During his end-of-year press conference, Bill Guerin reiterated that it’s not his goal to get to the second round. No offense, but the goal is actually to get to the second round of the playoffs. Then the third, then the finals. But if the goal is not to get to the second round, what is it? He says it’s to win the Stanley Cup, obviously. But you need to get past the first round to get there. And having a goal of winning the first round is the first step and the first goal. However, no matter how confident Guerin is in the roster, it’s not there yet and won’t be for a while.
It’s clear that the roster cannot get any better because of the cap restraints. There’s only so much they can do as an organization at this point. Sure, getting to the playoffs is nice, and getting that experience is also good. But when the players are not making the most out of it, and the stars disappear, it’s pointless. It’s not their fault that they limped into the postseason with several injuries, but that should’ve just made the other players like Matt Boldy want to put the team on his back. Clearly, he is not capable of such responsibilities yet in his career. Still, the effort was hardly there.
The Wild played their first playoff round like a bunch of guys who would rather be in Cabo or on the golf course. There was no urgency against the Dallas Stars. There was no desire to change things that weren’t working. Look at the Carolina Hurricanes. They lost one of their best players, Andrei Svechnikov, to an ACL tear. They still made it to the playoffs, and now they’re in the conference finals. They even lost Teuvo Teraveinen in the first round and still played extremely well without two impact players. Minnesota just kind of gave up.
The Wild are a middle-of-the-pack team. They would be nowhere without Kirill Kaprizov, and it seems like the organization is fine with that. They’re complacent but within reason. Kaprizov was a fifth-round pick. They could’ve easily gone with someone else at that spot. But they somehow landed a superstar, and he kind of made this team into what it is. He was a low-risk, high-reward guy who decided to develop in his own country. It probably made him into the player he is today, but the Wild need more than just Kaprizov.
However, with two more years of being unable to spend $14 million on more key players, the Wild are unable to do anything and are stuck in the same pattern. Sure, they have guys in the minor league system that could help in some capacity, but $14 million could help land that ever-elusive No. 1 center.
It was clear in the playoffs that the Wild needed more playmakers. Their ‘grit first’ theme did not work out. It should be skill above anything. Instead, Minnesota loaded up on players like Ryan Reaves, who offer something in the locker room but don’t make an impact on the ice. The Wild needed some grit, but it should never be the priority. Goal-scoring and winning should be the mentality for every team in the playoffs, and Minnesota isn’t there.
The Wild have arguably one of the best prospect pools in the league, but most of them are at least a year or two away from being NHL-ready. Unfortunately, Marco Rossi might be a bust at this point. But Jesper Wallstedt looks to be the goalie of the future, and there are others in the pool who could make a significant impact on the team – just not yet.
So what should the team do while missing out on $14 million in cap space and a competitive roster? Tank it out. Everyone has shown signs of regression. Guys like Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello have slowed down a lot. Only Kaprizov, Boldy, and Joel Eriksson Ek are the real gamers on the team. Everyone else is just not making an impact.
It’s tough to predict how next year’s team will look. Matt Dumba is gone; Reaves will probably test the market. They could deal Calen Addison. The new defensive core four of Jake Middleton, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and rookie Brock Faber should be around for a while. But the bottom defense pairing is anyone’s guess at this point.
For the forwards, it’s looking to be mostly the same guys. The players who weren’t able to get anything meaningful done last year. Don’t kid yourself, the Wild are nowhere near being Stanley Cup caliber with this roster. So with the lack of talent in the lineup, they should just play it out. Start Marc-Andre Fleury over Filip Gustavsson for what could possibly be his last season in the league. Maybe even trade Gus for a high draft pick if Wallstedt is the future of the position.
It’s clear that high draft picks help win Stanley Cups, and the Wild have none of them at the moment. Look at the Colorado Avalanche. They managed to get the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, and they landed Cale Makar, a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman who helped the Avs win the Stanley Cup. All it takes is one top-tier talent to take a team to another level. If the Wild don’t get that guy somehow, they’ll never win anything.
All of Minnesota’s prospects are developing. If they could get a guy with the chops to jump right into the league, they could be the next dynasty. The guys on the roster don’t need to waste their time trying to overperform. The talent is just not there yet. The guys are getting old and rusty. Ride it out with the current roster and see where it takes them. But based on this year’s playoff performance, a break from the playoffs and a chance to draft top-tier talent is what the Wild should do while under their cap crunch.
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