(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
Last Season, In Summary
The Minnesota Wild finished at 43-27-12, good for the first wild card in the Western Conference. They played an epic first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, with four overtime games including a Game 7 OT win at Colorado. Alas, the magic couldn’t continue in Round 2, with the Chicago Blackhawks thwarting them in OT of Game 6.
Last Season’s Definitive Highlight
“Is it in? YES!”
The worst kept secret in hockey was finally revealed as Thomas Vanek signed a 3-year, $19.5-million free agent deal with Minnesota. The Wild also inked center Jordan Schroder, Justin Falk, Joel Rechlicz and Stu Bickel.
Moving on from the Wild were Matt Moulson, Dany Heatley and Clayton Stoner, among others.
The Minnesota top six was a mix of steady veterans and young players finding their stride.
Jason Pominville led the Wild with 30 goals and 60 points, including 23 goals at even strength. Zach Parise was second on the Wild with 29 goals, as he found solid chemistry with rookie Charlie Coyle (30 points in 70 games) and Mikko Koivu (54 points in 65 games). Mikael Granlund had a revelatory Sochi Games and 41 points in 63 games for Minnesota. Vanek joins that top six as one of the NHL’s best, albeit streakiest, goal scorers.
One of the lineup’s wild cards is Nino Niederreiter, who had 36 points in 81 games last season. Where does he fit for Minnesota?
Center Kyle Brodziak had 42 points in 81 games, skating mostly with the cordial Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine (21 points in 66 games).
Jason Zucker and Erik Haula have both made strong cases for increased ice time, although one wonders if Zucker has enough to stick. Cody Almond, Zack Phillips, Brett Bulmer and Jordan Schroeder will be in the mix. Stephane Veilleux brings some energy.
Ryan Suter only skated 29:25 per game last season, which is less than half the game. Weak sauce.
But seriously, Suter’s durability and effectiveness (43 points in 82 games) was a boon to the Wild’s blueline. His primary partner, Jonas Brodin, has 19 points in 79 games.
Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella found a nice chemistry together last season; Spurgeon in particular is a possession driver for the Wild, no matter with whom he plays.
Keith Ballard enters the last year of his contract after skating to a minus-7 in 45 games.
Christian Folin, Justin Falk and Jonathan Blum will be in the mix for the last two spots on defense. But all eyes will be on Matthew Dumba, a defenseman of the future whose time might be now.
As of this writing, the Wild have four goalies in the mix … sorta.
The Wild’s best goalie last season was Josh Harding, who was a stellar 18-7-3 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.65 goals against average. But his battle with multiple sclerosis limited him to just 29 games. Now, an ankle injury might have him out “months.”
Veteran Niklas Backstrom played 21 games last season and posted an .899 save percentage in going 5-11-2.
Darcy Kuemper played 26 games and posted a respectable .915 save percentage. He’s currently a restricted free agent.
Ilya Bryzgalov is an unrestricted free agent, and has already been invited to training camp due to Harding’s injury.
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
The Wild were 16th in the NHL on the power play at 17.9 percent. Minnesota had 252 power plays, ranking No. 24 in the NHL. Parise led the team with 14 PPG.
The Wild were just 27th on the penalty kill at 78.8 percent on 250 times shorthanded, eighth lowest in the NHL.
GM and Coach
Mike Yeo is entering his fourth season, and has consecutive playoff berths (and a playoff round victory) to his credit. He’s not exactly a master tactician, he's a bit of a drill sergeant but is getting results from a talented roster.
Chuck Fletcher has been the general manager since 2009, and has built a roster of high-priced veterans and a collection of great young talent. He’s made some aggressive deadline moves, too. The question is whether he’s built a contender or a champion.
And Now, A Blooper
Jason Pominville’s going to want to have that one back.
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
The kids. Coyle, Granlund, Niederreiter, Haula and Brodin are like a second core for the Wild, augmenting the veteran group.
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
The goaltending. Health, unsigned question marks, inconsistency … weak link, goaltending be thy name.
Single Emoji Prediction
The Wild compete every night, and their young players are tempo-setters as well. Win or lose, they don’t quit, and that’s going to be enough to get them to the postseason for a third straight season.