The Minnesota Wild took to the ice for the first time today and we’re off. The 2017-18 season is here. The players had Media Day yesterday, got to throw on the new sweaters and get all of the photographs and media stuff taken care of. Then today, they went through coach Bruce Boudreau’s dreaded skate conditioning test where they have to skate 2 ½ lengths of the ice in under 40 seconds then have 2 minutes to rest before they do it again, 2 more minutes of rest and then do it one more time. If they fail, they are penalized by doing it two more times! Hey….Welcome Back, fellas. I hope the offseason training went well.
Most of the veteran players did better than the young bucks, maybe because they’ve been through it before but it is a testament to how good of a skater you have to be to play in the best hockey league in the world. It might say something about how long your shifts should be, too. Anyways, conditioning is a must to start off training camp. They may have a great offseason workout plan and program but that doesn’t mean they are in hockey shape or, at least, NHL ready hockey shape.
They now have 20 days and 7 preseason games to look at everyone on the 58-man training camp roster, find out who plays well together and set up everything for the beginning of the regular season on Thursday, October 5th at the Detroit Red Wings at 6:30 pm on NBC Sports Network.
D R A F T*
General Manager Chuck Fletcher had some work to do to get his team ready for the 17th Minnesota Wild season. He had to prepare for the Expansion Draft, the 2017 NHL Draft, the Frenzy of Free Agency and he also had a few restricted free agents to re-sign.
*Get it? That’s an expanded draft! What? NEVERMIND!
First on his offseason hockey-do list was to figure out who to expose in the Vegas Golden Knights Expansion Draft. Fletch was basically forced to deal F Erik Haula and one of his team’s top prospects in F Alex Tuch to guarantee Vegas wouldn’t take F Eric Staal, D Matt Dumba or D Marco Scandella. The good news is he also got back a 2018 3rd-round pick from Vegas. Erik Haula most likely was not going to be re-signed anyways and they still have a lot of good prospects even after losing the promising big power forward.
2O17 NHL Draft
During the NHL Draft, most Wild fans were probably watching anticipating (or hoping) for some kind of a trade since they didn’t pick until the 3rd round. No trade came but the Minnesota Wild picked 6 players (2 wings, 3 centers & 1 defenseman) we won’t likely see for awhile. 4 of them are in Canadian Junior Leagues, 1 is a big Russian center whose already playing in the KHL and 1 is a 20-yr-old forward Nick Swaney from Burnsville, MN, who played at Lakeville South HS, just finished his career in the USHL scoring 115 points & 66 goals in 120 games player with 51 of those points (26G) coming in 47 last season with the Waterloo Blackhawks AND who’s starting his college hockey career this season with the UMD Bulldogs.
We Have a Trade to Announce!*
*BOOOO!!! GET OFF THE STAGE, BETTMAN!!!
Maybe feeling like he had to cash in on his team’s defensive depth just before free agency began, on June 30th, Fletch (the Brown Fox) made a deal with the Buffalo Sabres to acquire F Tyler Ennis, F Marcus Foligno and a 2018 3rd-round draft pick for D Marco Scandella, F Jason Pominville and a 2018 4th-round draft pick. This trade freed up some salary cap room by ridding the Wild of Jason Pominville’s contract and it increased their forward depth by getting a small, speedy forward in Tyler Ennis, who just happens to be defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s best friend (Awww…), and big power forward, Marcus Foligno, who, at 6’3, will use his body physically, having ranked 5th in the NHL last season with 279 hits.* What this trade may have also done is taken away one of the few, if not only, defenseman the Wild had that would bring some physicality to the lineup.
*Ahh…some Clutter back in the Wild’s lineup. I like it!
Not So WILD Free Agency
So…with Scandella traded and all but maybe 2 forward spots filled, the Minnesota Wild set out to sign some free agents. They weren’t going to go get any of the big boys available but they did a good thing by grabbing a lot of players who are very close to taking that last step to making it in the NHL. Players like F Kyle Rau, F Landon Ferraro, D Ryan Murphy, F Cal O’Reilly, G Niklas Svedberg and D Kyle Quincey. This means whoever gets those last few available roster spots will have had to compete their butts off and earn it, and that includes Joel Eriksson-Ek or Luke Kunin. Competition makes everyone better. Even G Alex Stalock will have to compete to hold the backup goaltender spot.
Could You Sign This Again, Please?
So, one of the last things Fletch had on his offseason hockey-do list was to get his restricted free agents re-signed and, of course, keep his team under the $75M salary cap in the process. Both F Nino Niederreiter and F Mikael Granlund filed for arbitration so they knew they’d be signed before training camp started but they did not need arbitration as Fletch and the Minnesota Wild signed both Niederreiter and Granlund to contracts during the week of July 30th. Nino Niederreiter agreed to a 5-year/$26.25M ($5.25 AAV) contract on July 30th and Mikael Granlund agreed to a 3-year/$17.25M ($5.75M) contract 2 days later on August 1st.
The Wild still had some room under the salary cap and a veteran player would fit in very well, and most likely be preferred over a young player who has yet to figure out how it works in the NHL. They were talking to a bunch of free agents, trying to gauge what the best fit could be but, all along they had a player in mind they wanted to add to this team, a certain former Wild player (also, one of us Minnesotans.) The Minnesota Wild had to wait to see if he would consider coming back for another year of pro hockey after just finishing his 19th NHL season and winning his 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup.
Then, on August 16th, F Matt Cullen made the decision to come back for another season of NHL Hockey and to put the #7 Wild jersey back on* and help his home team get over the hump and show them how to get to the promised land. How ‘bout that for a feel-good story, huh? Cully’s back, baby!!!
*Chris Stewart gave Cullen the #7 back and will wear #10 this season.
The Wild also signed a couple of other veterans to player tryout (PTO) contracts in F Ryan Malone, who hasn’t played since 2014-15 and F Daniel Winnik, a 10-year vet who played with the Washington Capitals last season. He has also played for Bruce Boudreau for 2 season in Anaheim.
Yesterday, the Minnesota Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher took care of the last thing on their list and that was to get restricted free agent F Marcus Foligno re-signed. He signed a 4-year/$11.5M ($2.875 AAV) deal and he was able to take part in today’s first skate.
You are all caught up and ready for Wild Training Camp. What are some of the storylines for Training Camp and this season. Zach Parise missed today’s ice time because he tweaked his back the other day but it’s apparently not serious.
There aren’t a lot of big storylines other than the usual stay healthy, who’s playing together, can they come together as a team things. There are only really 4 spots available on the roster and they aren’t really that available considering players who have 1-way contracts and already have NHL experience.
Who will grab those last 2 forward and the last 2 defenseman spots available? Can F Joel Eriksson-Ek grab one of those spots and be the 3rd line center? Will either player, Ryan Malone and/or Daniel Winnik, grab one or two forward spots? What about young Luke Kunin?
Can Gustav Olofsson grab one of the available spots on defense? Will it come down picking 2 of Gustav, Mike Reilly and Kyle Quincey? Does Kyle Quincey’s experience give him the automatic lead? Will D Ryan Murphy start to realize his potential and make this team?
Can Eric Staal improve on his huge comeback season? Will Tyler Ennis have a comeback season like Eric Staal did in 2016-17? Will playing on a winning team allow Marcus Foligno to produce more?
How will the Wild’s defense be this season? Can they bring a physical element?
Will we still see increased point production from Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund? How will the lines play out? Will the Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker be together again? Who will be on the top line with Eric Staal? Zach? Nino? Ennis?
We’ll see over the next 20 days how this team evolves in training camp. We can only hope they stay healthy throughout the whole preseason but, Bruce Boudreau believes they have the depth to make up for anything.