The 2016 offseason was never going to be simple for the Minnesota Wild. The search for a new head coach, a less than ideal cap situation with very few relief options at their disposal; these were just a few of the issues that were staring down an organization that had aspirations of Cup contention but stalled out at mediocrity instead.
And yet, despite the complexity that the summer of 2016 brought the Minnesota Wild, they have somehow managed to drag themselves thru the trenches and come out looking stronger than before.
Bruce Boudreau, a man that has seen the postseason eight different times in his nine-year coaching career, will be behind the Wild bench. General manager Chuck Fletcher found his cap relief in jettisoning Thomas Vanek’s sizeable cap hit and used it to retain the building blocks for the Wild’s future. All in all, it sure looked like everything was coming up roses in Minnesota.
Of course this wouldn’t be a true Minnesota offseason without a little pessimism peppered into a plate of hopefulness. And that garnish happens to come in the form of the newly signed pivot Eric Staal.
It was no secret that the Wild were on the hunt for someone to bolster the middle of the ice. They had made a stab at acquiring Ryan Johansen in the midst of the regular season and were players in any potential deal involving a young and talented centerman exchanging hands. But none of those deals materialized, and as a consolation prize the Wild received a 31-year-old center whose 2015-16 campaign was his worst since joining the league in 2003.
The good news for Staal, and Wild fans as a whole, is that he will be given every chance to succeed in Minnesota, and his success is key for the Wild in a few different ways.
On a surface level, a successful inaugural season for Staal in Minnesota results in victories, which is what matters the most. The Wild have made the postseason each of the last four years and the addition of Staal is meant to bolster their claim as a perennial playoff contenders. But there is another layer to Staal’s success that could prove to be just as important to the organization as another playoff appearance.
The reason the Wild were looking to add a center over the past year was so that they could finally have the lineup flexibility they desperately needed. It had become abundantly clear that forcing Mikael Granlund into the role as a top-six pivot was not paying dividends and repeating the process with Charlie Coyle would likely have a similar result. Both had proven that they were at their best when on the wing, but the problem was that the organization had no other option at their disposal. One of them had to suffer for the betterment of the team.
With the addition of Eric Staal the Wild no longer have to make that sacrifice. Both Granlund and Coyle can be pushed toward the wing where their skill set can be fully utilized. In reality, by bringing in Staal, Minnesota has made two additions to their roster. They added a top-six center (something that Boudreau has already confirmed to be true by saying Staal will play with Parise) and a top-six wing by allowing both Coyle and Granlund to play there full-time.
The key in all of this will be whether Staal can be successful enough to keep it this way. If he starts to struggle the temptation to resort to Granlund or Coyle down the middle might take hold and the Wild will be right back where they were before. But if Staal can be just good enough to stifle any lingering doubts about his ability to center a top-six line the Wild will be in a much better position for the 2016-17 campaign.