I'll concede that I might be jumping the gun writing something like this. After all, it isn't over until it's over, and the Wild could provide the hockey world a minor shock and prolong this series. It could happen. But the Wild have only won 2 of 9 games against Dallas, who had a Conference-best 28 home wins this season. I think it's safe enough to say that Charlie Coyle's goal on Wednesday night was the Wild's last stand, and that tonight will be the last night of the Minnesota Wild's season.
And what a disappointing season it was. Minnesota never looked like a team that was in the conversation of the best in the league- even when they jumped out to the best start through 41 games in franchise history- and they experienced some extreme low points throughout the year. A streak where they won one game in a month was most notable, but a 7-game losing streak which spanned from the regular season to the playoffs was similarly demoralizing. We've seen a coach firing, season-saving trades fall through, and internal strife.
But I talked a lot about that yesterday. If the Wild lose tonight, there'll no doubt be bad vibes from the fanbase tonight, and I want to try and counter-act that a little bit. So with that said, here are some positive, good things I think we can take away from this year.
Charlie Coyle's emergence
An outsider would be forgiven for not being excited about Charlie Coyle. After all, 72 players scored more than his 22 goals. 141 players scored more points. His possession numbers weren't anything to write home about.
And yet, Coyle ignited the optimism of Minnesota's fanbase, making a big leap from previous seasons. And it wasn't just about the points, it was also very much about how he looked. He's always had great physical gifts- size, speed, strength, skill- but Coyle never before put them together as consistently as he did this season. Defenses often could not account for a player as big and fast as Coyle, leading to Coyle drawing the 4th-most penalties in the league (34).
Despite this breakthrough year, Coyle still has another step to take. While he put his physical gifts together more frequently, but him translating those gifts into more shots will help with the goalless streaks he's prone to. If he can find ways to use that improved shot more often, watch out.
Ryan Suter's best Wild season
While Ryan Suter wasn't ever *bad* in his first three seasons in a Wild uniform, it's reasonable to say that despite Norris Trophy consideration Suter wasn't quite the impact player his massive cap hit suggested.
And sure, this wasn't a Norris-caliber year from Suter. But this was no doubt Suter's best season in a Wild uniform. Suter did his best job yet at controlling play (he led the team in Shot Attempt% for the first time), heavily out-scored his opponents when he was on the ice (54.9 Goals For%), and was more directly involved with the offense, compiling career-highs in goals, assists, primary assists, points, and shots.
Is that player worthy of a $7.5M cap hit? Maybe not quite. But if we can get this production from Suter for the next few years, it'll go a long way towards being worth that investment.
Erik Haula got his groove back
Erik Haula appeared to be on his way out of the Wild organization. After months of struggling on the fourth-line or stashed in press box, even his most ardent supporters were giving up on the idea that he could live up to the promise he had shown just two years prior. Through 35 games, he had a mere 6 points.
And then something changed. No one knows exactly why that switch flipped. Maybe he was 100 percent back from two head injuries he suffered the year prior. Maybe he was sick of being in Mike Yeo's doghouse. Maybe he drank the Secret Stuff from Space Jam, only everyone forgot to tell him it was just water. But in January, the Wild finally started seeing signs of life from him.
Then he got paired with Nino Niederreiter, and then Haula was off to the races. After a coaching change placed Haula in a prime opportunity, he proceeded to torch the league, scoring 9 goals and 21 points in the next 27 games to carry the Wild down the stretch. Haula's career is now back on track, and he's provided much-needed scoring punch in the Wild's middle-six. It'll be exciting to see what the speedy forward can do with a bigger role next year.
Devan Dubnyk's solid encore
Dubnyk was never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to quite reach the heights he had with the Wild last season, where he played like a Vezina winner. That was the perfect storm of amazing team play and a goalie playing the best 40-game stretch of his career. What any reasonable fan should've been looking for with Dubnyk was a goalie who could finally stabilize their years-long situation in net.
Dubnyk did exactly that. He was above-average overall, but his penalty kill struggles really took away from how good he was at even strength (8th among goalies in Save% with 1500+ minutes). It wasn't just his quality of play, too. Dubnyk was an absolute workhorse, logging the 4th-most minutes in the league. A risk no longer, Dubnyk has proven himself to be a very capable option in net.
Help is on the way
A big reason the Wild struggled as much as they did was they had no reinforcements. Well, they did at defense, I guess. Mike Reilly, Gustav Olofsson, and Christian Folin were capable options that all had stints in Iowa. But there were definitely no forwards at the Wild's disposal.
The Iowa Wild's forward depth included a decently-skilled guy the coaches clearly didn't trust (Jordan Schroeder), a pugilist (Kurtis Gabriel), and not much else. Not only did this depth prevent the team from icing arguably the league's worst fourth-line, but it really showed itself in the playoffs, where all they had to replace Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek was... Zac Dalpe. All due respect, but... woof.
There's going to be some new blood coming to Iowa and perhaps contending for a roster spot last season. Alex Tuch is making the jump to the pros after two good seasons at Boston College. Mario Lucia, whose arrival has been long-anticipated, could wind up being good depth scoring. Perhaps Sam Anas, a compact goal-scorer from the NCAA, could find his way onto the roster.
And even looking further out than that, Wild prospects seemed to do quite well this year. Joel Eriksson Ek put up one of the best goal-scoring seasons in recent SHL history for an 18-year-old. Jordan Greenway had a slow start, but came on strong for Boston University. And Kirill Kaprizov's Age-18 season in the KHL has only been surpassed by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Minnesota's prospect pool is slowly but surely becoming respectable again.