The Minnesota Wild are primed for possibly their best season yet. They return a lineup that made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, their biggest division rival has had to sell some of its best players, and things are looking up. Here are the top five things I'm looking for to cause me angst throughout the season.
5) Old Dogs, Old Tricks
The Wild's core is aging, and many believe that their "window" to win a cup opened last year, opens this year, or next year. These people are mistaken. The Wild will not have a window, and the reason is simple: their core is too old and on the decline.
Zach Parise can drink as much chocolate milk as he likes, but he won't keep up with father time, and we will see his decline this year. Jason Pominville started to show his age last season, with multiple fanned shots and wide shots lowering his Sh% and point production. Thomas Vanek was last year's big add, and the forward showed every sign possible of being an aging player without the ability to hit the stride he once had. Though some of the Wild's younger players will certainly step up and improve, Charlie will be left to drag the bag of bones that is his grandpa around the chocolate factory, and the Wild will miss out on all the treats.
4) Suter Continues Munching Minutes
The Minnesota Wild have one of the deepest blue lines in the league, with Spurgeon, Scandella, and Brodin making cases for being better than the undisputed star Ryan Suter. Suter began his time with the team as the only dependable defenseman, and because of that played far and away the most minutes. The days of the Prosser-Stoner pairing are over, though, and it has long since been time for Suter's minutes to be decreased
Despite the lapse in Is Ryan Suter on the Ice ‘s domain, the joke will continue. Although the PIZZATANK combo of Scandella and Spurgeon will likely be the most defensively stable and offensively potent combo in the corps, Suter will eat up the minute at 5v5 and on the powerplay. Though Schmitty showed last year why Suter's time on the power play was a waste, this offseason saw the power play scheme shift to feature his offensive abilities. That should prepare us to keep seeing a lot of #20 on the ice.
3) Nino Gets Buried
Nino is a bit of a cult hero around here (with my Ninoner flying tall and proud). Last season saw the winger get hit by the "defensively irresponsible" narrative, despite all actual evidence indicating the opposite. The Nino-ites were excited this year when Yeo said Nino would start the year on the 2nd line.
Despite this "chance," time is counting down to when Nino is victimized by myopic narratives again. Despite playing better than those below him, Nino will almost certainly be hit by the YEOLO curse that haunted him last season, and get limited time with good players and limited chances on the powerplay than he deserves. Mismanagement of players is the biggest knock on Mike Yeo's tenure, and the case against the coach will be made stronger by his treatment of Nino this season.
2) Matt Dumba's Sophomore Slump
Dumba burst onto the scene last year (for those who haven't been watching him rise) and exposed the world to his heavy shot. Despite some early struggles defensively, Dumba turned himself into a legitimate NHL defenseman, with both the skills and work ethic to make it in the league.
Despite all that, this will be Dumba's first full season in the big league, and all the excitement about him has him set up to disappoint. He may well one day be a Norris-winning blue liner, but that will probably not be this year. Dumba will hit a wall this season, and despite bright spots and great games, he will suffer somewhat and be burned by his offensive tendencies.
1) Devan Dubnyk Will Return to Earth
No one is here to argue that Dubnyk is a mediocre goalie. After his trade to Minnesota, Dubnyk posted the 5th best save percentage of all goalies who played 20 games or more in the league (from War on Ice). Ahead of the Doobie? Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Andrew Hammond (the other candidate for regression) and Henrik Lundqvist. Dubnyk may well be a fantastic goalie, but some fans are expecting Dubnyk to repeat his 93.5 5v5 Sv%, and that is setting them up for some prime disappointment.
If Dubnyk does post those kind of numbers, his 4.3 Million dollar cap hit will be one of the better in the league for great goalies, with Henrik at 8.5, Rask at 7, and Price at 6.5 million per year. Expectations for the netminder may want to be tempered- which is fine, as hopefully this year the Wild won't need super-human goaltending to make the playoffs this year.