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Minnesota Wild Can’t Take a Step Back Now

The upcoming year for the Minnesota Wild is yet another opportunity for this team to take the postseason by storm. Last season was one with serious highs and lows, swinging from a team that dropped five in a row at the end of December, picked one up against Toronto and then dropped another six consecutively to one that practically breezed through the first round of the postseason, confident in their new netminder.

2015-16 will give the Wild the chance to put last season to bed for once and for all and deliver a strong regular-season and postseason performance.
2014-15 Retrospective

The Wild started the season as one of the most highly-anticipated teams. Everyone was looking for great things from them, including themselves. Then they spent the first half of the season being terrible. No one could quite figure out what wasn’t working.

Was it chemistry? Not many people will forget Mike Yeo yeo-lling at his team in practice, which was–thankfully for us–caught on camera. Yeo’s more-bleeps-than-Christian-Bale aside, he wasn’t wrong. The Wild were slumping, and not a little. A lot.

Enter Devan Dubnyk, the Arizona Coyotes goalie who got caught in the fire sale, sending him to Minnesota. With Dubnyk behind them in net, things started clicking for them again. Pucks started going in the opposition’s net, and staying out of their own.

They did so well, in fact, that the Wild made the postseason, something not a ton of people were sure would happen when they looked at the team in December.

The addition of Jordan Leopold also brought a veteran presence to the room to deal with some of the younger guys, as the team’s leadership had been dealt an emotional blow with the death of alternate captain Zach Parise’s father.

The Wild beat the tar out of the St. Louis Blues, who failed to show up at all except for maybe Game 4, but got smushed by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, losing in four.

Additions Subtractions
Devan Dubnyk 3rd round pick (2016)
Jared Knight Zach Phillips
Chris Stewart 2017 2nd round pick
Jordan Leopold Justin Falk
Seth Bergenheim 3rd round pick (2016)

 

What Would Make 2015-16 a Success?

A successful season for the Wild will see them make their Conference Final. We have seen what this team is capable of when they pull together and play their hockey. They’re big, they’re skilled, and they have Ryan Suter and Parise on their side.

Parise in particular is a huge motivator for the Wild. The team seems to rise and fall on his play. There are obviously other events that factor in; one player does not make or break a team, no matter how good. However, one player being ready to lead by example, maintaining a hunger to win and a positive attitude can go a long way in improving a team’s attitude.

That is what Parise is regularly for the Wild.

If the Wild are to have a truly strong season and conserve energy for the post, we’ll likely see them come out of the gate strong, back off a bit in December, January, and ramp their play up again come February and March to ensure they make the playoffs.

We know the Wild can score. We know the Wild can hit. We know they can play very good hockey.

But they’ll also need to focus on being fast, though given the reports out of pre-training camp skates, it looks as though that won’t be an issue at all. From Haula to Vanek to Dumba, the Wild’s skating should be off the charts.

In particular, Matt Dumba’s future this season on the back end looks promising, with praise coming from all corners of the Internet.

In a recent article Michael Russo, Wild beat reporter for The Minnesota Star-Tribune writes,

Defenseman Matt Dumba is a thoroughbred in these skates. He’s flying and basically leads many rushes, essentially taking advantage of the freelancing that can occur when coaches aren’t allowed in the rink.

So far, so good.

 

What Could Derail the Minnesota Wild?

The biggest concern for the Wild could, once again, be their goaltending situation. Dubnyk played out of his mind for Minnesota last season, better than anyone thought he could for a longer amount of time than anyone had predicted. In fact, the “he’s going to fail ASAP” articles started in February and kept on going through the start of the postseason.

If Dubnyk was demonstrating a new level of play, and he can bring that back again this year, so much the better.

The Wild also need to ensure they aren’t over-playing Ryan Suter, who may be willing to skate an enormous amount of minutes, but who really shouldn’t, given how his production declines the longer he stays on the ice.

 

Is This a Playoff Team?

The Wild are, without a doubt, a team that should make the postseason. If they miss the playoffs, it can only be because there was a horrendous Zamboni accident that left half of them limbless and the other half lifeless.

The question for the Wild is: Is this a Conference Finals team? That is what fans need answered, and the standard they’ll be measured by over the coming season.

  • Jason Newstedt

    They *can’t* take a step back, but they probably will.
    It’s exasperating to be a Wild fan, but we know no other way. I can’t think of one serious hockey fan in this state who’s mind isn’t boggled over how a single goalie managed to get his team’s forwards to score goals they’re paid to do. And the “team morale” excuse doesn’t cut it in the NHL – there is just far too much money involved for such a pee wee explanation.
    We certainly have the potential, and even the ability. But when you watch other teams play each other at the same various points of the season, then flip back to the Wild, it looks like we’re going half speed.
    Additionally, we’re a weak team. No enforcers, no one to teach a lesson. That alone is a wake up call to what’s obviously a rather incompetent head office.

    • Kate C

      I don’t know if having a hitter is all that necessary to a great team. Adding an enforcer isn’t guaranteed to motivate them or win them games, though, and enforcers are fading out across the league. Look at Chicago – their only real enforcer (Carcillo) only saw ice time in 40 games or so over the past season. The morale issue is a very serious one for the Wild, and it shouldn’t be a valid excuse at the pro level, to be sure. They are being paid to show up and work, and that’s really what needs to motivate them at this point.

      • Jason Newstedt

        I only mention our weakness because I stopped counting the number of times I saw the Wild cower when Coyle or another initiator was taken out by a clean hit — a move that is supposed to invoke a fire under them instead. The two main aspects of an average hockey team are playing smart and having enforcers for intimidation, and the balance is based off of an even ratio. If you’re playing really smart (like Chicago did), you don’t need enforcers as much. Likewise if your team is chopping away on the ice you’ll need to knock some opposing players out to open up the lanes for chances. Although more teams are playing smarter, the ebb-and-flow of the “bulldog or viper” approach to games is always going to be there. Unless Bettman figures out a way to ruin that, too.

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