This years' Minnesota Wild have the makings of something extraordinary. Through 41 games, they hold a 28-10-3 record and a .720 points percentage, good enough for second in the Central Division. Not only does Minnesota have depth and a good defense. They also feature a superstar scorer that the franchise lacked since Marian Gaborik left 14 years ago.
This year has everyone excited about what could be. Could this year be a deep run in the postseason? Will general manager Bill Guerin – or more importantly should Guerin – make a trade to bolster the roster for a run at the Stanley Cup? Either way you cut it, the Wild is most definitely in the conversation for a chance at the Cup.
According to MoneyPuck.com, the Wild has the highest percentage of making and winning the Stanley Cup. And while the team must show that they can beat the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and St. Louis Blues to get there, the outlook is shimmering.
However, whether the Wild are true contenders is still up for debate. Is this their year? Or is this a team on the rise that is exceeding expectations? Are the Wild in a position to push all the chips in and go for the Cup? Or is a deft lesson in patience the more righteous path to the Promised Land?
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what a team does. A first-round exit is still possible whether the GM sticks with his roster, or consummates a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline. Those are hard lessons that the Wild’s last team with this much promise had to learn.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Wild had a team with this much depth. The 2016-17 team also sported a true shutdown line with a scoring touch. They had the goaltending, the defense, and enough scoring to sport an identical .720 points percentage through 41 games of the season. We were then talking about Mikko Koivu’s Selke potential, Mikael Granlund’s true breakout season, and how Bruce Boudreau finally unleashed Minnesota's held-back offense.
Jason Zucker and Erik Haula were speedy offensive threats. And Eric Staal’s addition to the line-up looked like the best free agent signing in franchise history. The Wild’s depth was finally coming of age with Nino Niederreiter on his way to scoring 25 goals, Charlie Coyle having a career year, and Matt Dumba becoming a power play weapon.
The Wild were doing everything right. Former GM Chuck Fletcher even took a swing by acquiring Martin Hanzal. Many have deemed that acquisition as the catalyst for Minnesota's demise. However, the move actually made the Wild better. The team locked down the defensive zone more. They took more shots on the opposing net. In hindsight, the Wild were off trading for Hanzal than standing pat at the deadline.
|Before Trade Deadline||49.79||55.04||49.23|
|After Trade Deadline||56.10||60||55.40|
While the Wild improved, it didn’t matter in the first round. Hockey is such a weird, flukey sport that a team that was doing almost everything right could – and did – become unraveled by Jake Allen on an extremely hot streak.
The feeling we were all feeling in February 2017 is the same today. Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello can’t be stopped except by injuries. Matt Boldy and Kevin Fiala are forming their own dynamic duo. And the shutdown line of Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Jordan Greenway are stifling at worst, and a top offensive threat at best. Oh, and the fourth line has found a way to pitch in once more.
Guerin is faced with the same dilemma that Fletcher faced in March 2017 – reward the team and go for it, or be patient and not disrupt “The Plan.” There will be newspaper columnists, bloggers, and TV analysts talking about the Wild’s situation. Even if Guerin makes a move, and it proves to be one that makes the team better, it still could be unraveled by a hot goalie. That’s the risk here.
The Wild GM can’t take a half-hearted approach if he makes an acquisition this year. If Guerin wants to truly go for it this season, he needs to target the right center, or goalie, or defenseman, and go for broke. He’s not going to be able to have his cake and eat it too. Guerin isn’t going to be able to protect his plan and make a trade of a top-line center. Simply improving the team as Hanzal did isn’t going to be enough. If it’s going to be a first-round pick, a top prospect, or both, it’s going to require some serious due diligence and picking the right guy.
The current Wild team is better than they were in 2016-17. They are just as good defensively and have the better offense by a mile.
[caption id=attachment_117867" align="aligncenter" width="850] Courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com[/caption]
[caption id=attachment_117868" align="aligncenter" width="850] Courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com[/caption]
They have the right character guys in a locker room that is, by all accounts, close and playing for each other. This team is different than previous versions of Wild teams and has a much higher ceiling than the Mikko Koivu-Zach Parise-Ryan Suter teams of old. However, if Guerin doesn’t pay attention to the lessons from a not-so-distant past, he could fall into the same traps that doomed Fletcher.
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