(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)
Last Season: 46-28-8, 100 points, fourth in the Central Division and top Wild Card team in the Western Conference. The Wild lost in the second-round of the playoffs to the Chicago Blackhawks.
2014-15 Season, In One Tweet
Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?
The Wild have several core players in their early 30s locked up to long-term deals.
With the salary cap going up just slightly there was little chance for them to acquire more players. But they were in a decent enough spot to not lose their top guys. So they stood pat and watched a lot of other contending teams jettison core members due to the cap crunch.
The Wild were able to re-sign goaltender Devan Dubnyk, the 2014-15 Masterton Trophy winner who essentially saved the team’s season, to a six-year $4.333 million deal. With Minnesota he had a 1.78 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 39 games played.
It’s doubtful he’ll put up those numbers again, but he at least gives the Wild some stability in goal.
Forward Zach Parise should at least score 25 goals this season. Fellow wing Thomas Vanek should be more comfortable in his second year with the Wild after notching just 21 scores last year. Jason Pominville, another winger, is a solidly consistent player, who never seems to get the props he deserves. He's never dipped below 54 points in a full season - the total he had last year.
Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker will both improve on their breakout campaigns (24 and 21 goals respectively). The Wild have a nice mix of veterans and youngsters on D between minute cruncher Ryan Suter (29-plus per-night) along with future star Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella (23 points in 64 games).
Five Most Fascinating Players
1. Mikko Koivu, F
He doesn’t seem to have the same leaguewide leadership cred as Parise and because of this Koivu’s captaincy has felt forced since the Parise contract signing in 2012. His 48 points in 80 games were his worst per-game totals since his second year in the league. Koivu is still a productive player. He wins face offs (55 percent last season) and plays in most situations. But even though he wears the 'C' he just doesn't feel like 'the' guy on the Wild.
2. Ryan Suter, D
People marvel at Suter’s ability to play almost half a game. Last season Suter averaged 29:04 of ice-time, the second straight season he’s hit the 29-minute mark on average. That being said, he’s 30 and head coach Mike Yeo can’t keep throwing Suter on the ice at such a pace. The Wild probably need to find a sweet spot for Suter, like the 26:30 he played his final year in Nashville when he had a career-high 46 points.
3. Nino Niederreiter, F
The Swiss forward bested his career-high in goals, going from 14 in 2013-14 to 24 last season. He’s a highlight-reel kind of guy and a true gamebreaking offensive talent. Can he find another gear next season? With his skill he'll be fun to watch.
4. Mike Reilly, D
Reilly spurned the Columbus Blue Jackets and went to the Wild via the college free agent route. Guys like Reilly tend to enter the NHL with larger expectations – either fairly or unfairly. He had 42 points in 39 games with the University of Minnesota last season. At 22 years of age, he should be a polished first-year pro, but how good is he? We're going to find out.
5. Devan Dubnyk, G
Dubnyk was one of the best stories in the NHL last season. Traded twice in 2013-14, he had a nice start for the Arizona Coyotes, then after the trade to Minnesota, became one of the top netminders in the NHL. He wasn’t able to replicate his regular season success in the playoffs, notching just a 2.52 goals against average and .908 save percentage. It’s unfair to expect Dubnyk to be other worldly again for this upcoming year, but he still needs to produce some level of stability for the Wild to have success.
Potentially The Best Thing About This Team
The Wild has incredible depth on defense. Suter, Brodin, Matt Dumba, Scandella and Jared Spurgeon are all solid defenseman and all within the ages of 21-30.
If teams want to get to Dubnyk, they’ll have a hard time knifing their way through Minnesota’s blueline.
Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team
Yeo tends to panic when the going gets tough and overplays some of his stars.Dubnyk started 38 straight games last season. Suter’s minutes were way too high.
This helps the Wild short term, but their big-name players are gassed by the time the postseason arrives.
Dream 3-on-3 OT Group
Suter, Parise and Granlund. Finnish speed on top of pure American grit.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Around a four. If Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher wanted to fire Yeo, he would have done so by now.
Minnesota went through a stretch where they won twice in 14 games. In the process Yeo lost his cool in a viral video tirade.
The Wild rebounded and made the playoffs, but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks for a third straight year. Minnesota owner Craig Leipold has invested a lot of money and years in this team – especially with Suter and Parise. This is Yeo’s ‘put up or shut up year.’
Awkward Old School video break
The best is the 1:30ish mark where we see young Marian Gaborik and young Willie Mitchell.
Their Best Case Scenario Is …
Koivu bounces back with a near point-per-game season. Parise and Suter continue their consistent work. Vanek reaches 30 goals and the Wild’s young stars continue to trend in a positive direction.
Dubnyk also shows last season wasn’t a fluke with around a 2.20 goals against average and .920ish save percentage.
Their Nightmare Scenario Is …
Koivu continues to slow down. Dubnyk plays like he did in 2013-14, proving the Wild’s faith in him was completely misguided.
Suter gets worn down from all the mileage he’s put on his body and Vanek becomes the new Dany Heatley with somewhere in the realm of 15 goals.
Dubnyk will prove a capable starting goaltender. Parise and Suter will continue their consistency while Granlund takes a big step forward toward being a high-end player.
Minnesota finishes in fifth in the Central Division but still makes the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Wild get ousted in the first-round, but will finally lose to a team other than Chicago.
PUCK DADDY SEASON PREVIEW 2015-16: Winnipeg Jets/Washington Capitals/Vancouver Canucks/Tampa Bay Lightning/San Jose Sharks/Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers/Ottawa Senators/New York Rangers/New York Islanders/New Jersey Devils/Nashville Predators/Montreal Canadiens
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