Souhan: Kaprizov & Co. need to get Wild out of this rut

Let's stop trying to put lipstick on a puck.

The Minnesota Wild are mediocre at best.

That's an easy conclusion to reach this season if you look at the standings.

That also might be the correct general impression of a franchise that is again spinning its skates.

This season, the Wild ranks 11th in a 16-team conference in which two of the bottom teams aren't even trying to win. The Wild's goal differential is minus-13.

Given a chance to make a late run at the playoffs, they allowed six straight goals in a 6-1 loss at Nashville and managed one more goal in a 3-1 loss at St. Louis before rallying to beat a terrible San Jose team on Sunday.

In a sport that is defined by its postseason, the Wild hasn't won a playoff series since 2015.

The franchise has produced quality players, but few stars. Marian Gaborik was a great scorer who played little defense and left when given the opportunity. Mikko Koivu, a defense-first player who struggled to score, still leads the franchise in points.

Kirill Kaprizov is the best player in franchise history and is having a quality season, with his hat trick Sunday being the latest proof. But he has never won a playoff series and even his skills haven't elevated this current squad (29-27-6) that sits six games out of a playoff spot.

The Wild continues to search for a true franchise goalie, and for reliable scoring outside of Kaprizov, who may qualify as a star in this market but hasn't moved into the ranks of the NHL's greatest players.

Wild general manager Bill Guerin released Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to clear the way for Kaprizov to be the face of the franchise. Guerin remains hindered by the continuing payouts to Parise and Suter.

What's more telling about the Wild, as a franchise, is that they were so bereft of NHL and farm system talent that they felt the need to give what were then gargantuan contracts to two non-superstars — Parise and Suter — in order to be competitive.

Sign up for our Wild Update newsletter

The current Wild can be considered competitive only because eight of the 16 teams in each conference make the playoffs, and only truly hopeless teams can eliminate themselves from contention before March.

This season's Wild team has utterly collapsed three times since November:

After a win in their season opener, they went 4-10-5, including a seven-game losing streak, which led to the firing of coach Dean Evason.After responding well to interim coach John Hynes initially, they lost eight of nine from Dec. 30 to Jan. 13.Given a chance to face two of the teams they are chasing for a wild-card playoff berth, they scored first at Nashville last week, then were outscored 6-0 the rest of the game. Then they went to St. Louis and lost 3-1.

Their primary excuse is the absence of defenseman Jared Spurgeon, one of their best players. Spurgeon's absence doesn't excuse their utter collapses, lack of goal scoring or their inability to perform like professionals for long stretches of the season.

Don't blame Evason. Don't blame Hynes. The Wild's key players have been together for years now, and they have crashed and burned this season, and they will have to be the ones to right the franchise.

The contracts of Parise and Suter don't come off the Wild's books until the summer of 2025. Guerin has made a number of subtle moves that have temporarily improved the roster, but there is no financial room for an overhaul under these circumstances.

Because the Wild signed Parise and Suter to those big contracts they can't afford to bring in another Parise and Suter to jump-start a spiraling franchise.

And once again the Wild will follow a disappointing season with a draft pick that won't be high enough to land them a franchise-altering player.

This season has been a disaster, and Wild fans should expect the mediocrity to continue next season.