It's almost certainly been the most intriguing offseason in Minnesota Wild history. The last time I remember getting this fired up about offseason transactions was when I was 17, watching the NHL Draft, while the were Wild trading for Demetra (A move which, by the way, I hated at the time. O'Sullivan was a boss in the A, and we could have netted Chris Stewart or Claude Giroux with the 17th pick. Which is totally revisionist history on my part. Also, God rest Demo's soul.) and picking 9th in an 8 man draft.
I'll digress. Anyway, a lot of changes happened this offseason, and for once, there seems to be optimism in those changes. Chuck Fletcher now in control of the front office, building the team in his image, and stockpiling young talent, and the future seems brighter than ever. But what about this year? To discuss this, I'll be taking a
page out of the chocolate-filled "Sorry Tom"ing hack columnist handbook and look at the ten biggest questions facing the Minnesota Wild this year. Get some cliche after the jump!
1. What's Mikko Koivu's ceiling? Will we see it this year?
In breaking news, Koivu is known as one of the best two-way centremen in the game. That's what we call hard-hitting analysis, folks. Skating with
esteemed goal-scorers Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen the last three seasons, he's put up 200 points in 230 games. How is that elevated with actual esteemed goal-scorers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi on his wings? Point-per-game with Selke-level defence? More?
2. How will Setoguchi produce?
I'm not at all concerned about Heatley- the dude was playing with a broken hand for a chunk of last season, and he's come into camp in top shape. It's Devin Setoguchi that's the question mark. Setoguchi had a very good season in 08-09, aided by assist wizard Joe Thornton. Since Heatley came into play, forming the awesome Heatley-Thornton-Marleau monster, The Gooch has put up 36 and 41 points in two seasons. With first line ice time and uniting with an elite centre, can the speedy sniper Setoguchi perform to, or exceed, his early brilliance, or will inconsistency plague him again?
3. Can Matt Cullen anchor the second line?
A fairly cruicial question, as Cullen faring poorly this season puts Kyle Brodziak back on the second line, where he's plainly not suited. Cullen needs to earn his money this year, so Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse can have a reliable two-way presence between them, and to keep the bottom two lines playing in the roles they're best suited for.
4. How does the defence hold up? Who steps up?
This is really the make-or-break question of the season. If Zidlicky, Spurgeon, and Lundin can move the puck, Zanon and Schultz can hold down the fort, and Scandella can do some of everything, the Wild will be in good shape this year. If Spurgeon and Scandella can join Zidlicky in adding offense, even better. If Falk, Stoner, or Prosser can fill in adequately if/when the injury or regression bug bites, then. That's a lot of "ifs" to deal with, though. No news to Wild fans, but the defence needs a close eye on it this year.
5. Who stays and goes during the year? and 6. How will Fletcher balance the short-term and long-term?
We already have an answer to that, so far, as Nystrom was sent on waivers yesterday morning. You have to wonder immediately if Staubitz is next. But down the road, at the trade deadline, who will be dealt? Brodziak and Zanon will be in the last year of team control this year. In addition, I think two players the Wild could use as trade bait would be Latendresse and Zidlicky. Both of them are in shape, and as a big forward who can score and an offensive defenceman, respectively, both could command sizable returns on the trade market with a decent level of performance.
The tricky thing is, if the Wild want to make the playoffs, (which you would think they would, after three years of missing out) Latendresse and Zidlicky will almost certainly be big parts of that journey. Will Fletcher try to go for the playoffs, or will he try to load up even more? Being able to trade for a stud prospect on the blue line, or a pick that could parlay into one, would seem to be a more worthwhile move than gunning for the 8th seed this year, but will the temptation to get into the playoffs prove too great?
7. Will Mikael Granlund sign?
There's starting to be an inkling of concern that Mikael Granlund will not sign. Russo is a smarter man, and a better writer than I am, so here's what he had to say about it in a chat last month:
I'd love to tell you wholeheartedly no, but it does concern me. I get why he wanted to return to Finland. I don't get not signing yet. Larsson, Bulmer, Brodin are locked up. Granlund is not, and they have only until June 1 to do so. And the reality is we're in a league where tampering does go on, so you do have to worry about stuff like that and teams trying to influence him playing hardball. All I can tell you is I've talked to his agent, and he says there is no issue and his plan is to sign after his HIFK season. And I've talked to Granlund, and he swears he wants to play here. He has become tight with Koivu, too, in the Army and World Championships, so I'd assume he wants to play here. Plus we have great weather here.
Obviously, if Granlund were to not sign with the Wild, they would be taking a massive hit to their prospect depth, so while it may not have a tangible effect on this season, it's a very important topic to follow.
8. Will any prospects come into the lineup this year?
It's entirely possible that college stalwarts Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker will turn pro after the collegiate season. If that happens, will they go to the A, or could they see some time with the Wild? Will the Wild attain a college free agent at the end of the year, like my UM-D man crush J.T. Brown, who (I believe) would have to be on an NHL roster to close the season? If Granlund is signed, and the Wild are making a run, could he come to the Wild for a stretch run?
9. When will Yeo have his team?
If the defence is the most important question of the season, this is the second most. It takes teams a while to get acclimated to a new system, and until that happens, there will be miscues and mistakes, some of which will cost the Wild games. When the team "gets" the system, they've got the talent up front to do well. It'll just be a matter of when.
10. Will the Wild make the playoffs?
I'm going to say no. I think that there are too many ifs. IF the defense plays well, and IF Heatley and Setoguchi bring the Wild two scoring lines, and IF the Wild grasp the system before falling out of contention, and IF there aren't injuries to top players, they could make a 6-8 seed. I think that even if they don't make the playoffs, there's going to be just enough intrigue and improvement throughout the season to hold the Wild faithful over (thanks to the loser point's knack of keeping teams in the race) to next season, when the reinforcements start to trickle in.
What do you think, Wilderness? What are your questions, and what answers do you have on the eve of the Wild season opener?