If you have read any of the season previews we have linked to in the past month, you will know that everyone in the hockey world in honed in on the Wild defensive corps. The departure of Brent Burns has the Wild blue line group labeled "the worst in the league" in some places, and compared to the Oilers and Avalanche blue lines in others. So very many experts about the Wild, and yet my guess is the combined number of Wild games they have watched in the past four years is likely under 20.
Can the Wild defenders really be that bad? Is the departure of one player really going to make the team finish "at or near the bottom of the league?"
After the jump.Additions: Mike Lundin
Departures: Brent Burns, Cam Barker
The truth with the blue line is that it is most certainly the biggest question mark on the team, and that the reason for this is, in part, due to the departure of Brent Burns. However, the Wild return five of six starters from last season. Yes, really. Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, and Jared Spurgeon all return to the lineup this season. Only Mike Lundin will be an unknown quantity.
The Wild were outshot countless times last season, something the defense is mostly to blame for. As mentioned in the forwards preview, the defensive play (or lack thereof) led to spending too much time in the defensive zone, and too many chances for the opposition. With an improvement to the top checking line, the Wild should be better equipped to play some defense from the forward ranks.
The defense for the Wild is not going to put up 200 points this season. Show me a blue line that is. Marek Zidlicky should lead the team in points from the point if healthy. Jared Spurgeon has shown some real offensive flair, if only he could gain some confidence in his abilities. The rest of the guys are defense first, which from you defenders is probably a good idea.
The loss of Brent Burns is a big one. He will be missed in every situation possible. The young guys that Wild fans have called "depth" for years will now be required to step up. Marco Scandella and Justin Falk are in the "do it now" phase of their careers, and need to step up. Guys like Nate Prosser, Tyler Cuma, and others are just behind them.
Question to Answer
Is the Wild defensive corps a liability, and are they the worst defensive corps in the NHL?
Elise: No and no. They got rid of Barker, so that automatically makes the defense better (have fun, Edmonton), and they added a few solid pieces to round out the group. Add on the fact that five of six starters are returning and the Wild has some stud D prospects/young players (very evident just last year), and I definitely do not believe that the Wild has the worst defensive corps in the NHL. They actually have the potential to be a pretty decent group.
JS: It's easy for people to say the Wild will have the worst defensive corps in the league because of the lack of name recognition, but even with the lack of experience, they got the job done last year. As long as players such as Spurgeon, Stoner, Scandella and Falk keep growing as NHLers, the defensive corps could actually surprise a lot of naysayers and doubters.
Spurgeon, while small, displayed oodles of poise and smarts in his rookie campaign. Stoner started off quite horribly, but bounced back beautifully and became a stay at home force, even leading the Wild in +/- for part of the season. Scandella had won his spot on the roster, but lost it due to injuries. He's a budding offensive defenseman, and while he'll never be Brent Burns, he's got what it takes to succeed in the league. He'll have less offensive power, but he'll also be less prone to mistakes.
Returning are Schultz and Zanon, the two defensive stalwarts, and Zidlicky, the offensive leader among the defenseman. The Wild also got Lundin, an underrated, quasi mistake-free blueliner. Don't get me wrong, I view it as the Wild's weakness right now, but the problem won't be keeping the puck out of the net, it will be getting it out of their own zone, as their aren't too many breakout specialists on the Wild right now, unless one emerges in Spurgeon and/or Scandella. Bottom line, it's about 50/50: Either they'll play very well as a group, or they'll be a disaster. One thing's for sure: GM Fletcher will be looking to improve defense all year.
Bryan: No. The blue line is something to keep an eye on, but the players are there to bolster the loss of one guy. With the departure of Cam Barker, the blue line is automatically better, and with the loss of Burns, automatically worse. To me, it's a wash at worst. The worst in the league? Not a chance. As long as the Oilers and Avalanche are around, the Wild are far from the worst in the league.
Prediction of the Day
Who makes the biggest impact this year from the blue line?
Elise: I would like Marek Zidlicky to put up a great season after he was marred by injuries last year. The Wild could use an offensive, puck-moving defensemen to help the newly re-tooled offense/system and he is going to be a big part of that if he can stay healthy.
JS: If the upward trend continues, it will be Jared Spurgeon. The little Spurgeon that could was starting to find his offensive groove towards the end of the season and played a very solid game in his own end. If he can build on an eye-opening rookie season, he may become the best all-around defenseman on the Wild.
Bryan: It will either be Jared Spurgeon or Marco Scandella. I really think Scandella pushes Lundin and Stoner to fight for time, while Scandella take his place next to Schultz. Barring injury, this makes the most sense to me.
Once again, Wilderness, it is your turn. Tell us what you think. Are they the worst in the league?