Last Updated: 2018-09-25
Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 17, the Minnesota Wild.
The Minnesota Wild have been a very good yet consistently disappointing team over the past six seasons. The “very good” being in that they have finished the regular season with at least 98 points in four of those years and were on a 94-point pace in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season. Even in their one down season they finished with 87 points in 2015-16 and still qualified for the playoffs. The “consistently disappointing” being the fact despite six consecutive years making the postseason, the Wild have meekly exited early, in the first round four times and the second round twice.
The feeling of frustration can be found even in the locker room where the team motto has been a dichotomy of their regular season success and playoff failures. The “OUR TIME IS NOW!” motto two seasons ago ended with a franchise record 106-point regular season but a five game first-round playoff exit. Last year’s “Good is not good enough” slogan finished with a 101-point season and another five game first-round exit. This year’s motto is “Raising the bar” and with improved teams all around them, that is exactly what the Wild will need to do if they want to make it a seventh consecutive playoff appearance, the second longest current streak in the NHL behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Record: 45-26-11 (101 points), 3rd in Central Division, 8th Overall
Playoffs: First Round loss to Winnipeg Jets (4-1)
Head coach Bruce Boudreau’s influence has been felt since joining the Wild who have produced back-to-back 100-point seasons for the first time in franchise history, but his failures in the playoffs dating back to his days with the Washington Capitals and then Anaheim Ducks have carried over with him to Minnesota. Boudreau’s teams have finished with at least 100 points in nine of his 11 seasons as head coach with a 105-point average, yet in the ten seasons Boudreau has qualified for the playoffs, his teams have failed to get past the second round nine times.
Last season was no different after a 101-point regular season and another early exit, although this exit certainly was not like the others. Injuries hit the Wild hard late in the season and carried into the playoffs. Star defenseman Ryan Suter was lost to a fractured ankle with just one week left in the regular season and was lost for the playoffs.
His top pair partner, Jared Spurgeon, missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a torn hamstring and although he somehow courageously came back and gutted out the five playoff games, was noticeably well below 50% and ineffective.
Forward Zach Parise struggled through another season of injuries, limiting him to 42 games and ended with a fractured sternum during Game 3 of their playoff series.
With a shorthanded roster, the Wild quietly exited 4-games-to-1 at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. Aside from a six-goal outburst in their lone Game 3 victory, the Wild scored just three times over the other four games, including being shut out over the final two. It was a disappointing end for the team, but one fans have come to expect the past few seasons.
After a third consecutive first-round exit, it was time for something to change. Longtime General Manager Cliff Fletcher became the scapegoat and was fired on April 23 after nine seasons at the helm and Paul Fenton was hired a month later. Fenton is an outstanding mind and was the longtime assistant GM with the Nashville Predators while also serving as the GM for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL.
Rumors swirled that Fenton would come in and tear the house apart, changing the core who have been unable to achieve playoff success, but he was level-headed and said he wanted to get to know exactly what he had in place before any drastic changes. The core survived and will gear up for another run at the Stanley Cup.
At the June Entry Draft, defenseman Filip Johansson was selected with the No.24 overall pick. It was considered a bit of a reach by Fenton as Johansson was viewed by most as a late second-round choice, but he could be a top four defender if he reaches his potential. Johansson is likely to spend the next couple of seasons still in Sweden.
When the July 1 free agent window opened, Fenton worked on upgrading depth, adding character and “sandpaper” as he called it. Fourth line forwards Eric Fehr, J.T. Brown and Matt Hendricks were all signed for less than $2.4 million combined while defenseman Greg Pateryn was added on a 3-year, $6.75 million contract.
At the end of July, Fenton looked after his in-house guys, locking up top-four defenseman Matt Dumba to a 5-year, $30 million contract and forward Jason Zucker to a 5-year, $27.5 million deal.
The Wild elected not to bring back forwards Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Daniel Winnik and Zack Mitchell, along with defenseman Kyle Quincey. None of the losses are a substantial hit individually but combined they total a Point Shares value of about -4.5 points lost in the standings. The few depth additions Fenton made only total about +3.5 points, so on paper anyway (based just on the personnel additions/subtractions), the Wild may be slightly below last season’s output. With no major moves made this offseason, the Wild will look towards their core to carry the weight again.
Stanley Cup: +4000 (BetOnline)
Western Conference: +1800 (BetOnline)
Central Division: +900 (BetOnline, Bovada)
Regular Season Points: 95.5 (-115, -105) (Bookmaker), 95.5 (-110) (BetOnline), 95.5 (-115) (Bovada)
Make Playoffs: YES -190, NO +155 (BetOnline), YES -170, NO +140 (Bovada)
Current odds as of September 25, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Individual Player Ratings represent how many points in the standings each player is directly responsible for over the course of the full season and is called Point Shares. It involves the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I further use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here. The average value for a forward is 3.5 and a defenseman is 4.4 Point Shares
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: 21
Minnesota’s depth down the middle is carried by their top-six combo of Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu. Staal has found a resurgence to his career since joining the Wild two seasons ago with 70 combined goals, including a staggering 42 last year. Koivu’s offensive numbers slipped a bit but he remained one of the best defensive forwards in the game. The main concern for this duo is their age and whether they can sustain their productivity or if the age curve begins to catch up to them.
The third line spot is going to belong to rookie Jordan Greenway, who Fenton and Boudreau both absolutely love. The natural left-wing was moved to center at a point last season and opened there again in training camp. Boudreau said this is likely to be his starting third line and it certainly has a lot of potential. Greenway saw action in six games to end last season and then was arguably the Wild’s best player in their playoff series. He plays a strong physical game at 6’5 and is difficult to move off the puck. Greenway will crash the net and help create offense for his teammates while also showing defensive responsibility. With no major additions to the roster, Greenway will be leaned on to provide the most impact of the new players on the roster this season.
NHL RANK: 17
Jason Zucker broke out with a career season scoring 33 goals and 64 points while firing over 200 shots on goal for the first time in his career. He was also among the Wild leaders in puck possession but struggled to get any offense going in the playoffs along with most of the Wild’s top scorers. After signing a rich new contract this summer, Zucker will be relied upon to build off his breakout year.
The heart-and-soul of the Wild, injuries have limited Zach Parise to an average of just 60 games per season over the past three years and his scoring has taken a significant hit, falling from 0.76 points per game to 0.61 and then 0.57 last year with just 24 in 42 games. Parise says he is one hundred percent and feeling better than ever after a sternum injury ended his season in the opening round of the playoffs. He also missed about half the season after back surgery in mid-October. Both injuries are behind him and he is ready to go. Parise was hot down the stretch scoring 12 goals over his final 18 games and the Wild will desperately need his healthy body and offense again this year.
Joel Eriksson Ek had an okay rookie season looking better defensively but struggled on offense with just six goals and 16 points over 75 games. He will be asked to take on a bigger role this year on the new look third line and with better linemates should be able to produce a little more.
NHL RANK: T-16
When the Wild moved Mikael Granlund from center to wing a couple of seasons ago, it was a move which paid immediate dividends and has continued as he has become the most consistent cog in the lineup. Granlund’s playmaking skills were also unlocked on the wing as he has seen his offense jump from 0.55 points per game in the four seasons prior to 0.86 points per game over the last two years. At just 26-years of age, Granlund could become the best offensive player on the roster this season.
Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle will look for bounce back seasons after an injury-ravaged 2016-17 season. Niederreiter missed time early in the season due to a high ankle sprain but seemed to rush back too early and did not have his same level of power when skating. In December, a broken leg sidelined him again until the second half of the season, but his confidence and production remained down through the end of the playoffs. He was able to get his confidence back with a strong performance at the World Championships after the season and came to camp in great shape.
After missing a month with a broken leg, Coyle seemed hindered even after returning, struggling to get his game back to the level of his career-high 56 points the year prior. Having Boudreau move him all around the lineup due to his versatility did not help matters. In May it was revealed Coyle had dealt with wrist pain over the second half of the season and playoffs and required surgery on both wrists at the same time to repair tears. Coyle has looked fully recovered in the preseason and should see a bounce back in his numbers.
The fourth line spot is currently the only roster position still up in the air as J.T. Brown has had an underwhelming preseason to open the door for Matt Hendricks and Matt Read, the latter of whom was invited to camp on a PTO and has arguably been the most impressive of the three. As of now, unless a prospect like Kyle Rau breaks through, Boudreau could bring all three onto the roster for the short term until Luke Kunin is ready to play, at which point one could be waived. Kunin underwent surgery for an ACL tear in April and is hopeful to be cleared for contact in October. He saw 19 games of action last year and was always a burst of energy with decent skill.
NHL RANK: T-16
No one will deny Ryan Suter is tough as nails and is almost impossible to remove from the lineup, evidenced by the fact he has only missed 41 games out of his 13-year and 991 game career. Four of those games came at the end of last season after a gruesome broken ankle required season-ending surgery and threatened his playing status moving forward. The injury was so bad, doctors thought it might be career-ending. Miraculously, not only was Suter back on the ice by the end of July, he may be ready to go on opening night. Suter tied a career-high with 51 points last year and is an incredibly important piece to this defense, so it is no surprise the Wild are taking things slow and holding him out of preseason games, but he was cleared for all activities on September 13 and has been taking part in team scrimmages.
Jonas Brodin missed about three weeks in February after hand surgery but was a key member of a solid top four for Minnesota. He provides most of his value on the defensive end which often leaves him undervalued but he could stand to be a bit more consistent this year.
Nick Seeler is another defender whose value is almost entirely a result of his defensive ability. In fact, his entire 2.1 projection comes from the defensive side with a 0.0 projection on offense. Seeler will not wow you on the ice and you might not even notice when he is out there, but he is an ideal third pairing type player and should be a steady option for Boudreau this season.
NHL RANK: 7
The Wild are a solid defensive group overall but the biggest strength comes on this right side. Jared Spurgeon is often underrated around the league due to his size but was on his highest career point per game pace until a torn hamstring knocked him out for the final 12 games of the regular season. With Suter already out for the season, Spurgeon tried to come back for the playoffs and essentially played on one leg. It was not a great call by the Wild but their lack of overall defensive depth in the system did not give them a better choice. Spurgeon is completely healed now and looks strong in the preseason.
Matt Dumba stepped up offensively last season with a career-high 14 goals and 50 points but suffered on the defensive end with a negative shot share. His projection of 9.0 Point Shares seems a bit high to me but there is no question he provides a ton of value to the blueline. As a pair, Brodin and Dumba project to be the fourth-best second pair in the league behind only Nashville’s, San Jose’s and Anaheim’s. That is provided they stay together once the regular season gets underway. During last year’s camp, Boudreau wanted to move Dumba up beside Suter and make Brodin and Spurgeon a thing. It seemed to work pretty well but it was not what the players preferred. Boudreau has tried Brodin and Spurgeon together at times this preseason again, so it is possible these pairs could switch around.
The lone addition on the backend from free agency this year is the reliable Greg Pateryn. Do not expect any offensive flair from the veteran as his offensive projection is a negative for the season but he should pair nicely with Seeler and form an effective defensively responsible pairing.
The seventh defenseman should be Nate Prosser to begin the season thanks to the injury of Gustav Olofsson. Prosser does not provide much offensively, and he is basically a liability on the defensive end but there is not much to offer currently in the Minnesota system for defensive prospects. Carson Soucy is probably the readiest to jump in but does not offer much difference in terms of skill.
Olofsson suffered a shoulder injury in an early preseason game and is sidelined for a couple of weeks. Boudreau said he would prefer not to carry eight defenders and with Olofsson requiring waivers, look for that move over the next week and a start in the AHL at Iowa when he is ready to return.
NHL RANK: T-12
(Starter – 11, Backup – T-53)
If the Wild fail to make a dent in the playoffs this season, one area where Fenton could be looking to upgrade is in net. Fenton called Devan Dubnyk a “good regular season goaltender” but seems skeptical he is the answer to get the team over the next hurdle.
Fenton’s comment holds up statistically, for the most part. Here are Dubnyk’s regular season and playoff numbers over the four seasons Dubnyk has made the playoffs.
Only in 2017 did Dubnyk have a good playoff round, the year Minnesota set a franchise-record with 106 points. That was also a first round series against the St. Louis Blues where the Wild completely wiped the floor end-to-end with the Blues but a stone cold supernatural performance by Jake Allen stole the series and when the Wild appeared to finally be breaking through and turning the tide, Dubnyk’s four goals allowed in the series clinching Game 5 sealed their fate.
Dubnyk is one of the biggest enigmas in the NHL with his general numbers showing he is one of the top goaltenders in the league but is often disparaged due to the quality of the defense in front of him who are among the best in the league at clearing pucks away from the front of the net. Goaltenders are currently still the toughest position to evaluate so it is hard to say where Dubnyk really fits. Would he look as good on another team? Would an established proven veteran thrive even more in the Wild system? We may never know but as it stands, Dubnyk does currently project to be an upper-tier netminder and a big reason the Wild should contend for a playoff spot.
Alex Stalock is expected to begin the season as the backup again but should have a shorter lease this season with the addition of Andrew Hammond who will likely head to Iowa. Stalock has a career .911 save percentage over seven seasons but the bulk of that number is from a strong rookie season in 2013-14 with San Jose. Over the past four seasons and 65 games played, Stalock only has a .904 save percentage and a negative Goals-Saved-Above-Average number which is a good measure of how goaltenders stack up against the rest of the league.
Hammond was a smart risk-free choice by Fenton which might pay off if given a chance. Hammond broke into the league late in the 2014-15 season with the Ottawa Senators and is famously remembered for an epic run going 20-1-2 with a .941 save percentage to shock the world and earn the Sens a playoff spot from the brink of nowhere. Hammond followed up that run with a .914 save percentage the next season despite a 7-11-4 record. Injuries severely limited his time and effectiveness in 2016-17 when a hip injury ended his season and he was eventually included as an afterthought piece in the three-team trade involving Matt Duchene.
Hammond only played one game in the regular season last year for Colorado but earned a key two points near the end of the season which helped the Avs secure the second wild card spot. He also had a 45-save win in Game 5 of their first-round series against Nashville before losing Game 6 to end the series. It seemed like a minor signing this summer but “The Hamburgler” could be an upgrade in goal if given a chance.
I will be completely honest here. The Wild were one of the top teams on my end-of-season list in June to look at for Stanley Cup Futures this season. The core is incredibly solid, but they are missing that one big piece to get over the hump and I waited… and waited… and waited some more for them to make a big splash over the summer and it never came. I do not think I was more disappointed in any single team this summer than Minnesota.
Paul Fenton is a brilliant hockey mind and has been deserving of an NHL GM role for a while now. I have no doubt Wild fans will love what he does for this team over the next few years but there may be a bit of heartache before turning the corner. This seems like more of a learning and evaluating year for Fenton. He did address the fourth line with his offseason moves but I think it might be a stretch to say it is an improvement over last year’s group. I do like the addition of Pateryn for the third pair on the defensive side though.
Betting against a Bruce Boudreau-led team to not crack 100 points is risky business and it would not surprise me if they are able to find a way to hit that bar again, but the probability of that happening seems much lower this year than in previous seasons. Nashville and Winnipeg are still the cream of the Central Division while St. Louis, Dallas and Colorado all improved on paper.
Minnesota suffered from poor health and a bounce back from players like Niederreiter and Coyle gives fans hope they can be better than last year’s 101-point team. The biggest problem though is all the teams right around the Wild in the standings last year all made significantly larger improvements and therefore even if the Wild project to be better than last year, other teams project to be even better, which ultimately leaves Minnesota on the outside looking in this season.
My point projection of 95.5 is smack dab right on the dot with current offshore sportsbooks so we will not be touching that bet. The “To Make Playoffs” prop bet is an enticing +155 for “NO” over at BetOnline. If you noticed, I have the Wild projected for a 10th place finish in the West, meaning not only do I see them missing the playoffs, but I also have one more team ahead of them who is also on the bubble. It is extremely tight among the final projected wild card team and the two teams just below them which includes Minnesota so while anything can and surely will happen, I would have to recommend a small bet on Minnesota “NO” to making the playoffs. A half a unit would do here.
Current Stanley Cup Futures list Minnesota on average from 18th to 20th overall with the exception of Bookmaker who is significantly higher at a tie for 12th overall. On average, my projection of 17th seems to be right in line, like the point projection, so there is no interest in any other Minnesota Futures at this time.
Regarding prop bets for Awards, Bodog/Bovada just released some trophy props today and Dubnyk is listed as the sixth favorite for Vezina at +1100. Ryan Suter is on the board as the 12th choice for the Norris at +3000 and Eric Staal is tied for the 16th highest odds at +3000 for the Rocket Richard. None of these interest me with Suter coming off a serious injury and Staal a strong candidate for regression this year. Dubnyk was an option I considered for Vezina last year but does not make my cut-off this season with much stronger options available.
It is going to be an interesting season for the Wild who have not made the moves to keep up with the teams around them. Improvement will have to come within from better health and the play of young players like Greenway and Eriksson Ek. I do not think it will be enough for a seventh consecutive playoff trip but never count out a Bruce Boudreau team in the regular season.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com
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