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  • The Wild Were Chasing Something They Could Not Attain All Season

    Image courtesy of Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
    Tom Schreier

    On December 31, 2023, Marc-Andre Fleury became only the fourth goaltender in NHL history to play 1,000 games. However, he ended the day one game shy of tying Patrick Roy for the second-most victories of all time. The Winnipeg Jets beat the Minnesota Wild for the second consecutive game before the calendar turned to 2024, kicking off a streak where the Wild lost eight of nine games.

    “I wish it was a win,” Fleury said. “Disappointing. I thought the guys played great.”

    The Wild had ridden a new-coach bump in December. Bill Guerin relieved Dean Evason of his duties after Minnesota's November 26 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, which dropped Minnesota to 5-10-4 on the season. The Wild rallied behind John Hynes, winning seven of their next eight games. However, the Winnipeg series became a turning point in the season. 

    Minnesota constantly rallied after losing streaks to remain in the playoff bubble this year. But they almost always lost when it mattered. They often responded by saying they played well, flummoxed that they couldn’t win a game when fighting for their playoff lives. Still, the Wild finished 0-9-1 against the Central Division’s three best teams – the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, and Winnipeg. 

    The Wild lost meaningful games to good teams because they aren’t a playoff-caliber team. Minnesota’s roster isn’t skilled enough because the front office prioritizes size and veteran experience over youth and upside. In the offseason, they re-signed three declining veterans – Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno, and Mats Zuccarello – which didn’t allow them to sell at the deadline. Therefore, the Wild missed out on a franchise-changing opportunity in the middle of the season.

    Hartman, Foligno, and Zuccarello will continue occupying roster spots that the Wild could use for upcoming prospects, lowering their skill ceiling. And Minnesota doubled down on that strategy throughout the season. In November, they traded Calen Addison, 23, to the San Jose Sharks and replaced him with 33-year-old Zach Bogosian. Then they bought Bogosian’s dead-cat bounce. Even if they wanted their roster-building strategy now, it would take years to undo it.

    During the Wild’s first skid under Hynes, Guerin expressed surprise at how many injuries they sustained. Jared Spurgeon and Jared Spurgeon were out, and so were Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov. Marcus Foligno and Filip Gustavsson joined them, too. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Guerin said. “Even when I was playing, I can’t remember a rash of injuries like this, and to key guys, which is crazy.”

    Some of Minnesota’s injury issues were unfortunate. For example, Winnipeg’s Brenden Dillon injured Kaprizov on a dirty hit. But it’s also a product of the Wild’s philosophy. They are an undisciplined, veteran team. Their “grit” is often just reckless play, which cost them in the playoffs last year. And older players are more likely to suffer injuries. 

    Guerin believed that health was an essential factor in Minnesota’s success this season. “I still believe in this group,” he said in mid-January. “I know people are going to say I’m crazy, but I do. I think we’ve shown that when we are healthy and when we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re a good team.”

    On February 20, the Wild followed up their 10-7 win over the Vancouver Canucks by losing 6-3 to Winnipeg. Marco Rossi nearly had a hat trick, which would have been Minnesota’s third in two games. But his efforts weren’t enough. The Jets led 3-1 after two periods, and Minnesota couldn't mount a comeback after scoring seven third-period goals against Vancouver. 

    The Wild had another opportunity to grab a wild card spot, but Winnipeg beat them again. “It was two tips in the third that changed direction,” said Fleury. “The power-play goal was a nice play backdoor. Couple shots I didn't see. I don't think we got outplayed by any means.”

    In early March, The Athletic reported that Minnesota was listening to offers on Rossi. After recovering from a COVID-related heart condition, Rossi became the second Wild rookie after Kaprizov to score 20 goals this season. Rossi has been one of the team’s best 5-on-5 players, but he’s less productive on the power play. He’s also 5-foot-9, 180 lbs. 

    But what he lacks in stature, he makes up for in effort. He’s gritty in his own way. He doesn’t play recklessly. Instead, Rossi is willing to skate to the middle of the ice to score greasy goals and draw penalties. He’s a work in progress but one worth investing in. Rossi could become another reliable top-six center who could complement Joel Eriksson Ek. However, it feels like the Wild would rather have a larger, veteran player with a higher floor but also a lower skill ceiling.

    On April 7, Winnipeg beat the Wild to complete the sweep. Kaprizov has been carrying Minnesota all season, but his two goals weren’t enough to beat the Jets. The Wild appeared to realize they won’t make the playoffs this year. "It's a tough feeling, for sure," Zuccarello said. "But at the end of the day, that's the reality right now. You reassess and have to be better."

    The Wild must get better if they want to make it to the second round for the first time since the 2014-15 season. You can blame Minnesota’s cap situation. But given their slow start and lack of cap room, they had the perfect opportunity to go young and prepare for the future. Instead, the Wild bogged down their future cap with expensive contracts for declining players. 

    Injuries played a factor, but veteran-laden teams that play reckless hockey are more likely to get hurt. Occasionally, it seemed like the Wild felt they were getting unlucky bounces. But good teams create their own luck, and more skilled rosters can overcome variance. Ultimately, the front office built a team that prioritized size, physicality, and veteran experience. Therefore, they constructed a roster that wasn’t as good as the best teams in their division and the league. To believe anything else seems crazy.

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    I would sum up the season like this:

    Injuries exposed our lack of depth, which in turn exposed lackluster goaltending.

    Cap hell limited signing FA last season and forced us to play a line from Iowa all season.

    Evason was too inflexible to coach a NHL team as well as to fire subordinates.

    Most of our talent is young, and it showed in the big games.

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    You can blame Minnesota’s cap situation... Ultimately, the front office built a team that prioritized size, physicality, and veteran experience. Therefore, they constructed a roster that wasn’t as good as the best teams in their division and the league. To believe anything else seems crazy.

    Not going to find a lot of teams contending for titles with over 25% of the cap(including Spurgeon) unavailable to them. The prior 2 seasons didn't have the worst cap penalties and the Wild were rather competitive with Spurgeon on the ice.

    This season, they lost Spurgeon and the cap hits jumped up a lot, so they couldn't fill in with quality veterans, instead using bargain vets like NoJo--one can imagine how swapping him with Nyquist(71 points so far) could have changed the season, and the pay difference is less than $1.2M.

    The Wild had a horrible start to the year, but probably are about as competitive as someone should reasonably expect when they have less than 75% of their cap available on the ice.

    Vegas was struggling for a little while with over $20M of their cap on LTIR, until they filled in those dollars with quality veterans via trade, and they're still only winning about half the time since the all-star break--the Wild didn't have the option to fill in that much. You could fit Jack Eichel and William Karlsson into the cap space the Wild aren't using right now. Would swapping those players from Vegas to the Wild for nothing make the Wild the better team? I'm guessing yes.

    The Wild will fill in with young talent when they're ready, but young talent tends to take a bit of time to have superior skill to the guys the Wild had going into the season. When the young talent passes Hartman and Foligno up, relegating them to 4th line duties, that could raise the level of contention for their roster.

    The 2025-2026 season is shaping up to be the beginning of a very competitive Minnesota Wild roster.

    Edited by Imyourhuckleberry
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    Size keeps getting mentioned. The Wild aren’t actually a big team. I do believe they are looking to address that need because it’s a key component for playoff success. It’s gotta be skilled, fast and strong BIG players. 

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    When it comes to reasons, it's easy to say blame the cap penalties or blame the injuries. Excuses, excuses, excuses. But, the reality is that if we are to compete with the penalties, we have to stay healthy, especially with our most important players. That has happened the past 3 seasons, but just like in Russian Roulette, sometimes when you pull the trigger, the blast comes.

    This isn't an excuse, this is a reason. You can only have a little AHL depth to come up and play, but the drop off of those guys is pretty dramatic. And, Guerin had a 3rd issue, he spent to the cap ceiling leaving nothing open for our best young options, a mistake I hope he learns from. 

    In the end, it simply was too much to overcome. When we caught Nashville and St. Louis, both teams were healthy, we were not. I imagine something similar happened in Winnipeg. We haven't gotten the bounces, we haven't gotten the injury luck, and our goalies have been below average behind a suspect defense. 

    This happens. Why not enough help on D in the A? Well, we committed to the youth who were not ready. Why has Iowa been a dumpster fire? Well, we stole their best players with the big club. 

    Over the past 3 seasons, Guerin has gambled with some guys who have really overperformed. And, they want to be here. He rewarded them for their efforts. They, in turn, have not given their best back this season, IMO. But I cannot agree with this:


    Ultimately, the front office built a team that prioritized size, physicality, and veteran experience. Therefore, they constructed a roster that wasn’t as good as the best teams in their division and the league. To believe anything else seems crazy.

    Actually, I wish this were true. If it were, we'd be far more competitive against Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Dallas and Colorado. But, it isn't. What about the young guys? Well, we've got them developing all over the place. Last year's draft clearly isn't ready yet. We had 4 top prospects playing in Europe. 3 have come over now. Our kids in the A aren't ready for full-time NHL spots yet. Simply put, we may have wanted to get younger, but we really couldn't. 

    Chisholm has been a good find. I have no explanation on why Hunt is not up here. Goligoski should have retired and Guerin should have told him before the season that it was time. Why Merrill is still up here is beyond me, and now that I'm picking on him, he'll score again next game. 

    I get the Johansson disappointment and the Freddy disappointment. Freddy's main calling card has been the 3rd slot on the shootout. I think he's had 2 tries this season and we haven't gone into shootouts much this season. 

    What really gets under my skin, though, is the lack of strength/weight training with the prospects. Had they paid attention to this, they'd have likely been here by now. We must do better in this category. In this division, specifically, it has to happen to compete. I have no idea what the prospects are looking at?

    Off topic, but it is now 2:55 where I'm at and the sun is a thumbnail right now. It looks pretty cool. We've got sunny skies here and the afternoon is definitely dimmed. I imagine that the light here is similar to how results lag in hockey. The sun is 80% blocked yet it is still fairly bright on the ground. Good luck to all you who are watching in your area!

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    Depth is an issue obviously.  However, the Wild's in a waiting game.  I'm sorry that people like Duhaime, Dewar, Letteri, Lucchini, Addison, Merrill, and Goligoski are only going to do so much.  Sorry they didn't see what everyone else seemed to see and just go, "Yeah.  Let's just lose to make our whiny fanbase happy."  

    The facts were simple: the best players the Wild have coming weren't available.  Hartman and Zuccarello are still pretty good options until someone comes along and rips that spot from them.  Foligno and Spurgeon's health might be too much of a red flag.  Rossi did make immense strides, and should be rewarded. He's stayed in the Top 6 role for practically 6 months.  Faber continues to be that #1D almost out of nowhere.

    The Wild got caught in a season of transition no mans land.  A lot of the higher offensive skill guys are too young to be here, and the defense they drafted wasn't good enough to crack the lineup.  Hynes and Guerin will find spots to put those people in, and it might even happen next season.

    All Guerin did was make a calculated risk.  Just because he didn't give EVERY young player rope to sink or swim doesn't mean he's up shit creek.  Who knows.  Getting rid of Hartman, Zuccarello, etc. could make the team way fucking worse, because the ones who SHOULD be here weren't gifted spots or unavailable.  No one really wants to admit that though.  They just want to see what they want to see: ping pong ball fantasy solutions.  

    This is a team in flux, this was a team that was always gonna be in flux, but overachieved.  One bad season isn't going to wreck the waiting game.  If 3-4 guys come in or rebound and provide 40, 50, 60, or even 70 pts, that transforms a mid team that missed contention to one with enough offensive punch to make it.  Get some defensive structure, and then that makes it all the more obvious.

    This is a team that wanted to drip feed its youth and best players in, while a vocal majority wanted them to set a bomb and damn the consequences.


    Edited by Citizen Strife
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    My issue is the lack options set forth by the GM. He could have waited to sign the three veterans this year and let it play out. 

    He didn't. And in doing so limited his options to get better both in the long and short term. Now his money is locked up, and roster flexibility is more rigid. 

    Are all prospects going to hit? No, but I've always felt that this season and next season is the season where the built-in excuse of the buyout penalties to play the kids and see what you have. Then make decisions based on the results. Hopefully once you're through to the other side, the money is available to build exactly how you want. 

    It didn't happen, and it won't happen. And everyone was willing to give the team a pass knowing the limitations. So fuck around and find out. Maybe they hit on something. Maybe they don't. At least they'll know.

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    Nashville basically moved out Granlund , Duchene, and Niederreiter  for Oreilly and Nyquist  and so far  they put up more points with less salary cap  and freed up another roster spot .  I was wishing to get Oreilly and keep thoseNyquist  but it couldnt have happened regardless of what anyone wanted .  

    Edited by Dango
    trying to be more clearer
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    I'm actually impressed that the Wild did as well as they did without a 2nd line. Bad news: they still won't have one next year with the 15MM dead cap still in the way. Good news: a really good 2nd line can be had for 15MM once the dead cap goes away.

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    If anything in this article were true the Wild wouldn't have made the playoffs last year...or the year before.  Except they did. Not saying signing the vets was a good idea but injuries were the biggest factor this year by a large margin.

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    On 4/8/2024 at 8:04 PM, joebou15 said:

    He could have waited to sign the three veterans this year and let it play out. 

    The only reason I can think of for doing it is to get them at a lesser rate. But why such a long contract for Freddie and Foligno? (Why at all for Nojo?) Hopefully they play the 4th line next season.

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