The offseason means the end of Wild games, but the work is never done. With Exit Interviews, Hockey Wilderness takes each player and reviews their season, highlighting what we liked seeing from them over the year, and pointing out what can be improved to take the next step.
Ah, Mike! Great to see you, please have a seat.
I know the season didn't quite end how you wanted to, but let me be the first to say: Good job.
No, really. Good job. We get critical because we care, and we obsess over relatively smaller details because we want to see this team succeed as badly as you do. A lot of things that we talked about this year, concerning your performance, were closer to tweaks than major overhauls of your system and style.
Make no mistake, we know you do a lot of things well. Your defensive system is really, really good, but even we were surprised to learn that your Wild dominated in high-danger scoring chances to the extent that they did. They were 2nd in the NHL in terms of getting the better of high-danger scoring chances with 55.4%.
Even better, unlike your teams in previous years, they weren't just getting good defense. They were 7th in the NHL at creating those chances, and 5th in hockey at allowing them. The only other team to be in the Top-10 in both categories was Winnipeg. This team was Top-5 in scoring at 5v5.
So, even though Devan Dubnyk gave you extraordinary goaltending to get the Wild to the playoffs, there was enough that you did right that it can't be disregarded as a fluke. And while getting to the second round of the postseason two years in a row is good, we don't believe (and certainly don't want you to believe) that this team has reached its ceiling yet.
Expectations For Next Year
Our goals are as high as they can be: We want the Wild to win a Stanley Cup next season.
This isn't a surprise. We've been building towards this moment ever since we signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Since then, we've added Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Devan Dubnyk. Our cast of young players are really coming into their own, and we think next year will see their best season yet. If that happens, and the vets have a good amount still in the tank, next season should be special.
1. Power Play- For all the excellence of the 5v5 and Penalty Kill units, the Power Play was downright awful, and cost the team many points throughout the season. There are players on this team that should make for a Power Play opponents have to respect, it's your job to find the right roles for the players, and what strategy is best to maximize their talents. Both likely will need to change.
2. Your Kids Are Growing Up- Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, and Marco Scandella all have played 200+ NHL games. Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba were great in stretches last season, and are improving quickly. It could be argued that all 5 of those players were used in sub-optimal roles this season, and it may have been because you felt the need to keep the veterans on-board. The time for that should be over. You should have the credibility to not defer to your veterans at every turn. Changing the roles of some veterans in favor of the young guys seems like a great way to keep your vets fresh, develop the kids, and win games.
3. Keep Dropping the Tough Guy Act- You out-hit Chicago 122-90 in Round 2 this year. Which team lifted the Cup?
You've done better at this, talking about how the Wild are a different kind of tough than teams like the Blues. Keep going down that line of thinking. I don't want to see you praising a guy like Stu Bickel or Joel Rechlicz for getting into useless fights in the pre-season. I don't want to see a player on the roster bubble feel like he needs to get in a fight, like Zucker did last year. I don't want to see a guy like Justin Fontaine get displaced in the lineup to get someone like Bickel in the lineup. We're a worse team when we emphasize toughness at the expense of skill.