Since acquiring Zach Parise and Ryan Suter three years ago, expectations have been high for the Minnesota Wild. Maybe even too high.
The Wild have made the playoffs each season since their arrival, but haven't had much in the way of postseason success. Sure, two first-round wins isn't enough to sneeze at, but when you make an all-in move like Chuck Fletcher did three years ago, your goals go beyond winning in the first round. In three tries with their core of veterans (Parise, Suter, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville), the Wild haven't reached the Conference Finals, a feat that the franchise hasn't achieved since 2003.
An unimpressive track record of success, but nothing that compares to the streak of futility that the St. Louis Blues have experienced in the postseason. The Blues haven't seen the Conference Finals since 2001, but under coach Ken Hitchcock, they've barely seen the second round. Despite a talented core in David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk in place for years, the Blues have gotten bounced out of the first round in each of the last three years.
After being swept by the Chicago Blackhawks, many (myself included) were embarrassed, and scrambling for answers. Should the Wild be looking at ditching Koivu? Pominville? Do the Wild need to look into bringing a "Natural Goal-Scorer™"? A Top-Line Center? Who could the Wild give up to get that player- Jared Spurgeon? Is it time to give up on Mikael Granlund? Is Yeo the coach that will get the most out of this team? Is a culture change necessary to take the next step?
You could make a case for a variety of answers, but judging by the moves that General Manager Chuck Fletcher has made in the past few days, the Wild's official stance appears to be, "Meh. It was four bad games." The Wild have made just two (one-way contract) UFA signings this offseason, both moves bringing back players they employed last season. There's still plenty of offseason left, but the Wild appear to be sticking with the core of players they had last year.
For those who find this approach to be frustrating, the Wild will have a counterpart that is taking the opposite tack. After winning the grueling Central Division, the Blues' disappointment after falling to the Wild in April was obvious and understandable. The same questions the Wild were asking were asked down there.
Their conclusion? They made one of the boldest moves of the offseason in shipping out T.J. Oshie in exchange for Troy Brouwer, goalie prospect Phoenix Copley, and a 3rd-round pick. They made the kind of shake-up that Minnesota shied away from.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Once the Wild got Devan Dubnyk, they were one of the best teams in the NHL. Why mess that up? On the other hand, you'd like to see a team that believes itself to be a title contender to at least try to make some incremental improvements to their roster.
If chemistry, having the attention of the locker room, "sending a message" to your team matters, St. Louis definitely accomplished that. But at what cost? Over the last two seasons, Oshie's been one of the most productive (per minute) scorers in the NHL, was this really a piece that the Blues needed to part with? Oshie's lack of playoff production is well-documented, but very good Top-6 options don't grow on trees. Is whatever gain you get in "Culture Change™" going to be worth getting an older grit guy and a decent goalie prospect?
It's too early to tell which team is going to get the most success out of their approach. Anything can happen, and if either- or both- of these teams win a Cup in the near future, there'll be many other factors leading to that success than two days in July.
But in the meantime, it'll be fascinating to see how the fortunes of these two teams play out, given their different approaches to the offseason.