In conjunction with the rest of SBNation Hockey, and James Mirtle's From the Rink, today we bring you Hockey Wilderness' season preview for the 2009-2010 edition of your Minnesota Wild
Editor note: This is entire based upon the roster as of 9/23/09
The 2008-2009 season for the Minnesota Wild was one of massive ups and downs. What started in October and November as one of the most successful starts to a season in team history, suddenly devolved in December to an unmitigated disaster.
December was the worst month in the short history of the Minnesota Wild, and paired with the increased expectations based upon the start to the season, and the continued injuries to Marian Gaborik, set in motion the beginning of the end for Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire.
2008-2009 was supposed to be the season where the Wild host a first round playoff series, get into the second round, and potentially ride a hot Niklas Backstrom further than that.
What instead happened was a season of a coach losing his players, a general manager losing his fanbase and a franchise in transition.
Some say that the Wild are simply trading one oft-injured, scoring phenom for another, but if the last two seasons are any indication, Martin Havlat will have a major impact on the Minnesota Wild. He is already ingratiating himself to the home crowd, and the scoring touch was evident from the 84 second mark of his first appearance in the Iron Range Red. If Havlat stays healthy, he will single-handedly replace the scoring lost from the departure of Marian Gaborik.
Yes, hes a 32 (soon to be 33) year old veteran, but he has 10 consecutive seasons of 20+ goals. On a team with a history of offensive anemia, Sykora will be a godsend. He gives the Wild a third man to get the goals down low, and is what the Wild have sorely lacked for a while, a true finisher.
The centerman came over from Edmonton, and gave the Wild a solid player to center the second or third line, depending upon the play of James Sheppard. Brodziak provides skill at the faceoff dot, and has proven himself thus far to be able to make plays happen and finish on occasion.
The University of Nebraska-Omaha product was a stalwart on the blue line for the Nashville Predators, and will provide defensive stability, shot blocking and positional play that the Wild have missed for a while. He and Nick Schultz are now the two guys who should be noticed by going unnoticed.
The Sheriff will be a stand-up defenseman. He'll play the physical game, taking out onrushing forwards, play dirty in the corners and clear out the low slot, something the Wild have been needing for a while. Boston Bruins fans, however, have not been enamored with his play, so he'll have something to prove.
Not much is known about the AHL-heavy Sifers. Frankly, we have no idea if he'll actually make the team, though it seems a good possibility that even if he doesn't, he'll be on the shortlist from Houston. Sifers will be the kind of guy to play solid defense and make the breakout pass from time to time. His job, however, will be to play down low and clear traffic.
Outlook for 2009-2010
Umm, frankly, we have no idea what to expect. As I stated previously, this new leadership will have some latitude to establish a new presence and identity. There will likely be growing pains and the cupboard is still relatively bare. That being said, this is still a hockey town, and if things aren't going well early on, there will be complaints. Pair the transitional season with a weak economy and there's a good chance the sellout streak will end this year.
Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton all got better. The Wild ... well only time will tell. If Owen Nolan has the same season he had last year, Havlat and Sykora perform up to their proven capabilities and Sheppard, Gillies, Koivu and Bouchard pick up their performance from last year, the forwards should score more goals than last season.
Will the defensive additions (and those additions by subtraction) help in quelling the inevitable tide of onrushing forwards as the Wild change their strategy to two forecheckers and less emphasis on defensive coverage? Who knows? But, what we do know is that if we start seeing a lot of 5-2 or 5-3 losses and 24 million dollar man, Niklas Backstrom sees his GAA rise toward 3.00 and above, the Xcel Energy Center fans may not give Richards and Fletcher the time they need to build a new team before letting everyone know how they feel.
4th in the Northwest
10th in the conference
40-35-7 for 87 points
I'm sure a lot of you are expecting Martin Havlat to be the x-factor for the Wild this season. I, however, do not. I think he'll perform to expectations, and likely beyond. However, the team will live and die by the scoring of guys not named Havlat, Sykora, Koivu, Nolan or Brunette. The guy who has been on the "breakout" list every season, yet can't seem to find his rhythm is our own Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Butch makes $4.25M, $4.25M, $4.25M, $ 4.3M over the next four seasons, and needs to finally perform to that contract. He's a guy built for the "new" NHL, and with Richards' proclivity to set his lines, will need to find a connection with his linemates and decide whether he's a playmaker or a finisher. Bouchard can make passes nobody else on this team can make, and his vision is second to none. If it were me, I'd put him between Owen Nolan and Colton Gillies. That line would give size, grit and speed. Bouchard would be able to take the puck down the half-wall, spin away from the corner and center it to Nolan in the slot. Bouchard's problem thus far is that he hasn't had a finisher on his line. With a guy like Nolan, and a physical presence like Gillies, Bouchard could be the one to give the Wild a great chance to make the playoffs.