September 14, 2011
It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
The Minnesota Wild had a disappointing 2010-11 season, finishing 12th in the Western Conference with 86 points. They were done in by spotty goaltending, a thin defense corps, and a sputtering offense that scored the second-fewest goals in the West.
In other words, they were kind of bad at everything and, needless to say, Chuck Fletcher felt the team was in need of some changes. He fired coach Todd Richards and hired Houston Aeros coach Mike Yeo, who won a Stanley Cup as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But the Setoguchi trade required parting ways with Brent Burns(notes), Minnesota's stalwart on the back end, and Burns was never replaced. As a result, the Wild are now the proud owners of the league's worst blueline.
In the past, Minnesota has been a defense-first team, but that really isn't possible with this group. This may be the first season in Wild history where they have to be led by their scorers.
Can Minnesota's new offensive firepower help them to outscore their defensive deficiencies?
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and Sharks GM Doug Wilson swapped players with such impunity this offseason that I might have believed it if somebody told me they'd been trapped in an elevator since June.
First, there was the deal at the draft that sent Brent Burns to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a 1st round pick.
In addition to Havlat, the Wild forward corps will also be without Andrew Brunette(notes), who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Havlat (62 points) and Brunette (46 points) were first and third in scoring for the Wild.
The Wild likely won't miss Havlat and Brunette -- not with Heatley and Setoguchi coming in to replace them. Both should be improvements over their formers.
Still, the Wild may find it just as difficult to score as last season, especially if the forwards have to facilitate all their own breakouts. Boy oh boy, is this team ever gonna miss Brent Burns.
Burns scored a career-high 46 points in 2010-11, good for fourth in team scoring. No other defenseman was even in the top 10. Burns's 17 goals matched the total scored by the other 11 defensemen the Wild dressed over the season combined. Furthermore, Burns led Wild defensemen with 170 shots. Second among blueliners in this category? Greg Zanon(notes), with 55 -- none of which went in.
The Wild also chose to let Antti Miettinen(notes) move on to the KHL, and John Madden(notes), Jose Theodore(notes), Chuck Kobasew(notes) and Cam Barker(notes) go to free agency. On the way in are Mike Lundin(notes) and Darrell Powe.
Minnesota will be led at forward by the trio of Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, and captain Mikko Koivu(notes), and these three will have to have fabulous seasons for the Wild to contend. Behind them, offensive players are sparse.
A healthy season from Pierre Marc-Bouchard would be helpful. In 59 games last season, he had 38 points, and he could be good for 60 if he plays the entire schedule.
It would also help Cal Clutterbuck(notes), who may be emerging as a second line winger. He finished with a career-high 19 goals last season, and a full year of skating with a playmaker like Bouchard could see him foray into 20-goal territory for the first time in his pro career.
Nicklas Backstrom(notes) remains the man in goal for the Wild, and they will need a huge season out of him in order to remain competitive in the Western Conference. His goals against average and save percentage suffered during Todd Richards' tenure, and it remains to be seen if they can improve under a new system. It seems unlikely, however, with no defense to speak of in front of him.
"Jurassic Park."Starring Chuck Fletcher as Dennis Nedry, Mike Yeo as Dr. Alan Grant, Cal Clutterbuck doing a pitch-perfect Jeff Goldblum impression, and the disabled electric fence as Minnesota's blueline. Iconic scene: when the Sedinoraptors pull a "clever girl" on Clayton Stoner(notes).
After two years of helping the Wild to unlearn their strict, defensive system while failing to introduce a better one, coach Todd Richards received his walking papers. Richards will be replaced by Mike Yeo who becomes, at 37, the NHL's youngest coach.
In one season as the coach of the Wild's AHL affiliate Houston Aeros, Yeo led the team to the Calder Cup Final, an accomplishment that's even more impressive considering the Aeros didn't even make the playoffs the year before. Wild fans would love to see Yeo repeat this feat at the NHL level.
Chuck Fletcher returns for his third year as Minnesota's general manager, and this team is now markedly different than when he arrived. But are they better? Goodness no. At some point, someone is bound to recognize this.
After being invited to Wild training camp last year on a tryout, Jared Spurgeon(notes) earned a three-year, entry-level contract. He began the season in the AHL, playing 21 games for the Aeros before being called up to make his NHL debut on his 21st birthday. Spurgeon put up 12 points in 53 games with the Wild as a rookie, and he should get the chance to improve on those numbers, especially since Brent Burns' departure paves the way for him to man a point on the powerplay.
"I oversaw construction on the first Death Star. Heatley and Setoguchi might blow up a few Alderaans, but you really can't skimp on defense. Trust me."
While Dany Heatley's two 100-point seasons have everyone assuming he's going to be an upgrade on Martin Havlat, that may not be the case. Heatley only outscored Havlat by two points last year and, considering nobody on the Wild makes plays like Dan Boyle(notes) or Joe Thornton(notes) (who picked up an assist on 16 of Heatley's 26 goals), that's a concern.
With fewer playmakers in tow, the Wild will be counting on Heatley to generate a great deal of his own offense, especially at even-strength. But, according to Kent Wilson, over the past three years, Havlat has been the superior even-strength player.
Wild fans should be concerned. It's very possible that San Jose won this trade.
In case you weren't aware, Cal Clutterbuck likes hitting people. Here's a short segment that successfully showcases this aspect of his game.
This team is thin as it is, but an injury to one of their major contributors could turn this into the season from Hell. If Marek Zidlicky or Mikko Koivu were to go down, the Wild would spent so much time in their own zone, the zambonis could go green and only clean one side of the ice.
On the surface, the additions of Heatley and Setoguchi make this an intriguing season for Wild fans. Not since Marian Gaborik(notes) left town have they had a scorer like Heatley. That said, in order to make these acquisitions, the Wild will be icing the league's worst defense corps.
They'll suffer everywhere.
Goal prevention will be a problem for this group, as Nicklas Backstrom has never had such underwhelming shutdown support in front of him. And, despite the new weapons, generating offense will also be a problem. Heatley and Setoguchi are finishers used to working with high-level generators, and they will find themselves going it alone on the Wild.
Expect the Wild to finish at or near the bottom of the league.
Harrison Mooney is also the co-editor of Pass it to Bulis.