The Minnesota Wild scrapped their way into the postseason but are they going to do better this year on the NHL odds. Can they improve and contend with the big boys in the West?
What Went Wrong Last Season?
The Wild did enough to cruise into the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference last season and while they were excellent at home at the Xcel Energy Center with a record of 26-10-5, they were average on the road at 17-17-7. They used that home-ice advantage to stretch the favored Colorado Avalanche to seven games in the first round, then they even beat the Avs on the road to go to the second round. The Wild then went on to face Chicago, winning two of their three home games, but they lost in six on their own ice.
The Wild would have liked to score a few more goals, but that has been ongoing with this team for years now. Only two players (Jason Pominville and Zach Parise) scored more than 14 goals on the season. Minnesota also had a rotating door in goals due to injuries, so stabilizing that position would have been good.
It has been a busy offseason for the Wild, who had 21 free agents going into the summer. On the plus side, the Wild picked up Thomas Vanek, who will be counted on to score goals, and Brett Sutter also came to town with Jordan Schroeder. However, the Wild lost Clayton Stoner, Cody McCormick, Matt Moulson and Dany Heatley to free agency. Losing Stoner, a solid defenseman, could be tough on the Wild while losing Moulson will take a bite out of their offense. That isn’t good for a team that always seems to have issues lighting the lamp.
Minnesota’s gritty style of play makes them a pain to go against and they’re going to have to stick to that style in order to have any success in a talented conference like the West. They need Vanek to score at least 30 goals because Pominville and Parise can’t continue to carry the load by themselves. If you look at the roster, it doesn’t even look like anyone else will come close to scoring 20; maybe captain Mikko Koivu. Ryan Suter continues to power the defense but the Wild need a goalie emerge – and stay healthy – as their No. 1 guy. Either Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom has to seize the reins. Darcy Kuemper is also in the mix as the 24-year-old played very well when he was called upon last season.
The Wild aren’t going to be a top-four team, so their likely looking at another wild card to get into the playoffs. With their style of play, that is definitely attainable. However, the rest of the conference has too much power up front for the Wild and unless their offense really starts to dominate. A first-round exit looks like the NHL pick for Minnesota.
NHL Pick: Make the playoffs, eliminated in the first round