The Minnesota Wild started off last season with one of the Franchise’s best ever starts. They continued on to the best season the franchise has ever seen, before putting in what is has become the franchise norm for post-season performance.
Wild faithful through the beginning of the year were clamoring for attention for the team, wondering how they remained so low in the power rankings. And the Wild proved the power-rankers right in the end; the late season swoon and lukewarm postseason run showed that you have to do more than just have a good start and overall season.
The offseason moves made by the Wild have been largely underwhelming. They’ve been hurt by a stagnating salary cap, but turning Pominville and Scandella into Ennis, Foligno, and less than $2 million in cap space (after bonuses) leaves some big questions. Who fills in on the blue line? Who replaces Pominvilles stellar, if underrated play the last year or so? Would the Wild be better with a sack of flour in pads as a backup goalie?
Mikko Koivu has just signed a 2-year contract extension, possibly meaning he’ll play the rest of his career in a Wild sweater. The longtime captain had somewhat of a resurgence last season under Bruce Boudreau, and now’s the time for him to prove it wasn’t a one-time event.
In a similar boat is Mikael Granlund: after years of seeming to never take the next step, the Finn put on a show last season and took off under Boudreau’s tutelage. Was that a flash in the pan, or is this the new improved Granny? This season will tell us.
Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter continue to be stalwarts who play better without huge leaps; could this be the year they blow up? Joel Eriksson Ek likely will show up in the NHL; the young centerman showed some skill, but was raw; will a year in the AHL have seasoned him?
These are all questions that need answering, but they aren’t the big one. More perhaps than any other sport, a hockey team can live or die by one player: the goalie.
Devan Dubnyk has been stellar in goal for the Wild. Even in his swoon in the back half of last season, he wasn’t awful, merely average. If Dubnyk can continue to be his remarkable self, the Wild will be OK and be a favorite to make the playoffs.
So, the bad news: last season was the franchise best and not good enough. Improvement will be needed.
The good news: the failures of last season lie mainly in the postseason, which is heavily luck-biased; a stretch of good play from a goaltender or a stretch of poor luck for some skaters and a team can win or lose through no fault of their own.
Then again, maybe that’s bad news. If success in the postseason lies in the hockey gods, there’s little the Wild can do to guarantee success.
Either way: this year is a chance for the Wild to make a point in the NHL that they were not a one-year flash in the pan.