Ladies and gentlemen, we are days away from meaningful hockey once again filling our lives with joy. The Central is poised to be home to some truly great teams, and as with every year, it’s truly a toss-up as to who will wear the division crown come April.
With the clock winding down towards a new season, let's get you back to that special hockey feeling by taking a quick look at each team in the division and what you can expect from their next 82 games. Here are your 2018-19 Minnesota Wild.
How Did Last Year Go?
We all have that coworker who can technically do their their job but goes about it the most painful, mind-numbing way possible. In hockey, that coworker is the Minnesota Wild. The team finished third in a very good Central Division and made it over the 100 point threshold for the third time in four years. They managed this without Zack Parise on the ice and Ryan Suter going down late in the season. This all sounds like good news right? Well, it didn’t feel like it. The Wild limped into the playoffs and were soundly battered by a Winnipeg team which appears to have taken their spot as the “Central Team of Tomorrow” Always a bridesmaid, right Minnesota?
What The Hell Happened?
The team’s 101 points on the season belie the stagnant nature of this team. There were only three skaters who managed to break 20 goals. The reliable Devin Dubnyk was less so. We discovered that Ryan Suter is basically the Wild’s entire defense, averaging nearly 27 minutes on ice each game. When he departed, the team couldn’t figure out how to stop a fart from entering the zone with speed. In the postseason, Minnesota was outshot, outskated & outclassed in almost every aspect of the series. Much like the Blackhawks the year before, the Wild were at an utter loss to compete with a modern NHL team.
Did Anything Good Happen?
Eric Stall scored 42 goals, which was uh… unexpected. Jason Zucker had a wonderful season and has established himself as a possible future leader of the franchise. Ryan Suter was having himself a YEAR until he went down with four games to go. Jordan Greenway was a lone bright spot for the USA Olympic squad and carried that momentum to the twin cities once called up from Iowa. They got rid of GM Chuck Fletcher who gifted Erik Haula to Vegas and signed Parise & Suter to their mammoth deals.
Did They Get Any Worse?
The Wild are stuck in a roster purgatory of sorts. They don’t have room to make a big splash in free agency, yet the pieces they would be willing to part with via trade don’t hold much overall value. Tyler Ennis is in Toronto after taking three entire seasons to match his point total from 2014-15, so good riddance. Matt Cullen just had enough and flew back to Pittsburgh. Kurtis Gabriel was deemed too slow to have a future in this organization, which is something.
Are There New Faces This year?
J.T. Brown has promise which has not yet shown itself fully in 5 NHL seasons.
Matt Bartkowski is a guy who’s played hockey.
Matt Hendricks will bring a slow, plodding style of hockey to a traditionally speedy team.
Andrew Hammond will have exactly 3 good games in net before wearing out his welcome.
Greg Pateryn will eat big minutes and looks like Ryan Suter if you put a picture of Ryan Suter in front of him.
What’s Going To Happen This Year?
Look, the Wild are still a dangerous team. If they can get Parise and Suter healthy for an entire year they’ll continue to be competitive. With that disclaimer out of the way, This team has been spinning the wheels of mediocrity for five seasons now and those wheels have to come off sometime. I personally think their Stanley Cup window has already closed. I believe this is the year the team finally figures it out themselves. It is unreasonable to expect Eric Stall to continue turning back the clock or to expect Jason Zucker to match what was by far, his best ever season. Devan Dubnyk will have to bounce back from a quiet year. As we saw with Suter, this team is just an injury away from being crippled. With few NHL-ready talents showing breakout potential and the veteran foundation of the team growing more brittle by the hour, it feels like the Wild are primed to have the kind of nightmare season Chicago had last year.
“Clubber, What’s Your Prediction For The Fight?”
40-36-6 7th in Central: It all goes to hell. Dubnyk continues to slip or misses real time due to the groin that has been bothering him for the past two seasons. Teams run Ryan Suter ragged and exploit the soft 2nd and 3rd pairings. The offense doesn’t find productivity to make up for the drop in Eric Staal’s numbers. Even though they will win more games in regulation than 6th place Chicago, they take fewer games to OT and don’t capitalize on valuable 1 point contests. The Wild will never really find a rhythm and by 2019, they will fall off the map, becoming a lottery team for the first time this decade.
There you have it, folks. Next up, the Winnipeg Jets.