Last season was seen by the Wild faithful as a "transition season". For the Wild, pretty much the only real expectations were making the play-offs and maybe succesfully bringing up a few prospects to get that much needed experience during the season. So basically, the Wild just needed to pick things up after being frustratingly mediocre for a few seasons.
The pieces were all there. A fairly promising group of prospects, a great 1st line, a promising 2nd line and the bottom-6 featured players such as Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. The defense was a clear weakness, but you can't fix everything in one summer.
So, after finally reaching the post-season for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, you could say that the team achieved what it aimed for. The signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter made the Wild relevant again and the play-off appearance established the Wild's status as an up-and-coming team in the Western Conference.
The addition of Jason Pominville at the trade deadline provided another boost to the team's offense, and the play of Jonas Brodin at the back was a constant source of joy for the fans throughout the season. But what has happened, really?
Since the start of last season, the Wild has let Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen walk away. They've traded away Devin Setoguchi, Darrol Powe, Matt Hackett, Johan Larsson and Cal Clutterbuck. The team has added Jason Pominville, Keith Ballard, Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter and Mike Rupp. The Wild also re-signed Niklas Backstrom for too much money and too many years. If I forgot a name (and I'm sure I did), throw a comment at me.
What's changed? The Wild are once again in a position where they don't have too much room to operate under the salary cap, and they haven't really improved. The Wild don't have a 2nd line center as of now, basically just because since the 2012-2013 NHL season started, Mikael Granlund hasn't done anything to make anyone believe he could be a full-time center in this league. Also, Charlie Coyle hasn't played a full game as a C since he became an NHLer.
The defense is better on paper, but Ballard's career hasn't been the same since he joined Vancouver. Mathew Dumba has wonderful upside, but even he had a disappointing start to last season. He managed to turn it around after a rough start, but he's not someone you can really count on at this point. Even if Dumba does succeed and instantly becomes a reliable player for the Wild, there's still Clayton Stoner or Marco Scandella playing minutes on an NHL team, which is, by rule, not funny.
Then, if I know anything about goaltending (a long shot), the Wild will have a goalie with a cap hit of 3,4 million backing up either Josh Harding or Darcy Kuemper at some point during the season.
"But the young players will be better!". Why? The Edmonton Oilers provide a perfect example that not all young players automatically develop the way you'd hope them to. Niederreiter might not find his game, even if everyone expects that. Granlund might still be mostly lost out there against NHL competition. Jason Zucker might not become that 10-20 goal scorer that everybody expects of him. And I mean ever, not just next season. The sample size is simply not big enough to tell.
As it stands right now, the Wild haven't improved much. They haven't necessarily improved at all. The weaknesses are pretty much the same, but now they don't have a "Matt Cullen" to fall back on if Granlund (or Coyle) can't jump into that 2nd line pivot spot.
At some point during or after next season, Mike Yeo might find himself without a job. And you know what? That wouldn't be completely his fault. He didn't buy the instruments, he just plays them.
The song remains the same, and I'm not a big fan of this song.