The Minnesota Wild had their greatest season in 2016-17 with 49 wins and 106 points. That was the regular season, though. You can always tell if a team had a good or a great season if they are talking about how good of a “regular” season they had. Being upset by the St. Louis Blues in 5 games left a lasting memory of failure on the Wild fans and even more on the Wild players. They have a chance to erase that memory this season.
A big reason why they had such a great regular season in 2016-17 was the guy standing behind them on the bench, Bruce Boudreau. He’s a head coach that is also known for having great success in the regular season but not so much in the playoffs. Pessimistic fans will say they are a match made in heaven. Optimistic fans will say the greatest season in Minnesota Wild history is a pretty nice way to begin what is hopefully a long, successful tenure in the State of Hockey for Mr. Boudreau.
Realistic fans will say they the Minnesota Wild’s window of opportunity will only stay open so long so they better do something this season. Analytical fans might say they played very well against the St. Louis Blues but faced a hot goalie and a hot team playing with confidence after having to battle their way into the playoffs. They also might say history has shown Bruce Boudreau doesn’t win in the playoffs. So far, that’s been very true.
The regular season has turned into a play-in game for the National Hockey League Playoffs. Get in and see what happens. Sure, the regular season is important for every team so they can learn, form and perfect their system, their roles, their lines, their chemistry and to earn home-ice advantage. Those results matter and the points may quantify those results but they are thrown out the window once the 2nd season begins. Nobody cares about the President’s Trophy! It’s in the garage somewhere.
It’s about being a champion and Raising the Cup and nothing else. How will this season be different for the Minnesota Wild?
See Ya, Old! Hello, New!
After a postseason that lasted all of 5 games, the Minnesota Wild, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Chuck Fletcher and the rest of management had plenty of time to analyze their team and find out how to get over the hump to playoff disappointment. They traded one of their top prospects, F Alex Tuch, to the Vegas Golden Knights to encourage them to take F Erik Haula instead of one of their defensemen. They then used that depth on defense to acquire big power forward Marcus Foligno and skilled smaller F Tyler Ennis from the Buffalo Sabres for F Jason Pominville and D Marco Scandella.
26-year-old Marcus Foligno is 6’3, 228lbs and was 5th in the league with 279 hits last season. He also scored 13 goals and added 10 assists. His size and physicality should help replace what the Wild lost in D Marco Scandella. It will be nice to have a physical presence and someone who wants to use his body to punish the opponent every night. Tyler Ennis is only 5’9 and 175lbs but he’s a gritty player who missed 90 games over the last two season due to a concussion and a sports hernia but he also has three 20-goal seasons between 2010 and 2015. Oh, and he happens to be D Jared Spurgeon’s best friend. They played together since Mites growing up in Edmonton, were cut from the same Bantam team because they were too small, won WHL junior hockey championships with different teams and both made the NHL. WOW!
In free agency, C Martin Hanzal, F Ryan White, G Darcy Kuemper & D Christian Folin were lost (F Jordan Schroeder was traded to Columbus for F Dante Salituro) and the Wild mostly added younger depth players who are very close to becoming NHL players to increase competition for the last spots on the roster, two forward spots and two defense spots.
The goal was to strengthen the depth on the team so there was less inexperience on the roster and if there were some young players, they had to earn those spots. It also means, that depth will be in the minors and another player will be able to step into that role right away. No more revolving door from the minors. Veteran F Daniel Winnik (joined training camp on a Player Tryout(PTO)), F Joel Eriksson-Ek, D Kyle Quincey, D Gustav Olofsson & D Mike Reilly won those spots.
The other big “Hello, New” acquisition came late in the offseason when former Wild player and winner of 2 straight Stanley Cups (3 total), C Matt Cullen, agreed to come back and play another year of hockey and do it in his home state. This is a huge pickup as it solidifies the 4th line with a veteran player who has been in that role and succeeded in that role.
Also, G Alex Stalock will be the new backup goalie to starter Devan Dubnyk. Bruce Boudreau now has a veteran player as his backup option so he won’t have to ride Dubnyk game in & game out. He can go to Stalock and have confidence that he’ll do a good job and the team doesn’t take a step back when Devan Dubnyk needs a breather in back-to-back situations. Mr. Stalock should also push Dubnyk so he knows he has to keep playing well or he might be watching from the bench more often.
The Wild still have a bunch of players in that 25 to 28-year-old range who are close to hitting their prime but can still improve their game, have stellar seasons and change their careers. Mikael Granlund is 25 and just had a breakout season and led the team with 69 points (26 goals, 43 assists). Nino Niederreiter is also 25 and continues to put up more points every season and has three straight 20-goal seasons. Charlie Coyle, also 25, has come close to his potential in terms of goals or points. Jason Zucker, yes, also 25-years-old doubled his point total from 2015-16 (23 points) to 47 last season and Jared Spurgeon at 27 is already one of the best defenseman in the league. That’s not even mentioning younger players like D Matt Dumba (24), D Jonas Brodin (24), D Mike Reilly (24), D Gustav Olofsson (22) and F Joel Eriksson-Ek (20).
Not one of those players has peaked, yet. They’re still learning the NHL game. One big reason you can see that is in there shot attempts. It takes awhile for younger players to realize they should take advantage of every opportunity they get to shoot the puck. It could be because they are young and feel they should pass the puck to the vets or the more established players on the team or just a lack of confidence in their shots at the highest level of professional hockey but shooting changes the game. You can’t score if you don’t shoot the puck. If you aren’t scoring, the best thing to do is SHOOT MORE not shoot less. Shooting more will increase your chances of scoring. You should expect more production from Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Marcus Foligno because they will and should shoot the puck more often this season.
Stuck In The Central With You
The Central Division will most likely be the toughest division in the NHL this season. The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off a disappointing playoff performance so they’ll be determined to change that. The Dallas Stars went out and signed a ton of free agents so they can get back to where they were a couple seasons ago when they won the Central division. The Nashville Predators just made the Stanley Cup Finals. The St. Louis Blues aren’t going anywhere and the Winnipeg Jets certainly have the talent to make the playoffs this season. The Colorado Avalanche were pretty bad last season but they’ve always played well against the Wild.
That’s just the Central Division. There’s still the Edmonton Oilers, the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks, the Calgary Flames and that’s just the Western Conference. The East is no pushover, either. Pittsburgh, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Washington, etc… It’s going to be a great season of NHL Hockey and the Minnesota Wild will be right in the thick of all of it.
The Minnesota Wild have reached a spot where they have everything they need to succeed. They have depth up front, on the blue line and in net. They have speed. They have size. They have an elite goaltender. They have veteran leadership. They have players entering the prime of their careers and they have a great coach. Injuries shouldn’t keep them from success. They may make success more difficult but that’s why they acquired the depth they have now. That’s what they’ve been doing with all the draft picks and free agent signings, building depth. Now, they have to build on what they did last season, make the playoffs and go on the run this State of Hockey has been looking for.
We expect the Minnesota Wild to build on what they started last season and be one of the best teams in the league once again. They will be in the battle to win the Central Division and take that momentum into the playoffs and finally go on that playoff run we’ve all been waiting on.
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