Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tough lineup decisions as injured Wild players are nearing return to the ice

I think at this time of year, as teams such as the Minnesota Wild are making the final push towards the playoffs, a coach would love to have the issue of which lineup decisions to make with players either returning from injuries, or being close to returning.

Well, Mike Yeo is facing this problem…or is getting close to facing this problem…

Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke
Kyle Brodziak (who has recently missed three games) could return to the Wild lineup on Thursday against the New York Rangers. Ryan Carter just returned to the lineup on Saturday against the Kings. Matt Cooke has been skating and recently joined the team in practice this week, his first since having hernia surgery in early February. (Jason Zucker and Nate Prosser were not in Tuesday’s practice, but both skated before the team practice. Zucker’s been out since the middle of February with a broken clavicle and surgery, Prosser has missed several games with a sprained MCL.)

Michael Russo, from the Star Tribune, wrote the following in a recent article about Zucker:

Wild forward Jason Zucker
“I feel perfect. I feel great,” said Zucker, sweating after another long, hardworking skate with a few teammates and coaches on Friday. “I don’t feel I have any restrictions shooting or passing or definitely skating. But it’s the docs. They know what’s best and what’s right and the right timeline. And whatever they say goes. Nothing else matters.”

From what I read, both Cooke and Zucker could make their returns during the playoffs. 

With how well the Wild have been doing since the middle of January (since Devan Dubnyk was acquired by the team and you know the rest of that story), the return of these injured players is going to have Mike Yeo looking at his roster and making the decisions of who is going to play and who is going to skate. The question is WHERE do you put these guys who are either coming back?

I think a lot of the shuffling is going to be taking place on the fourth line. Thomas Vanek has finally found his spot as the left wing on the third line with Charlie Coyle at center and Justin Fontaine at right wing. Chris Stewart has been a good presence on the second line at right wing with Mikko Koivu at center and Nino Niederreiter at left wing. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville make up the first line. These three offensive lines are pretty much set. 

Yeo made the following statement regarding his first three lines:

“I don’t see any reason why we would change anything up right now in the immediate future. Obviously things could change, but I look at a guy like Fonzie (Justin Fontaine) and there’s no reason why he should be looking over his shoulder. Certainly you look at the Islander game, we felt that we needed to switch for that game (he means that Schroeder took Fontaine’s in the third period and overtime), but this is not situation where if he has one bad game, one bad period. Doesn’t mean you might not change things during a game, but he’s earned enough to give him a chance to go out and respond.” (Michael Russo, startribune.com 3/31/2015). 

Yeo also replied when asked how difficult these decisions are:

“It’s going to be hard and everybody’s going to have an argument, and everybody’s going to have an opinion. In many cases, it’s going to be right. In a lot of ways it’s going to be difficult for us to make a wrong choice. In other ways, difficult for us to make the right choice just because everybody that’s here has had an impact in getting us here. Everybody has had success with us at different points of the season. And everybody that’s here we feel could help us. So, what that means is there’s going to be people out of the lineup that are very tough decisions to make. But at the same time, the people that are in will recognize that and they’ll take advantage of the opportunity.” (Michael Russo, startribune.com 3/31/2015). 

It is going to be very interesting to see how of this all plays out, especially with Zucker and Cooke's eventual returns to the line up could take place during the playoffs. Like I stated at the beginning of this article, this is a problem I think coaches love to have--depth on their roster and almost every one healthy. 

Michael Russo's article on Jason Zucker can be found here

Russo's article on Cooke and Brodziak can be found here

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