As we close the doors on another offseason for your Minnesota Wild it’s time we take a look back at how we got here, and what we might expect out of this squad in the upcoming season. While the roster has remained largely intact, there are some key acquisitions and departures worth mentioning.
The Wild finished what will go down as their best regular season to date with 106 points (49-25-8) in 2016-17. A 106 point season would have been good enough to win the division in the Pacific or Atlantic, but here in the Central that would fall 3 points shy of the Chicago Blackhawks and put the Wild in 2nd place in the division. It would also mean the Wild clinched their first non-wildcard playoff berth since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Despite a very good showing in the regular season, and closing strong by winning 5 of their last 6 games while getting points in 7 of their last 8, the Wild fell flat on their collective face when they went up against the Mike Yeo led St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs and were dispatched in 5 games. Although they seemed to finish strong, the team never fully recovered from a dismal month of March which saw the team go just 4-10-2
Last season the Wild featured a top 10 special teams unit in the NHL with the power play converting on 21% of their chances (9th in the NHL) while killing 82.9% (8th in the NHL) short-handed opportunities. The Wild did not feature a top 10 point guy in the league. They barely even have a top 20 guy in that regard. Mikael Granlund finished with 69 points tied at 20th in the NHL with Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, and Auston Matthews. Although Matthews and Ovi had significantly more goals than Granlund, that’s still quite the company to keep. But not having a truly elite scorer didn’t stop the Wild from finishing 2nd in the NHL in goals for with 263, edging out the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals (261) while nobody was catching the Pittsburgh Penguins (278) in first place.
It goes without saying that this offseason was rather hard on me. The Minnesota Wild lost a guy who is very near to my heart. I’d like to believe there is a special place in all of our hearts for this man. If you’ve been coming around here the past few seasons and know me, you’ll know of course I’m talking about one Nate Prosser. Much like his physical impression on the boards at the X, the impression Prosser left on our hearts is just as deep. He takes with him to the Blues, along with the list of things Mike Yeo forgot, 282 career NHL games, 7 goals, 31 assists, and thousands of hits taken. Nate Prosser. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was definitely hockey.
Darcy Kuemper and Christian Folin booked tickets together as both players have moved along to sunny California and play for the Los Angeles Kings. I’m really hoping a change in scenery does well for Kuemps. He has shown he can play some lights out hockey between the pipes but consistency was always the flaw in the armor. Folin had worked out a nice little niche with the Wild, shuttling back and forth between Iowa and St. Paul, playing 51 games with the big club last season.
The Wild may have traded away a kings bounty to get Martin Hanzal out of Phoenix. He played 25 games here including 5 in the playoffs. He’s gone now. Like the North Stars many years before him, he has moved to Dallas. Also coming over in the Hanzal trade was Ryan White. Things aren’t looking too good for him as he’s injured and only garnered a PTO out of the Vancouver Canucks. Roster decisions are due in Tuesday so we’ll see if he can stick a landing spot with the Canucks.
The Expansion Draft claimed a couple guys you may have heard of as well. Erik Haula was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft because the Wild traded Alex Tuch to Vegas in an effort to hold on to other key players, mainly being Eric Staal. Haula played some key minutes for the Wild, especially in the playoffs matching up against the opposition's top lines and that loss will definitely sting some. Alex Tuch was the unfortunate cost of business in the Expansion Draft. His big frame lends well to a NHL calibre power forward game, but with Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and guys like Jordan Greenway coming down the pipeline, Tuch would have been trying to break into a pretty tight lineup.
The Wild and BFF trading partner Buffalo Sabres swung a deal which sent Jason Pominville back to Buffalo along with Marco Scandella. In return the Wild would acquire Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno from the Sabres. Losing the Pominville contract certainly helps the Wild’s tight cap situation. Pominville has quietly been one of the Wild’s better forwards while very loudly being a lightning rod for criticism, whether deserved or not. The Scandy Man has had his ups and downs with the Wild, but will certainly be missed guarding the blue line and ripping off monster slap shots. His departure will certainly open the door for one of our younger blue-liners to take a stab at the NHL.
The Columbus Blue Jackets came calling for Jordan Schroeder and the Wild were keen to oblige. In return, the Blue Jackets offered Dante Salituro, an undersized prospect who has shown some promise at the OHL level and might be worth keeping tabs on. He’s a 20 year-old forward who scored 282 points in 295 career OHL games and has seen limited AHL or ECHL action. Schroeder spent his time in and out of the lineup with the Wild and will hope the change in venue can ignite a little fire in his game.
The Wild made a slew of signings when the free agency window opened up on July 1st. The theme of the day was attempt to re-stock the cupboards for the minor league affiliates, and that they did. The biggest pickup on the day was however was Kyle Rau. Rau was a 3rd round selection by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 draft. After 4 - 40+ point seasons for University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Rau has struggled with limited time at the NHL level.
The Wild would wait a month and a half to make their big splash in free agency, landing the much sought after veteran centerman Matt Cullen. Cullen graced us for 3 seasons from 2010-11 to 2012-13. After spending the last 4 seasons away, and winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cullen has decided to go out on a high note by coming home to Minnesota to finish out his career, presumably.
Cullen of course you all already know. A Virginia Minnesota native and a St. Cloud State alumni who has played 1366 career NHL games with 8 different teams and is a 3-time Stanley Cup Champion. Cullen has remained solid in the faceoff dot and provides the Wild jack of all trades type forward. There is not a task on the ice you cannot trust Cullen with. I’d probably even let him play goalie if he asked nicely.
So what will the season hold for the Minnesota Wild. It kind of feels like if this team took a step any direction, it was lateral at best. It was a tough off-season for all teams considering the Expansion Draft for Vegas. Perhaps we can cut GM Chuck Fletcher a little slack with all the wheelin’ and dealin’ he accomplished with his back against the salary cap and all. Then again, when your Craig Leipold says “Anything short of a Stanley Cup would be a disappointment”, maybe the chairs are starting to pre-heat in the front office in the pre-season.
While the moves made this offseason after a bitter end for the Wild in the playoffs may not inspire a heap of confidence, this is still a relatively young team with tons of room to grow. This will also be the 2nd year under Bruce Boudreau for the majority of the team, giving them even more familiarity with the systems in place which will hopefully translate to on the ice success.