I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
The Wild sure came down hard with a 5-1 loss to drop the series 4 games to 1 to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a far cry from the high of July 4th when the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and Wild fans were having visions of Lord Stanley. Make no mistake, this team has taken a huge step to becoming a perennial power, but as this series showed they still have a long way to go.
So where do the Minnesota Wild go from here? I'm going to breakdown each position and the players and give my opinion on what steps the Wild should take.
It goes without saying the Wild need to add a finisher. GM Chuck Fletcher has done a lot to try improve the Wild in this regard but the for the most part this remains a struggle. He brought in Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley before last season. He added Parise before this season and Jason Pominville at the deadline. However none of these guys has become the game-breaker the Wild sorely need.
Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
I'd keep these guys together. Coyle is learning a lot and benefiting from playing with two of the hardest working players in the league. Yes they were awful in the playoffs and Yeo should have looked at breaking them up, but when the team was at it's best they were the best players on the ice. So I would go into next season with this line intact. It's possible they look at playing Pominville here instead of Coyle, but I would have him anchoring his own line.
I am a huge fan of Heatley, but the legs just weren't there for him this season. Unless he had some nagging injury that he finally recovers from I just don't see him returning to his old form. He still has value as a 3rd liner and a power play specialist, but at his current cap hit he looks likely to be traded to a cap floor team or more likely bought out. It really is unfortunate because he has the best shot on the team.
Acquired at the deadline he put up some good numbers and definitely helped the Wild into the playoffs, but the concussion at the hands of Dirty Dustin Brown meant he had little impact on the playoffs. Thankfully Fletcher was looking ahead and made sure that the Wild weren't just getting a rental. Rentals rarely have a big impact anyway, and with a full camp Pominville should be a major factor for the Wild next season. I would have him anchoring the 2nd line and playing point with Suter on the 1st powerplay unit. More on who his linemates should be in a bit.
It was good to see him healthy again after the last two seasons, but he's played his last game in a Wild uniform.
Cullen had an excellent year before getting injured, showing chemistry with Setoguchi, Bouchard and Jason Zucker. He has also been an excellent mentor to Zucker. It's no accident that the 1st lines struggles began when he got injured as it allowed other teams to focus on them. Brodziak on the other hand had a disappointing year. He had only 12 points despite getting 1st unit power play time. Even if you double that because of the shortened season it's still the lowest output of his career. The Wild expected and needed more from him after his 44 point campaign last season and a new contract. It's in my nature to want to give a guy another chance, but if I'm Fletcher I look to re-sign Cullen and trade Brodziak. (Not that Brodziak has to go, but it would free up some cap space) The Wild has Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp, and Jake Dowell all on hand to fill that center role if needed.
Devin Setoguchi & Cal Clutterbuck
Setoguchi has been streaky, but a good scorer when he is on. Clutterbuck gets under guys skins and is a fan favorite. While I don't necessarily want to see either player leave, if you are going to upgrade you have to move someone and these are the guys, along with Brodziak, I would look to trade. Teams are always looking for a pest like Clutterbuck and Seto, with 1 year left on his deal and only a 3m cap hit, could be attractive to a rebuilding team.
Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell
Barring a trade these will be back and anchoring the 4th line, with Mitchell possibly sneaking up to the 3rd. As Russo has pointed out when the team was winning this line was a good energy line. I wouldn't make any changes here.
Jason Zucker & Mikael Granlund
Zucker has earned his spot next year and hopefully Granlund will work hard this summer and in camp to earn a spot as well. Zucker has the shot and speed to be an x-factor for the Wild. It's been the Wild's bad luck to work and work for goals, controlling games only to see an opponent get a goal out of nowhere. Zucker is that kind of player for the Wild and he will only get better. Granlund was disappointing after all the hype but he is still a smart and skilled player. As Yeo has said (paraphrasing), "Once he figures it out it will be fun to watch."
I'm a fan of his play. He's just a high energy 4th liner who goes out and hits people. If he'll take a 2-way deal I'd bring him back.
Hey he doesn't play for the Wild, but he should. I don't usually try and guess trades because I have no clue what the GM is thinking, but this name has been put out there and it's known that Fletcher did inquire about him at the deadline. He'd be a perfect fit. He had 20 goals in 38 games and should be a 30-40 goal scorer for the Wild. He was linemates with Pominville in Buffalo and most importantly he's a right hand shot so that would be the end of Brodziak on the 1st PP unit. I don't know what the Wild would have to give up to get him but I'd hope his high cap hit and impending free agency would bring his price down. They certainly can't afford to pay what they did for Pominville again.
Spahn and Sain and pray for rain, was an old poem about the Boston Braves lack of pitching depth. It fits here. The Wild have Suter and Brodin and then a big drop. There is no doubt that to get to the next level they need to improve here almost as much as they need a finisher.
Ryan Suter & Jonas Brodin
What can I say here? These two should be playing together for a long time.
Spurgeon is a good puck mover but I think he should at best be on the 3rd pairing and should see more time on the 2nd unit PP than on the 1st. That's not to say he can't be a 2nd pairing guy, I'd just like to see the Wild improve enough on D to push him down. I admittedly had written Scandella off and thought he would be traded at the deadline. But he played well in the playoffs and proved me wrong. I'd like to see him get a full year in Minnesota on the 3rd pairing but he could be a top 4 guy.
I really don't know what to do with Gilbert. His cap hit could make him trade bait or a buyout candidate. I'd prefer to see him be an offensive threat. The problem is he seemed to spend too much time running around in his own end. If the Wild could find him a stable partner that could cover him defensively then I think we'd see more from him. This would be a cheaper option than trying to find another top puck mover to replace him.
With varying skills, these guys to me are all 6-7 D-men at best. The team is high on Stoner, but I'd rather see him filling in for injuries than getting top 4 time. Falk is an RFA and I'd let him walk. Prosser has another year but not sure if they'll keep 8 D or trade him, but his standing (or lack of) with the team is clear.
I have no clue what is going to happen here. The plan originally was to let Backstrom walk and give the reigns to Harding, while the young goaltenders fought for playing time. Harding's MS complicates that and the Wild will now have to re-sign Backstrom or find another serviceable goalie. I like Backstrom but I think either option works.
It will be interesting to see how Chuck Fletcher's evaluation goes. He's shown no fear in moving people who don't produce so have we seen the last of Setoguchi, Brodziak, Clutterbuck and Gilbert? Will he look to just plug holes through free agency and his limited spending money or will he blow it up with another big trade? I think by adding Vanek, a top 4 D and a serviceable goalie, along with the continued improvement of the young players, and with a full training camp, the Wild will continue their upward trajectory.
The team I would like to see next year:
So I've started out, for God knows where
I guess I'll know when I get there