August is the final month without hockey. Don't worry, if it's anything like July, it'll go by quickly. Last week, we looked at five reasons to buy into the Wild this season. However, there's a lot of questions heading in to the next Minnesota Wild season. Here are five reason to sell on the Wild in 2015-16.
The Wild are returning almost everyone from last season
As much as the continuity of the Wild is a strength, the fact that they didn't make any real substantial moves in the offseason should give reason for pause. This is the same team that has made the post-season three seasons in a row, but also the same team that has gone through a stretch in each season where things have spiraled down out of control, only to be saved by some crazy miracle.
It's been a running theme with this core: when things get bad, they get really bad. From December 3rd to January 13th, the Wild were ranked 20th in Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes with 26.4, and 26th in Scoring Chances against per 60 minutes with 27.4. They were giving up all kinds of chances and they weren't creating chances of their own. With no major changes, who's to say this trend won't continue into a fourth year?
The goaltending will come back to Earth.
Devan Dubnyk's play was amazing since being traded to Minnesota, but perhaps most incredible was the consistency he showed for his first three months. The string of 38 consecutive included seven back-to-backs in which he was really the only player that showed up for Minnesota. The 93.9% adjusted save percentage he posted in that time frame was something special. There is no doubt that he earned that Vezina nomination.
However, that kind of save percentage is tough to sustain over a much longer period of time- for example, a full 82-game season. Here's Dubnyk's adjusted 5v5 save percentages over the last four seasons.
While his save percentage is likely to come back down near his career average, he should still be solid. If there's any sense of hope, it's the fact that he saw the least shots per 60 in a long time in Minnesota. A regression in save percentage means that the Wild will have to compensate for that dip in some way with scoring, and a way they can do that is next on the list.
The power play hasn't improved since Mike Yeo took over
The over-arching story of the season last season was how putrid the power play was. Sure it went through stretches where it had relative success, but they had trouble scoring power play goals when they needed that big goal. With the Wild greatly improving their 5-on-5 play, their terrible power play seemed baffling.
The power play has actually gone backwards. Starting at 15.1 percent the year Yeo was hired, it rose to 17.9 the next two seasons. After a 0-for-28 start to the 2014-15 campaign, the Wild finished the season with a putrid 15.9 percent. Even worse was that every change they made to improve the power play backfired- hiring Andrew Brunette to run special teams, moving Brunette down to the bench from the press box, and acquiring players like Thomas Vanek. Nothing worked.
The power play became predictable, stagnant, and unsuccessful. Even more questionable was the deployment of personnel by the head coach. Jason Zucker, who was among the highest on the team in scoring goals, didn't get requisite time with the man advantage (He didn't even get a minute per game). Yet, veterans like Ryan Suter saw nearly four minutes per game on the power play, despite being arguably the worst PP option in the league. But for whatever reason, the coaching staff kept trying to draw blood from that stone, and there's little indication that it will change next season.
There is a lack of NHL-ready depth
The Iowa Wild finished with the AHL's worst record last season. Much of that has to do with the bulk of the Wild's prospect core still being in major juniors or college hockey. That leaves the cupboards a little bare going into next season. With injury always likely to occur, who can be called up to be a replacement?
Gustav Olofsson may be the best option to replace an injured defenseman, and Tyler Graovac, if he doesn'tmake the team out of training camp, can fill in at center. But outside of those names, there's Brady Brassart, Zack Mitchell, Kurtis Gabriel, and Zach Palmquist. All decent players in their own right, but would they be ready to play significant minutes in the NHL should a rash of injuries strike the Wild?
Unfortunately, we won't know the answer to that question until it becomes a reality. If they didn't have questions in their game, they wouldn't still be in Des Moines. They're there to work and develop.
This is where missing on Zack Phillips hurts the Wild. Missing on first round draft is something the Wild cannot afford to do regardless, but Phillips was a center and could have filled an organizational need. Phillips was traded and is now playing in the Boston Bruins system. The rest of the "next wave" of prospects look promising, but are still a ways off, and for now, the Wild are just going to have to hope the injury bug (or the mumps virus) stays away from the corner of West 7th and Kellogg.
Chuck Fletcher has left very little flexibility under the cap
With 47 contracts already on the books and roughly $1.9 million dollars to spare, making any moves of significance during the season will be difficult. There are six contracts on the books that have some form of no-movement clause and one other contract that has a limited no-trade clause (Dubnyk). Fletcher has brought this upon himself. I won't go into the Backstrom debacle, but even giving Jason Pominville, who was over 30 years old at the time, a five year $28 million extension that went into effect just last season with a no-movement clause seems excessive. They're depending on Pominville to be an offensive contributor throughout the deal, but they'll be in trouble if his struggles last season are a prelude to further decline.
Not only are his contracts hard to move, there's little ammunition in the form of draft picks to get a deadline deal done. Fletcher has only five picks for the 2016 draft, and just one of those picks is in the first three rounds. He won't be able to make deals without further pillaging the 2017 draft (Remember, he gave up a 2017 second rounder in the Chris Stewart trade).
Sure, there is time to make a move and recoup some of those missing picks, but that usually means that you are trading assets away. If the Wild are trading away, it means its probably on the outside looking in at the post-season. Either way, not having those assets as possible trade chips means that the inability of this team to improve may extend past this summer, and well into the season.