The Minnesota Wild are almost back and ready to play as the NHL is jumping straight into their restructured playoff format due to the coronavirus. While Wild fans have mixed feelings about whether to win or lose their Qualifying Round, The Athletic polled an exclusive NHL panel about the state of the Minnesota Wild and all other teams slated to play in the NHL return. They all appear to have the same idea.
Hint: It isn’t good.
Even with the team clicking after firing Bruce Boudreau, those around the league are not buying any of the hype the Wild are producing. Having placed the team in the worst tier of contenders to win it all in 2020.
While this may not be a shock to some fans, it is interesting to see how poorly the team is viewed by those in the sport.
BOTTOM OF THE BARREL
The Wild were streaky in 2020, to say the least. One player who was polled even went as far to say they are Jekyll and Hyde. Noting that when their chemistry is on point, they are a tough out. But with so many moving pieces in and around the organization, it is tough to see them put it all together and make a deep run in the NHL return.
“When they’re playing well and feeling it, they’re tough. It can be tough going into Minnesota and playing them. We have also gone in there and caught them sleeping. They seem to play better under the new coach (Dean Evason). They need (Devan Dubnyk) to take the net and play really well at his top level. I like (Alex) Stalock but I don’t know if he can sustain that style of play in the playoffs. That’s a lot to ask. They have the components — a No. 1 D. Good forward depth. I don’t know enough about the new coach and how he’ll play them. Their upside seems limited to me.”Anonymous player speaking to The Athletic on the Wild
The Minnesota Wild received an average rating of 4.6/5 with five being the worst. Putting them only ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in this panel’s rankings.
However, the ranking may be based more out of confusion than anything. As one panelist, “compared them to a not-as-good Philadelphia Flyers, which isn’t great because nobody seemed to know what to do with the Flyers.”
A lot of these opinions have to do with how the Wild never found their footing for an extended period of time during the season. Beginning the season with four losses and going 3-7 in their first ten games. And while the team did eventually pull themselves out of the cellar with a five-game win streak in December and ending with a 35-27-7 record before the hiatus, it was never enough to change minds. Placing them outside of a playoff position for the second straight year. Until the NHL gave them a reprieve with their return to play plan.
SOMETHING OLD. SOMETHING NEW.
Their streaky nature may have to do more with their transitioning roster than anything. With a roster consisting of aging stars such as Mikko Koivu (36), Ryan Suter (35), Eric Staal (35), Zach Parise (35), and Devan Dubnyk (34), there is a lot of money tied up in those four alone. $30 million of the $81.5 million salary cap, to be exact.
Devan Dubnyk had a bad afternoon after allowing the only two shots he faced for the Blackhawks to take an early lead pic.twitter.com/Ghhf8wDJEh— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 12, 2017
And while they are all performing at admirable levels, the team needs a clear vision for the future. The team is still tied to Parise and Suter through 2024-25, while Dubnyk and Koivu appear to be on their last legs. This appears to be why owner Craig Leipold shook up the existing front office. He fired Boudreau and former GM Paul Fenton and bringing in Dean Evason as coach and Bill Guerin as general manager. Hoping to give the team a more clear vision for the future.
Wild fans are sensing that vision, too. With 23-year old Kevin Fiala leading the team in scoring and other young guys such as Luke Kunin (22), Joel Eriksson Ek (23), and Jordan Greenway (22) all coming into their own. Throw in the eventual addition of Russian superstar Kirill Kaprizov (23) and the team is beginning to shift towards a new era of Wild hockey.
Kevin Fiala good lord pic.twitter.com/LqgWe011F0— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) February 10, 2020
Now, it makes sense why they may not have been given the respect by The Athletic’s panel that some fans may think they deserve. This strange limbo the team has been in for the last few years is finally taking its toll. And while the transition is beginning, it likely won’t make an impact in the 2020 playoffs. Just hold tight and ignore the noise…for now.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan