As part of our summer series previewing the 2014-15 NHL season, CSNwashington.com is analyzing all 30 NHL teams, division by division. Today we continue with the Western Conference’s Central Division.
Today: MINNESOTA WILD
2013-14 record: 43-27-12, 98 points
Where they finished: 4th in the Central; 7th in the West; 11th in the NHL
Coach: Mike Yeo (4th season)
Key additions: LW Thomas Vanek
Key subtractions: LW Matt Moulson, LW Dany Heatley, D Clayton Stoner, RW Cody McCormick
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek – Mikael Granlund – Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke – Erik Haula – Nino Niederreiter
Jason Zucker – Kyle Brodziak – Justin Fontaine
Extras: Jordan Schroeder, Stephane Veilleux
Ryan Suter – Jonas Brodin
Jared Spurgeon – Marco Scandella
Keith Ballard – Matthew Dumba
Extras: Jonathan Blum, Stu Bickel
Niklas Backstrom – Josh Harding - Darcy Kuemper
Our take: The Wild advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year for the first time in more than a decade, eventually falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The second round series was tied 2-2, before Chicago took Games 5 and 6 by identical 2-1 scores (the clincher decided in overtime).
Dating back to their expansion years in the early 2000s, Minnesota has long been known as a defensively sound organization that at times has struggled to find the back of the net. With their playoff lives on the line last spring, the Wild's offensive shortcomings were exposed again, not unlike during the regular-season when the Wild averaged 2.43 goals-per-game and ranked 24th overall in league scoring (next-to-last among teams that made the playoffs).
The Wild are hoping that the offense will rebound next season with the addition of free agent Thomas Vanek, who signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal with Minnesota on July 1. Vanek was among the most coveted free agents this summer, despite a disappointing postseason last spring when the two-time 40-goal scorer was relegated to fourth line duty during the Montreal Canadiens' run to Eastern Conference Finals.
Vanek turned down bigger deals from the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres and was thought to have had his eye on the Wild all along. The 30-year-old played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota and is expected to be a key piece among Minnesota's top-six forwards- a group which also includes Zach Parise [29 goals and 56 points last season, despite missing 15 games with a broken foot], Mikko Koivu [team-high 43 assists and 54 points, despite missing 17 games with a broken ankle] and Jason Pominville [team-high 30 goals and 60 points].
Ryan Suter is entering his third season with Minnesota after signing a massive 13-year, $98 million deal with the Wild in 2012. Suter is as steady as they come and led the NHL in ice-time for the second straight season last year, averaging 29:24 TOI per game. Outside of Suter and Keith Ballard, the Wild have a young core on defense, with 24-year-olds Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella projected among the top-four, as well as 21-year-old Jonas Brodin, and 20-year-old Matthew Dumba.
Health was a serious concern among Minnesota's goaltenders last season, with Niklas Backstrom undergoing season-ending hip surgery, Josh Harding battling multiple sclerosis and rookie Darcy Kuemper suffering a concussion in the postseason. As the injuries piled up, the Wild made a late-season trade for Ilya Bryzgalov, who eventually emerged as the team's No.1 option against the Blackhawks. Bryzgalov remains an unsigned free agent, but Backstrom, Harding and Kuemper are all expected to return healthy.
Will they make the playoffs in 2014-15: Yes. The Wild will earn a third straight playoff berth for the first time in franchise history
Against the Capitals: Thu. March 5 at Washington and Thu. March 19 at Minnesota