Northwest: Injuries highlight Wild’s lack of depth

By Blake Benzel

Photo: Minnesota Wild forward Mikko Koivu has been one of several key injured players for that team in the 2011-12 season (courtesy of

Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

The Minnesota Wild have problems – big problems.

Tuesday night’s 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche was just the most recent disappointment that the Wild have had to endure, and things don’t seem to be looking up for a squad that, just a few weeks ago, were hopeful to climb back into the playoff race.

It would be easy to blame their slide on injuries. The Wild have dressed a franchise record and NHL-high 44 players this season, and key players have missed significant amounts of time for the squad.

For Tuesday night’s loss, the Wild were missing starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom, captain Mikko Koivu, forwards Guillaume Latendresse, Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and defensemen Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk. The losses of Koivu and Backstrom are obvious holes in their lineup.

Latendresse, Clutterbuck and Bouchard are all players that have made significant contributions to the team over the last couple seasons, two of whom (Latendresse and Bouchard) are surefire top-six forwards, while the other (Clutterbuck) logs significant power play time and is a leader on and off the ice. Stoner and Falk, meanwhile, are both physical, defensive stalwarts on the team’s blueline. Both log over 15 minutes per night, including significant time on the penalty kill, and are sorely missed in the absence of Nick Schultz.

To their credit, though, the Wild aren’t using these injuries as an excuse. But the injuries have highlighted something much more important for this team going forward – a significant lack of depth.

I don’t know that there’s any team in the NHL that would be able to survive the rash of injuries that the Wild have gone through this season, but the fact remains that the team just hasn’t had the depth to step up and replace key players.

The Wild have had to resort to slotting role players into key positions in their line up.

Darroll Powe, a player who has never scored more than 17 points in a season, is getting time playing on the team’s second line. Nick Johnson, who is having a strong rookie campaign, is getting shifts on the team’s top line. Even Kyle Brodziak, a player whose career high in points is 37, isn’t best suited to be playing the his current role role on the team.

On the third and fourth lines, these players are ones that any team would love to have. But they’re simply not top-6 players.

The Wild have some promising prospects in the pipeline – Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Zack Phillips all look to be top notch prospects – but that doesn’t help them this season and maybe not even next.

For now, the Wild are going to need to be content with trolling the free agent market and trying to add skill through that and trading.

Make no mistake. The Wild are certainly on their way up. Until they get there, though, it could be a long and painful road for Wild fans.

Northwest Division Notes

Calgary Flames forward Tim Jackman was injured on Tuesday after a hit by Alexei Emelin in Calgary’s game against the Montreal Canadiens. There is no word yet as to how long Jackman will be on the shelf. … Since being traded to the Colorado Avalanche, Jamie McGinn has three goals and four points in four games.