wild took a dumb penalty 50 seconds into the game, it took the visitors seven seconds to score on the resulting power play, and the rout was on.
By the end, the Wild should have been offering refunds, to those of us who’d been unfortunate enough to pay our own money for tickets.
Minnesota set a franchise record by allowing five power-play goals. It tied a franchise record by allowing two short-handed goals. It also tied the franchise record by allowing eight goals in a game at home.
The Wild have given up the second-most goals in the NHL. Their penalty kill is historically bad; if the season ended today, they’d set the record for the worst penalty kill in league history. Their defense is bad, and both of their goaltenders are among the five worst goaltenders in the league.
Their supposed offensive big guns, Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy, have scored one even-strength goal apiece this season - less than Jake Middleton, or Dakota Mermis. Marcus Johannsson has one goal, total, in 15 games.
Kaprizov may not be scoring, but if the league tracked “bad giveaways by a guy who looks like he’s lost the will to live,” he’d be top of the charts. The “A” on his jersey looks like it weighs ten thousand pounds; if he played, like this, for any other team in town, he’d be getting savaged by every media outlet on a daily basis.
It’s a good thing the Vikings and Wolves keep winning; the media just ignores that the Wild has lost 10 of 15 games this season.
The Wild have played almost a fifth of their schedule, and so far, the refrain from the locker room has been “we’re better than this, we have to get this figured out.” But after Sunday night, the Wild need to consider an alternate hypothesis: maybe they’re just bad.
General manager Bill Guerin made the call to buy out Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, and in general, received plaudits. It changed the entire culture of the team, and made space for team leaders who brought a different vibe to the locker room, by all accounts. Guerin fired Bruce Boudreau and brought in Dean Evason to coach. And he was so pleased with how this set his team up, that he made sure to not let anyone get away, signing seemingly the whole team to long-term deals.
Which of those deals looks great now? Boldy, who’s signed through 2030 for big money, but disappeared come playoff time last season and hasn’t reappeared? Johansson, who somehow has a no-trade clause through next year? Marcus Foligno, who’s signed through 2028 even though he’s doing a convincing Jordan Greenway impersonation?
The reward for all of Guerin’s work has been three consecutive first-round playoff exits, and now, a squad that looks absolutely lost. Moreover, since the team has no salary-cap room of any kind, and everybody’s signed long-term with no-trade clauses, the GM has handcuffed himself; all he can do is sit back and, occasionally, trade a young player for someone who weighs 250 pounds, just in case a rugby scrum breaks out.
The one silver lining for the Wild’s players last night was that they allowed a second short-handed goal with 2:03 to go, meaning that most of the fans cleared the arena instead of sticking around to boo their hapless team off the ice.
Minnesota’s also leaving the country for a week, heading to Sweden to play games against Ottawa and Toronto. Maybe the time change will do them some good. Maybe in Sweden they’ll show up when the game starts, instead of sometime near the end of the first period. And who knows, maybe that Scandinavian work ethic will rub off on them, and they’ll finally start fighting for pucks in front of the net on defense, instead of waiting around and hoping the opposition shoots the rebound into the corner.
In other words, here’s hoping that the Wild can bounce off rock bottom a bit. I don’t want to consider that they might be able to drop lower than losing 8-3 at home to Dallas.