Houston, We Have Problems
Friday, 02.24.2012 / 1:01 PM / Features
By Mike Greenlay - Wild broadcaster
The editorial content inside the Minnesota Wild’s State of Hockey game program changes once a month. Fortunately, the rosters in the middle pages can be changed each game. With the number of times the Wild roster has changed this year, that’s a necessity.
With the number of players and transactions the Wild have had to endure, we’ve seen 39 players sport the Wild jersey this year, and that doesn’t include emergency goaltender Paul Deutsch.
Tony Dacosta, the Wild’s head equipment manager for the Wild, has dusted off a few new numbers this year including #59 (Kris Fredheim), #72 (Kris Foucault), and #79 (Jarod Palmer). Those numbers are usually reserved for players that participate in the Wild’s Development Camp in July, or the Traverse City Prospects Camp in September.
The 39 different players used is one off the team record of 40 set in 2009-2010. A total of 13 rookies have played for the Wild this season, with seven of them making their NHL debut in a Wild sweater. Players have been recalled from Houston 39 times this season with 17 players from last year’s Houston Aeros AHL team being recalled at some point.
Some players have made the trip multiple times. Leading the frequent flyer mile sweepstakes are Jed Ortmeyer with five recalls and Nate Prosser with four recalls. Prosser was subsequently signed to a contract extension on February 6, so it appears as if his Houston trips are over with, or at least they will be next year.
The transaction list for the Minnesota Wild looks like an eye chart that any reputable doctor’s office would have, but it is Wild GM Chuck Fletcher that must have blurry vision every time he looks at it.
“A lot of injuries,” commented Fletcher on the laundry list of callups. “In a perfect world you don’t want to have to resort to that, but we were calling players up all the time.”
The Wild’s GM has had to make many decisions based on the circumstances at the moment.
“We’ve tried to find answers at different times,” he said. “We’ve needed different solutions whether it’s a skilled forward or a gritty forward, or a left shot or a right shot, a center or a winger, so that’s prompted a lot of the churning.”
All of that churning has meant different lineups. In the team’s first 57 games there have been 40 different lineup combinations. But all of these changes don’t just affect the Wild roster. It has a ripple effect throughout the organization, and beyond.
To say that the Houston Aeros GM Jim Mill has been busy would be the understatement of the year. When a player from the Aeros heads North, Mill has to find a player from another league to come in and fill that spot. Without a secondary affiliate, Mill’s challenge is scouring other team’s rosters in the East Coast Hockey League or the Central Hockey League for available players.
“I think it makes it more difficult,” said Mill. “But even if we had an affiliate in the ECHL this year, it would have been more difficult because we had to run through so many players.”
When a Wild player is injured, or the team is looking to add a player for various depth reasons or suspensions, Fletcher, Assistant GM Brent Flahr, Head Coach Mike Yeo and Mill decide which player they need to recall. Mill spoke about how the decision on a player is made.
“Well, a lot of it is the roles,” said Mill. “Mike Yeo has a pretty good idea of what each of these guys do because he spent the entire year with most of them (in Houston) last year. If you’re looking for an energy guy, then it’s a certain group of guys, if you’re looking for a scorer or a skill guy it’s a certain group of guys.”
The question of chemistry inevitably comes into play when a team runs through so many players. Yeo preaches the fact that the same message is being delivered in Houston as it is with the Wild so continuity should be evident.
“Chemistry-wise, it shouldn’t be an excuse for us whatsoever because system-wise our organization is very consistent,” said Yeo. “Our fourth line guys are asked to play the game the same as our first line guys…the standard is the same.”
Chad Rau is currently on his third recall of the season. The first time he didn’t dress. The second go-round was a little more eventful as the Eden Prairie native scored the game-winning goal in his NHL debut on Hockey Day Minnesota.
On Sunday in his third time around, he scored the game-winner again, this time against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Yeo cautiously mentioned he likes what he sees so far.
“Every day you are here you have to prove yourself, but I can say that he has done that and he has earned more of an opportunity,” said Yeo. “How much we don’t know, but what he has done is built our confidence in him.”
The Wild are still without Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse. All three are not easily replaceable, but right now, if you’re scoring like Rau is, you’re setting yourself up for more time in Minnesota now, and in the future. And fans won’t have to keep checking who that number 36 guy is.