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Middle of the Pack: Can The Wild Compete?

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If the Wild are going to make the playoffs, they need to be better than the average teams in the division. Will they?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
In the fight against teams like the Stars, the Wild do not stack up.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Craig looked at how the Minnesota Wild compared to the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets. The answer was not great for Wild fans; while these teams might not be miles ahead of Minnesota, they are definitely better than the Wild. Today, let’s take a look at a couple different Central Division rivals. Let’s see how the Wild stand up to the St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars, the third and fourth place finishers respectively in the division at the end of the 2018-19 season. Both of these teams made the playoffs and met in the second round. As hockey fans are well aware, the Blues came out on top in that matchup while on their way to becoming Stanley Cup champions.

Offense

Comparing the Offenses

Team Goals For per Game 5-on-5 Goals For per Game 5-on-5 Corsi For per 60 Power Play
Team Goals For per Game 5-on-5 Goals For per Game 5-on-5 Corsi For per 60 Power Play
Minnesota Wild 2.56 (27th) 1.72 (28th) 57.54 (11th) 20.3 (14th)
St. Louis Blues 2.98 (15th) 2.04 (13th) 55.96 (16th) 21.1 (10th)
Dallas Stars 2.55 (28th) 1.66 (30th) 54.10 (22nd) 21.0 (11th)

Offseason Moves on Offense

Team Minnesota Wild St. Louis Blues Dallas Stars
Team Minnesota Wild St. Louis Blues Dallas Stars
Players Added Mats Zuccarello Nathan Walker Joe Pavelski
Ryan Hartman Mike Vecchione Corey Perry
Gabriel Dumont Nick Lappin Tanner Kero
Daniel Carr
Players Lost Eric Fehr Mats Zuccarello
Pontus Aberg Brett Ritchie
Matt Read Jason Spezza

When comparing the Wild to the Blues, it is clear that St. Louis is the better team. Scoring nearly a half a goal more per game, scoring more on full strength, and scoring more on the power play, St. Louis was the better offensive team. But when you consider the offseason moves, the Blues did not add anyone on offense. It will be much of the same unit returning in 2019-20 for St. Louis. Given that this offense was good enough to win the Stanley Cup, it is not a bad thing for St. Louis to bringing back basically the same roster. It does mean, however, that the Wild have a chance to catch up. The addition of Mats Zuccarello means the Wild could have more offensive production next season and improvement from youngsters Kevin Fiala, Luke Kunin, and Ryan Donato could also help.

Compared to the Stars, it is the opposite story. The issue is not that Dallas was better offensively last season (they were not), the issue is all of the newcomers. The biggest addition was Joe Pavelski, who (at age 36) shows no signs of slowing down. He had 38 goals last season — a number he has not topped in five years. They also brought in Corey Perry who was limited to 10 points in 31 games last season. Prior to that, he was pretty reliable for at least 50 points a season, so he could also be a major addition if he can get back to full health. The Stars knew they needed to add offense this summer and they did exactly that. They will not be near the bottom of the league when it comes to offensive numbers this season, so expect them to be much improved, and potentially better than Minnesota.

Defense

Comparing the Defenses

Team Goals Against per Game 5-on-5 Goals Against per Game 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 Penalty Kill
Team Goals Against per Game 5-on-5 Goals Against per Game 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 Penalty Kill
Minnesota Wild 2.81 (12th) 2.34 (10th) 55.41 (10th) 81.7 (7th)
St. Louis Blues 2.65 (6th) 2.21 (5th) 52.71 (5th) 81.5 (9th)
Dallas Stars 2.42 (2nd) 1.98 (3rd) 57.86 (18th) 82.8 (3rd)

Offseasons Moves on Defense

Team Minnesota Wild St. Louis Blues Dallas Stars
Team Minnesota Wild St. Louis Blues Dallas Stars
Players Added Andreas Borgman Andrej Sekera
Jake Dotchin
Derrick Pouliot
Players Lost Nate Prosser Jordan Schmaltz Marc Methot
Anthony Bitetto Tyler Wotherspoon
Michael Del Zotto

While the Wild certainly have a solid defensive core, both St. Louis and Dallas put up excellent numbers on defense. The reason for that though is more to do with their phenomenal goaltenders than it is their defensemen specifically. Ben Bishop was a Vezina finalist in Dallas and Jordan Binnington won the Calder in St. Louis. The critical thing about this means that both teams could see significant regression in their defensive numbers if their goaltenders cannot follow up on their impressive 2018-19 campaigns. If Bishop and Binnington are not the brick walls that they were last year, expect both teams to fall in the rankings on defense. If they are just as good, then expect to see them near the top once again.

None of the three teams made significant moves regarding their defensive cores. The biggest move for the teams could end up being the return of Matt Dumba for the Wild. Because former GM Paul Fenton never really replaced Dumba after he was hurt last season, Dumba’s return could have a major impact for the team. Not only will his return mean the Wild get back their top scoring threat from the blue line, it also means that Jared Spurgeon can return to the second defensive pair and Greg Pateryn can return to the third. His presence on the ice could mean the Wild will see better performances from the entire right side of the defense.

How Will The Wild Fare?

On offense, it seems unlikely that the Wild will be as good as either Dallas or St. Louis. St. Louis was better last season and every major forward is returning. Dallas was just slightly behind Minnesota, but Dallas brought in some key free agents. If the Wild have regression from veterans Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, or Zuccarello, do not expect them to be able to keep up with Dallas. On defense, the Wild’s core group of contenders is as good as any team in the league. But the answer to the question of which team will be tougher to score against will be answered more by Ben Bishop, Jordan Binnington, and Devan Dubnyk. If Bishop and Binngton pick up where they left off last season and Dubnyk has a season filled with hot or cold stretches, the Wild will trail Dallas and St. Louis defensively. They could be evenly matched though if the two netminders are unable to follow up their stellar performances from last season.

Overall, analyzing the Stars and the Blues is a good reminder that the Central Division will be filled with talented teams during the upcoming season. It will be tough to contend with Nashville and Winnipeg, and it does not get any easier with Dallas and St. Louis. It seems very possible, if not likely, that all four will finish ahead of the Wild in the standings, and all four have strong chances of making the playoffs this upcoming year.