The Minnesota Wild have higher standards now that they have experienced what postseason is all about.
Both are not expected to be in the lineup when the Wild visit the Chicago Blackhawks in the season opener for both teams.
Last season, the fourth-year Wild improved 26 points from 2001-02 and capped off their dream season with a playoff run that included upset victories over Colorado and Vancouver before getting swept by Anaheim in the Western Conference finals.
“Now everybody says we should be in the playoffs. But you have to play 80 games,” right wing Sergei Zholtok said.
Gaborik, a 21-year-old right wing, led the Wild with 30 goals and became the first All-Star in franchise history. However, he and left wing Dupuis, who had 20 goals, are both in the midst of contract holdouts.
Wild general manager Doug Risebrough met with Allan Walsh, the agent for both Gaborik and Dupuis, on Friday but gave no indication progress had been made in the 23-day stalemate.
“We had a lengthy conversation regarding Marian and his status. There is no change,” Walsh said Friday.
“We made what we consider a last-ditch attempt to get Pascal signed before the season,” he added.
The absence of Gaborik and Dupuis is huge, considering Minnesota lost center Cliff Ronning to free agency. Ronning and Dupuis each finished with 48 points last season.
“This year’s going to be a lot harder than last year because teams right from the get-go are going to be ready for us,” said left wing Andrew Brunette, who had 46 points last season. “We’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”
The Wild may be wondering where the goals are going to come from, but they shouldn’t have to worry about who’s going to stop the puck. Minnesota will rotate goaltenders Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez, who finished second and fourth in the league last season in save percentage—.927 and .924, respectively.
“We’ve always had a team that battles,” Fernandez said. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if we get right back to where we were last year.”
The Blackhawks, who missed the playoffs last season and have just one postseason appearance in the last four seasons, are hoping for more consistency this season.
Chicago began last season 21-13-8-3, but went 9-20-5-3 to the rest of the way to finish 27 points out of first place in the Central Division.
Last season, Ruutu played in 30 games for HIFK in Finland and had 27 points before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in mid-January. Radulov, a third-round pick in 2000, played in seven games with the Blackhawks late last season, netting five goals. Vorobiev, a right wing, was a first-round pick in 2000 and played last winter in Russia.
“The organization is to the point where the young guys are ready to step forward, and they’re going to get the opportunity,” coach Brian Sutter said.
However, goalie Jocelyn Thibault, who suffered a concussion late last season, must have a strong season if the Blackhawks are to be respectable.
Last season, he had a 2.37 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 62 games. He also made the All-Star team for the first time.
2002-03 STANDINGS: Wild - 93 points, 3rd place, 13 PB, Northwest Division. Blackhawks - 81 points, 3rd place, 27 PB, Central Division.
2002-03 SPECIAL TEAMS: Wild - Power play: 14.2 percent (52 for 366), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 86 percent (265 for 308), 4th. Blackhawks - Power play: 12.7 percent (39 for 308), 28th. Penalty killing: 84.8 percent (313 for 369), 11th.
2002-03 GOALTENDERS: Wild - Fernandez (19-13-2, 6 SO, 2.24 GAA); Roloson (23-16-8, 4, 2.00). Blackhawks - Thibault (26-28-7, 8, 2.37); Steve Passmore (2-5-2, 3.70).
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Wild, 3-0-1.
LAST MEETING: March 28; Wild, 4-3 (OT). At Minnesota, the Wild rallied from a pair of deficits in the third period on goals from Jason Marshall and Ronning, who scored with 36.9 seconds left in regulation to force the overtime. Alexander Karpovtsev, Radulov and Mike Eastwood scored for Chicago.
2002-03 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 17-17-7-1 on the road; Blackhawks - 18-15-7-2 at home.