What Went Wrong: Minnesota Wild

Ryan Dadoun
Rotoworld

Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.

You can check out our previous editions on the Ottawa SenatorsLos Angeles KingsNew Jersey DevilsDetroit Red WingsBuffalo SabresNew York RangersEdmonton OilersAnaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, and Philadelphia Flyers.

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For some teams the title “What Went Wrong” is awfully harsh because they were rebuilding squads that were never expected to make the playoffs. You can’t say that about the Minnesota Wild though. They had made the playoffs in their previous six campaigns and were looking to finally enjoy a deep postseason run. Instead they never even got to the playoffs.

Early on you wouldn’t have guessed that this would be a bad season for Minnesota. Granted, the Wild had a 1-2-2 start, but they soon turned things around and had a 12-5-2 record through Nov. 15. Their offense was firing on all cylinders with Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and defenseman Ryan Suter already all at the 15-point milestone.  Jason Zucker and Eric Staal were just a smidge behind at 14 points each and Matt Dumba already had seven goals. In between the pipes, Devan Dubnyk was off to a fantastic start with a 2.32 GAA and .926 save percentage in 15 starts. Alex Stalock wasn’t doing nearly as well, but as far as backups go, he was holding his own.

Everything seemed great in Minnesota, but that proved to be the high point of the campaign. The Wild didn’t simply collapse, but they began a slow and uneven decline. Through Dec. 27 their record had dipped to 17-16-3 after Chicago beat them 5-2 to extend their losing streak to a season-worst five games.

What changed? Dubnyk had become a big part of the problem. His strong start had evaporated with him posting a 3-9-1 record, 3.08 GAA, and .889 save percentage from Nov. 17-Dec. 27. Their offense had slowed down somewhat too, though it wasn’t the issue. Granlund still had 17 points in that 17-game span while Parise scored nine goals and Staal, Dumba, and Nino Niederreiter each contributed at least five goals each.

Minnesota did bounce back to a 26-21-3 record through Jan. 23, but that progress was erased by a stretch from Feb. 1-19 where they lost nine of 10 games. They remained inconsistent down the stretch, but edged more towards the struggling side of things and ultimately limped to the finish line to a 37-36-9 record.

Along the way the Wild did try to execute several trades in an attempt to mix things up. They dealt Niederreiter to Carolina on Jan. 17 in exchange for Victor Rask, but that trade blew up in their face. Niederreiter went from recording 23 points in 46 games with Minnesota to scoring 14 goals and 30 points in 36 contests with Carolina the rest of the way. Minnesota consequently watched Niederreiter help push Carolina into the playoffs while Rask scored just two goals and three points in 23 games for them.

By Feb.20, the Wild’s playoff hopes were slipping and they decided to deal Charlie Coyle to Boston in exchange for the 23-year-old Ryan Donato. Coyle wasn’t a factor in getting the Bruins to the playoffs, but he did play a big role in the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final with nine goals and 16 points in 24 playoff contests. Donato had four goals and 16 points in 22 games for the Wild though and there’s certainly long-term potential there.

On Feb. 25, the Wild dealt Granlund to Nashville in exchange for Kevin Fiala. Granlund had 49 points in 63 games with Minnesota, but added just five points in 16 contests with Nashville. Fiala, 22, had three goals and seven points in 19 games with Minnesota and like Donato, could end up being a meaningful piece of the Wild’s long-term plans.

Taking those three trades together, it’s hard not to see this as marking the end of an era for the Wild that was high on promise, but low on results.  Back in 2016-17, the trio of Granlund, Niederreiter, and Coyle recorded 69, 57, and 56 points respectively. They were all just entering their mid-20s and looked like the future leaders of Minnesota. Now all three are gone, the Wild’s run of playoff berths ended at six and no deep playoff runs among them, and Minnesota is left to readjust and hope for a future that’s better than its past.

Mikko Koivu – One of the major players the Wild lost due to injury for a significant chunk of 2018-19 was Mikko Koivu.  He played in just 48 games and missed the final 29 contests of the season due to a tear of his ACL and meniscus in his right knee.  The Wild’s 36-year-old captain should be healthy for training camp though as he gets ready for what might be his final season with the club.  After the 2019-20 campaign, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

Eric Staal – Although the Wild’s offense started off strong, they actually ended up being one of the worst offensive teams in 2018-19.  The decline of Eric Staal was a contributing factor in that.  He went from scoring 42 goals and 76 points in 2017-18 to being limited to 22 goals and 52 points in 81 contests last season.  He agreed to a two-year, $6.5 million contract in February, which is pretty reasonable given what he could bring to the table.  Of course he’ll also celebrate his 35th birthday on Oct. 29, so hoping for him to have another season like he enjoyed in 2017-18 is probably asking for too much.

Jason Zucker – Another player that took a significant step back in 2018-19 was Jason Zucker.  He went from scoring 33 goals and 64 points in 82 games in 2017-18 to finishing last season with 21 goals and 42 points in 81 games.  He signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract back in the summer of 2018 and while that’s not a monster deal, the Wild certainly need to hope that he’ll start bringing more to the table than what they got out of him in 2018-19.

Devan Dubnyk – As touched on above, the 2018-19 campaign ended up being a mixed bag for Devan Dubnyk.  In the end he finished with a 31-28-6 record, 2.54 GAA, and .913 save percentage in 67 games.  That’s not massively different than what he did in 2017-18, but when he’s at his best, he’s capable of leading the Wild and that just didn’t happen consistently last season.  We’ll see what the future holds for him.  Certainly there is the potential there for him to be a top-five goaltender, but he’s not a safe bet to play at that level.

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