If you ask around about Minnesota Wild hockey, most people guffaw and shake it off. Most will ask about how the Vikings are doing. Some will mourn the fact the Twins haven’t made or got knocked out of the playoffs. But the best is when the true fans start talking about the glory days of the old North Stars, and how the Wild don’t come close to holding a candle to the legendary team of yesteryear.
How exactly does this years team measure up in the chase for one of the most storied trophies in all of sports? The Missouri Mule will give you a breakdown and talk some key points to look forward to in the season.
Strong Preseason = Strong Regular Season?
Boasting an impressive record of 6-1 in preseason says a lot, but just like the classic TV show Who’s Line is it Anyway? stated: “Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” Not many teams performed as well as Minnesota did. In fact the only team to match their performance was St. Louis who had a 6-2 preseason record, not to mention the only loss for the Wild in preseason was to St. Louis by a score of 4-2 back on October 4th.
Roster-wise not a whole lot of production will come from veteran players in the preseason. It’s usually a chance to see what your draft picks will do and who should be promoted from the AHL affiliate. Speaking of draft picks and AHL players, lets look at the top performer for the Wild: Marco Rossi.
Rossi appeared in 6 out of 7 games, he recorded 9 points (2G, 7A), a +/- rating of +6, 6 penalty minutes and one of those goals was a shorthanded goal. For someone who only appeared in 2 regular season games in his entire career back in the 2022 season for the Wild, that is a major step up. It’s also something he’s been working on in his time in the AHL, where last season he recorded 53 points (18G, 35A) in just 63 games as a FOURTH LINE player. The Fourth Line is essentially a line that gives your top guys a rest. They aren’t expected to do much but stall for the First and Second line to recover and aren’t typically big enough to be on the Third Line to do some checking and a little physical play. Also expect to look forward to see him on the powerplay as a second line penalty killer.
Next up: Tyson Jost. In 5 games he scored 7 points (3G, 4A) and proved to be a very valuable asset on the powerplay with 3 points (2G, 1A). Even admitting to working alongside league veterans like Joel Eriksson-Ek and Marcus Foligno. Despite spending most of his short career with Colorado for the past 6 seasons, Jost is fitting in nicely, at least if he can stay of the DL. Last season he had quite a few lower body injuries.
Lastly is Sam Steel. Spending a short and full career in Anaheim, Steel and his new acquisition as a Wild might seem like a wild card, but it can be expected as a positive addition. In preseason he sealed 5 points, (2G, 3A) with just 8 shots on goal, which was actually better than a certain Connor McDavid in the preseason and his 5 points. While it might not seem impressive, Steel is a player that every team needs: he is a passer. Someone to help feed the slot and pick up the assist. Teamwork wins games after all.
Weren’t There Some Big Roster Changes?
Yes. Yes there was. Cam Talbot was let go in trade to Ottawa. But that was a good thing considering Cam Talbot hasn’t been a decent goaltender since he was with Edmonton. Nick Bjugstad sent to Arizona. Good choice. While a veteran player, Bjugstad doesn’t produce anything but experience. Dmitry Kulikov traded to the Ducks for draft picks. I personally hate when this happens. It’s a gigantic “what if” especially if you get a draft pick that sticks in the minors forever. But on the plus side they did get Steel out of this trade so while defensively the Wild may take a little hit, a bolster in offense isn’t too shabby. But the one that hurts the most is the trade of Kevin Fiala to the Kings. Sure he had career high numbers last season for the long time veteran but by golly is this going to come back to haunt the Wild.
Over to the good news: additions and fresh faces! Mainly Filip Gustavsson. Marc-Andre Fluery can’t do it all so you need a backup goalie. Picking up Gustavsson may sound like a bad idea considering his stats aren’t the greatest, but you’re forgetting backup goaltenders aren’t supposed to be superstars. If they were they would be the starters. Another good thing is Gustavsson isn’t going to throw a temper tantrum like Talbot when he gets replaced by Fluery. The best is the youthfulness of Gustavsson. With only two seasons under his belt there isn’t a better veteran goaltender to learn from than Fluery.
Are There Any Positives?
It’s all in returning faces. Expect a strong offense spear-headed by Kirill Kaprizov. Defense will be solid and sturdy thanks to Spurgeon, Dumba and Goligoski. If all else enjoy the show in the crease from Fluery.
The Big Question: Hoisting the Cup?
A very interesting question indeed. In all seriousness, Minnesota will make the playoffs. How far will they go? That is the tougher answer. Last seasons playoff picture looked to formulate very well, especially with the last minute addition of Marc-Andre Fluery as a last minute decision. But in all honesty and unbiased opinion, the furthest anyone can expect from the Wild this year is an elimination in the second round of the playoffs.
It may not be the answer anyone wants to hear but it is the truth. First off, roster depth. Yes a lot of returning players are coming back to the lineup. Yes a lot of skill is required to make it to the playoffs, but the depth is the problem. If you need a better explanation, look at what happened when they were eliminated in an upset by St. Louis in the first round. After a huge shoutout loss to set the tempo in Game 1, Minnesota came back and established a new rhythm winning the next two games scoring 6 goals in Game 2 and 5 in Game 3. Then in games 4 and 5, the Wild came on top opening the scoring 2-0 but then lost momentum allowing St. Louis to score 5 in both Games 4 and 5 and then winning the series in Game 6 5-1. Sure they have the talent to make it to the playoffs, but not the roster depth to make it far, especially when most of the roster is the exact same as last season.
Secondly, there need to be other players to rely on. If you only rely on one player, it’s not a team sport anymore. Granted Kaprizov had an outstanding rookie year last season but if you notice if he isn’t on the scoresheet, neither is a W on the schedule.
Third, as the saying goes the best offense is a good defense, but not when your defense is 3 out of 6 players. Spurgeon, Dumba and Merrill performed excellently as deep defensive cores, and a line of Greenway, Eriksson-Ek and Foligno may have shut down a lot of defensive opportunities, but that is only 5 players out of a 23 man roster. The whole team has to step up.
Fourth, in a division with two teams that have won the Stanley Cup in the past 5 years and are hungry to do it again, well lets just say its a challenge for Minnesota to play against both Colorado, whom they can actually win against, and a tougher time against St. Louis, whom they can outhit physically but not enough times to outscore. Especially when it counts, i.e. the playoffs.
Lastly, at +2200 odds to win the Cup, if anything that is a bit of a stretch to actually succeed.