Zulgad: Wild's moves prove that patience won't be priority in St. Paul
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The Minnesota Wild lost to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night to drop their record to 4-3-1 on the season.
That put coach Mike Yeo's team in a second-place tie with the Edmonton Oilers entering Monday's games, a point behind the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division.
Ordinarily this type of early season start would be deemed satisfactory. The issue is that there is nothing ordinary about this season for the Wild.
That's why Yeo is shaking up his forward lines already, pulling his goalie less than 10 minutes into a game and why general manager Chuck Fletcher called up winger Charlie Coyle from Houston of the AHL on Sunday and made a trade with the New York Rangers on Monday.
There are a few factors at play here that are going to mean patience isn't necessarily going to be practiced around the Xcel Energy Center in the coming weeks and months.
Fletcher and Yeo got their wish this offseason when winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter signed matching $98 million, 13-year contracts. But the addition of the top two free agents on the open market also meant that owner Craig Leipold's expectations were raised by a substantial amount.
Leipold is a passionate hockey fan and patience isn't his number attribute when it comes to his team. Leipold is paying for a winner and the moment he started writing out those big checks he expected to have one.
It isn't just Leipold the fan who wants to see his franchise break a streak of four seasons without making the playoffs. If the Parise and Suter contracts are going to make financial sense, then the Wild needs to make a playoff run that keeps the X filled deep into the springtime.
Here is where the Wild might end up being among the teams that are most adversely impacted by a lockout that cost the NHL its first three-plus months.
Instead of playing 82 games, the league is conducting a 48-game sprint. This means the ability to make a statement such as, "oh, it's early, eventually Suter will get going," or, "don't worry about Mikael Granlund, he will be fine," doesn't exist.
In a 48-game season, there is no such thing as early.
The dilemma that Fletcher and Yeo are facing is that Leipold's money already is spent and he's not going to want to hear any excuses. You think Leipold cares how the long season is?
One of the first indications that patience would not be a priority for the Wild came last Wednesday in their 3-2 shootout victory over Chicago at the X. Backup goalie Josh Harding gave up two goals in the first 6 minutes, 45 seconds of the game and was promptly pulled in favor of Niklas Backstrom, who had started the previous night in a win over Columbus.
If the game had been played on Nov. 1 instead of Jan. 30, Harding almost certainly would have been left in to try to work through his struggles. Yeo, however, saw the opportunity to get two valuable points slipping away and gave Harding the quick hook.
The changes made by Yeo haven't been confined to the goalie position.
After losing 3-1 to the Ducks on Friday, Yeo decided he had seen enough from Granlund and the underachieving Devin Setoguchi.
Thanks to the fact that Fletcher called up Coyle, Yeo had the freedom to demote Granlund and Setoguchi to the fourth line.
In Sunday's practice, Yeo left the top line of Parise-Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley intact, but shuffled his other combinations. Coyle, 20, was plugged in at right wing with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen, who will be moved back to center after a brief experiment of having him on the wing.
There is a chance that Setoguchi or Granlund could be scratched for Monday night's game in Phoenix but just having them on the fourth line speaks volumes about Yeo's dissatisfaction with their performance.
In Granlund's case, nobody should be panicking about one of the Wild's top prospects.
Just as Yeo told everyone to calm down when it came to Suter's uneven start, Granlund is another guy who deserves time. The 20-year-old from Finland created plenty of excitement by scoring in his NHL debut on Jan. 19, but he has only two assists in seven games since that time.
The odd thing with Granlund is that the offseason talk before the lockout was that he would open his rookie year at the wing and then eventually move to center.
The thinking was that would help to lessen the pressure on him given the many responsibilities a center has in the Wild's system. Why then Granlund was asked to start a shortened season playing center is a bit unclear, unless team officials liked what they saw of him in Houston and decided he could handle playing in the middle.
While Granlund deserves time, Setoguchi is another story.
Acquired along with Coyle and a first-round draft pick (Zack Phillips) in exchange for defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick from San Jose in June 2011, Setoguchi looks like a guy the Sharks dumped on the Wild just in time.
Setoguchi's best season came in 2008-09, when he had 31 goals and 34 assists in 81 games. He also was a plus-16. He scored 42 goals over the next two seasons with the Sharks. Last season, he had only 19 goals in 69 games with the Wild and was a minus-17.
Setoguchi talked about the offseason work he had done when he arrived last month for the Wild's shortened training camp but in eight games he has yet to score a goal and has only two assists. There are times he simply seems to disappear.
Setoguchi's lack of production means the pressure is really on Fletcher that Coyle turns into a top-level player. Fletcher, meanwhile, likely will look to move Setoguchi if he can get anything in return.
The GM already made a trade Monday, sending forwards Darroll Powe and Nick Palmieri to the New York Rangers for veteran Mike Rupp.
Adding Coyle and Rupp will give the Wild more size up front. Coyle is 6-foot-2, 222 pounds and Rupp is 6-5, 230 pounds. Powe had been playing on the Wild's fourth line and Palmieri was with Houston, so neither subtraction is of great significance.
Rupp, 33, has 94 points (53 goals, 41 assists) in 565 games during 10 NHL seasons with New Jersey, Phoenix, Columbus, Pittsburgh and the Rangers. Rupp isn't known for his goal scoring but he is known for his toughness. He has collected 765 penalty minutes and had 12 in eight games with the Rangers this season.
According to Hockeyfights.com, Rupp has been in two fights this season after being in 13 in 2011-12.
Rupp, who reportedly will make his debut on Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks at the X, and Coyle will be expected to make immediate impacts with their high-intensity play and ability to do the dirty work along the boards that is crucial to success.
Meanwhile, Yeo and Fletcher will hope that Setoguchi, Granlund and others who haven't delivered so far can quickly turn things around.
Otherwise, more changes soon will be coming because expectations aren't about to be lowered.