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  • The Wild's Continuity Makes For An Offseason Advantage

    Image courtesy of Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports
    Mikki Tuohy

    There are plenty of uncertainties for the Minnesota Wild during the off-season. Will they make any significant trades? When will they finally sign Filip Gustavsson to his next contract? Which players will leave during free agency? The unknowns might last a while, but the Wild have one off-season advantage that might be unexpected.

    The strong identity of the team.

    The Wild have a strong identity. They are physical and gritty, unafraid of board battles or getting into the dirty areas. From the fourth-line grinders up to the team’s superstar, everyone adheres to this identity and knows how they can contribute to it.

    During an off-season when the salary cap crunch is at its worst, this identity forms a foundation for any and all changes. There isn’t room in the budget for a small contract mistake, let alone a big one. Anyone who is going to sign or re-sign to the Wild needs to fit this identity. 

    There are some who might mock the idea of an “identity” for a team being important. Why do coaches and staff make such a big deal about it? The proof is in the pudding. Every once in a while, the Wild have a span of games where they get away from their identity. They’re trying to make pretty plays, passing when they should shoot, and depending on their skills instead of their physicality. Since they're a team built around grit, those games are often the ones they lose.

    When Bill Guerin sent Marco Rossi back down to Iowa to work on his game last season, Rossi was told to get more “F- you” in his game. Guerin could see that Rossi was out of step with the identity and it was hurting Rossi’s confidence and his game. But after only a short time in Iowa, Rossi’s game has become a grittier, more physical style that should serve him well as he looks to make the big team right out of training camp again this summer.

    After switching up the Iowa Wild coaching staff and moving Dean Evason's assistant coach Brett McLean into the head spot in Des Moines, Minnesota's gritty identity will extend to the AHL team. Most prospects will spend a few years in Iowa where they can get a taste of the physicality before moving up to the big club. Matching the style of play between the two teams will streamline the transition from the AHL to the NHL. 

    Players who are looking to re-sign with Minnesota know the hard, physical game that they have to play to stay in the lineup. Players who are coming from other teams know exactly what they’re walking into because of the league-wide identity. And the prospects down in Iowa and elsewhere can see the type of game that they need to improve on if they want to get to the big club. No one is going to walk in and be surprised that they’re expected to grind.

    The identity can also help players know which parts of their game need to be strengthened out. Smaller guys should focus on strength training to help play a grittier game. All players should work on board battles. The pretty plays don’t need to be focused on as much because they are a smaller part of Minnesota's game. Being able to niche down training to the more important aspects help refine their game and fit the style of play.

    A strong identity also helps when prospects are being scouted and drafted. The scouting staff knows which kinds of players will thrive and help move the team forward and which are better suited to a different style of play. Narrowing the prospect pool by looking at it through the lens of the Wild's identity leads to more effective scouting. Drafting prospects who fit that mold means that the overall pool stays consistent with the pipeline all the up to Minnesota.

    But just because the Wild play a grit-first game, it doesn’t mean they don’t have skill. Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy know how to score pretty goals and everyone’s seen them do it. But the problems start when the goal-scorers like Kaprizov and Boldy are only looking to make highlight-reel plays. They’re capable of making those amazing plays without sacrificing their identity.

    Having a strong identity will help the Wild as they navigate the next few seasons, especially as other teams will be re-making their teams to a much bigger extent this offseason. Between the salary crunch and many players coming into free agency, having a foundation like the gritty identity of the team to start from will ensure that they give contracts and signing rights to the right kind of players. 

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    But just because the Wild play a grit-first game, it doesn’t mean they don’t have skill. Kirill Kaprizovand Matt Boldy know how to score pretty goals and everyone’s seen them do it. But the problems start when the goal-scorers like Kaprizov and Boldy are only looking to make highlight-reel plays. They’re capable of making those amazing plays without sacrificing their identity.

    This is where the team got into a lot of trouble the last couple years. Losing streaks were the result until they snapped back into reality.


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    I wish this article were true, but it isn't. Only half the team is built that way, the other half is not. I can only say that Mikki had on her rose colored glasses, or maybe green with rose? 

    If we were this type of team, we would have 4 defenders in the Middleton class. We don't, we have 1. We have Dewar, Shaw, Zuccarello and Rossi to go with that. We've got a few average guys, but our weight is well below league average. 

    Now, team that up with a group that doesn't normally play a 60 minute game and I think you don't have what you think you have. Now, if you look at what's coming, and what Brackett has brought us the last couple of years, you'd also see that he isn't drafting for grit. We're going to be a skilled team going forward, hopefully one that takes the body a lot. But skill is what is being drafted, not grit. 

    I would have to say, wholeheartedly that the conclusion of this article is a fail. This is not that type of team.

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    I would be shopping Addison to ANA, DET, or ARI. There was rumors Detroit had interest. Anaheim has Drysdale who would have some familiarity with Addison from Team Canada. They're not in a huge hurry to be a playoff team. Each club has some extra picks in the 2nd round. Addison was a 2nd too so the perceived value exchange wouldn't be a sticking point for fans or media if such a trade took place. I.e. the optics aren't bad.

    If MN could do that and improve their draft of forwards or bigger defense for a few years from now, I think that would be a decent connection to the original deal that moved Zucker out for Galchenyuk & Addison. Might be the 59th or 60th pick from ANA but in this draft perhaps that's the best return for Addison you can get from a futures for futures deal. Obviously and earlier 2nd rounder would be preferable before the Wild's 53rd slot. Detroit having 41-43 is a nice target too.

    Guerin should be looking at all the players that don't fit or where the Wild have redundancy and trying to get them moved for 2nd or 3rd rounders.

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    Also, if our grit identity were that big of a deal, a reasonable person would look at our strength and conditioning program and expect our prospects to be getting much larger. They're not! This is a problem.

    As for Addison, I think I like him better getting packaged to bring us back a mid first. Somewhere like 17 where he is packaged with another player/another year's pick to add the 2nd 1st rounder to our portfolio.  

    I've got no problems flipping Steel for a 2nd. We do need to take advantage of teams that are in win now scenarios. I'd think both Zuccarello and Foligno could be had for the right price. 

    Shooter has bought time from OCL with the last 3 seasons of overperformance. I believe transitioning the new guys in this next year would be the best thing to do. That gives us 2 years to get them up to speed and ready for '25 when we can start operating on a level playing field. 

    By the way, looking around the Central division, Colorado and Dallas look like playoff teams. Lots of questions about Winnipeg, Chicago, Nashville, Arizona and St. Louis. If we transition, we should still be competitive for the 3rd slot in the playoff seeding for the Central. Why not take the chance that this is the year we transition? 

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    Yeah, I like the idea of the Wild moving out the remaining guys not part of the long-term plan. Get picks now while teams have a lot of them and there's a bit of chaos. Some teams are gonna be afraid to lose guys for nothing. Guerin and the stability in MN should be an advantage. Not a ton of cap but in a pretty nice position to shuffle with assets and a nice roster currently.

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