There are plenty of ‘experts’ to peruse on the internet and in television. The Hockey News‘ has picked the Minnesota Wild to finish 5th in the Central and earning the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference in their annual ‘Yearbook’ issue. Fans of course have their own point of view but how do they see their favorite team. Since I started blogging over 12 years ago, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the collective ‘pulse’ of Minnesota Wild fans. I participate on message boards, watch the discussion unfold there and on Twitter. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some of these fans beyond just the shared passion for hockey and met some great people in the process.
So as what has become an annual tradition, I’ve asked a group of Minnesota Wild fans for their thoughts going into the 2017-18 NHL season. These are people that I’ve met on the wild.com message boards as well as from Twitter but make no mistake these are hard-core fans that watch the team regularly and have been watching the club for many years. The goal is to offer a variety of different perspectives that you may connect with or maybe you won’t. This is the blogging equivalent of ‘open mic night’ so sit back enjoy the 1st part of this 3-part series. So who are the people on this year’s Wild Fans Speak panel?
@Timnado (Tim) – Tim originally hails from Alexandria, MN but now calls West St. Paul his home. He works for a well-known independent brewery and posts some of the best beer pictures you’ll ever see and his wit and hockey observations are always top notch.
DaveyJ (Dave Johnson) – A long time member of the wild.com message boards from Grant, MN. Dave can be pretty feisty with his opinions.
@AngryFinn (Aaron) – Aaron is the host of 3 in the Box, the best and longest running underground Minnesota Wild podcast out there. He is also a moderator for the Minnesota Wild Reddit page as well as bringing levity and savvy observations.
Captain H (Ken) – A newer member to the wild.com message boards, he’s a long-time Minnesota hockey fan hailing from Eden Prairie, MN and this his first foray into Wild Fans Speak.
Rottenrefs (Mike) – A long-time wild.com message board member from Annandale, MN, at times he can be irreverent which can drive some people nuts.
KISS_Armyman (Bruce) ~ Another long-time wild.com message board regular from Forest Lake, MN. He’s a former Wild Season Ticket Holder who grew tired of the team’s ‘evaluation year’ toward the latter half of the Doug Risebrough-era. He is not a homer and watches the team with objectivity.
@TonyDeanHB (Tony) ~ The St. Paul-native used to write for Hockey Buzz as well as was a regular on the Wild Wednesday’s podcast. He is full of enthusiasm and is not shy in sharing his opinions about the Minnesota Vikings or the Minnesota Wild.
Brian – This is my dad who is originally from Hutchinson, MN. He’s been a sports fan his whole life and was a very successful multi-sport athlete in high school and has coached a number of sports (hockey, football, basketball). He is brutally honest and is a huge sports fan who is objective and somewhat cynical when it come to Minnesota teams.
1. After the team’s moves in the offseason, both departures and arrivals, are the Minnesota Wild a better team going into 2017-18 than they were in 2016-17? If yes, explain how are they stronger, if not, explain how are they weaker?
@Timnado – I think they are a better team in 2017-18. Last year was kind of a transition year, where the young players like Granny, Nino, Coyle, Zucker, and Spurge started to become a focal point of the squad, as opposed to the Yeo era where veterans ran the show. That said, these players are in their prime and, if healthy, should have the ability to improve upon last year’s performance. Also, I think the fact that Boudreau is going into his second year as head coach should provide a foundation of system/roster familiarity.
DaveyJ – There are a lot of “IFS” involved in answering this question. IF Ennis is truly healthy and can contribute offensively like he did a couple years ago for the Sabres, then the Wild have a better, faster, more versatile version of Pominville. IF Gustav Olofsson can stay healthy and play as poised as he has during his short stints in the NHL, then the Wild will (potentially) have a more consistent, albeit less physical version of Scandella. IF Koivu, Parise, Suter, and Staal can play as well as they did last year and avoid their inevitable deterioration of skills for another year, then the Wild will be better simply because what the old guard produces is fairly predictable and the twenty-something year old players should automatically get better as they approach the primes of their careers. IF Eriksson Ek is ready to take over the 3rd line center duties, the Wild should easily have the best foursome of centers in franchise history. However, the only IF that really matters in my estimation is IF Stalock or Svedberg can play 30+ games of solid backup goalie so Dubnyk doesn’t have to burden such a monster load this season.
So, to answer the question, I do believe the talent is better from the young guard continuing to improve and I also believe the old guard has some gas left in the tank. I also believe Eriksson Ek is a star in the making and think he will contribute nicely in a top 9 role. I am concerned about Olofsson (or Reilly) playing a full time role on the blue line, and I have very little confidence in Stalock’s or Svedberg’s ability to play 30+ games. Tally up the pluses and minuses and my conclusion is the team is equal to last year…with the potential to be even better.
@AngryFinn – At best, they’re treading water. Losing Scandella, Pominville, Haula and Tuck for essentially Ennis, Foligno and Quincey is a lateral move, and I’m probably even then being too nice to the Wild. While it’s easy to dismiss this as a death sentence, you need to remember that the Wild had some good runs last season, so even a lateral move should be good enough to contend. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the rest of the Central made commensurate lateral moves.
Captain H – Maybe a little weaker on defense. I’ll be honest and say I’m sure about how well the guys they are bringing up can skate, but overall the team may have lost a little speed. Having had one more year of experience under their core players belts should make them a better team offensively–these guys should be pretty familiar with each others games now. I worry about Parise, though. Nagging injuries the past few years, and the fact he is 33 years old could really affect his play. Overall I would say they’ll be a little worse than last year, but if Zach bounces back with a good year I think they can be close to as good as last year.
Rottenrefs – The team is weaker. On offense it’s a wash with those coming and going. But on defense the Wild parted ways with Marco Scandella who in recent years has declined in expectations. Missing will be a lot of valuable minutes he used to gobble up along with being fairly reliable. Quietly the Wild could rely on him and while the Wild have been short one more decent d-man ever since they acquired Ryan Suter, now they’re going to have to rely on essentially three players with capable to decent experience.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau will have his hands full after losing Scott Stevens. Replacing him with Bob Woods while not too shabby, these guys have to determine how to get a lot more out of Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly. If Kyle Quincey isn’t more than they expected this year could be a long one defensively. Staging them all in front of 40-year old Devan Dubnyk will likely be more of a risk than what the returning d-men faced last year.
KISS_ArmyMan – I think this team will be similar to what they were last season. I don’t think they got stronger, but I also don’t think they got that much weaker. I think any weakness will show on defense, with the loss of Marco Scandella. Losing a veteran defenseman that has some offense to his game is going to hurt, especially when they are relying on unproven Gustav Olofsson or Mike Reilly to take his place. But the rest of the notable departures are irrelevant. Hanzal put up numbers in his 20-game Wild career, but ultimately made no difference in the playoffs as the Wild crashed and burned once again. Erik Haula has had chance after chance to show he could be a solid contributor as the third or fourth line center and has been inconsistent at best. Same with Darcy Kuemper. He had many chances to show he could be the starter or even a solid back up the team could rely on and only proved he couldn’t be relied on. Jason Pominville was rapidly becoming a nonfactor on the ice. Every year since he was acquired from Buffalo his point totals declined (60, 54, 36). Last season he did manage to increase his point total to 47 points, but is that what the Wild were paying $5M per season for?
Matt Cullen will solidify that third or fourth line with his work ethic and veteran savvy. Eriksson-Ek looks to be a real NHL center. With Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal in the final year of their contracts, I’m betting they put up career numbers or close to it. So the Wild should be solid down the middle. Nino Neiderreitter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund continue to develop, although out of the three Nino appears more consistent. Coyle has a habit of disappearing for games at a time, and Granlund has had one good season playing wing, not center. Can he do it again, or will he slide back to being a 40 point player? If Tyler Ennis stays healthy, he will make up for the loss of Jason Pominville’s 40 points at half the cost. Marcus Foligno will bring some much needed toughness to a line-up that is marshmallow soft. Hopefully Foligno can team up with Stewart to give opposing teams something to consider before they take a run at Dubnyk or Parise. I don’t think Mikko Koivu’s Finnish Stare of Icy Death is cutting it anymore (not that it ever did) and the Wild no longer have Nate Prosser’s face to hurt opposing teams fists.
Like I said, I’m not seeing a significant improvement in this team, but I’m not seeing a real talent drop off either. Overall I think this team is treading water. Didn’t get significantly worse, but didn’t get significantly better either.
@TonyDeanHB – I think they will be better in 2017-18 especially upfront because adding Tyler Ennis while retaining Eric Staal means this is probably the most skilled Top 9 ever for the Wild. Not even taking into account the possible contributions of Eriksson-Ek and Kunin. I also worry thought that a SOFT finesse blue line lost its two size/skill defenders in Scandella and Folin. Olofsson better be ready to play all 82.
Brian – Overall I think they look like they should be better. Tyler Ennis should help bring speed and Marcus Foligno should add size and physicality to the line up. Add them to our other big boys up front and you would think we should be more physical. If this transfers to toughness and willingness to go to the front of the net then our scoring will benefit also. Zach Parise can’t be the only one willing to go to the net.
2. Whose departure will the Minnesota Wild ‘feel’ the most and whose arrival have the biggest impact in your opinion? What one player on this roster really needs to step it up the most in order for this team to have success?
@Timnado – I think the team will miss Haula. Blessed with great speed, he was a dependable two-way player who could be deployed wherever and whenever the team needed him. That’s a useful resource, a nice Swiss Army Knife for Gabby. But, by that same token, I think Cullen is an important add for the same reasons. He will also bring some veteran tutelage to the youngsters and will provide a 4C that Boudreau can finally trust after he seemingly had no faith in Graovac in that spot.
DaveyJ – Scandella’s physical nature will be missed, but…let’s be real…his physicality was only impressive by the Wild’s standards. He is an average physical presence on his best days and will never be confused with Scott Stevens or even Radko Gudas. I really don’t think any of the players not returning will be missed…unless you are one to miss inconsistent play (Scandella and Haula) or a complete unwillingness to take a hit or fight for the puck (Pominville).
@AngryFinn – Biggest departure is easily Scandella. As for biggest arrival, I’m hopeful that Ennis can turn things around under Boudreau. On that same note, I think that if the Wild are going to stay relevant, they need Ennis to return to form, much like Staal last season.
CaptainH – I think they’ll probably feel Scandella’s loss the most–they’ve got a couple of question marks on defense in my opinion. EK will have the biggest impact, although Foligno and his big body, especially come playoff time, could have a big impact as well. I believe the guy who needs to step it up is Parise–if he can–at his age this could possibly be his last chance to contribute in a big way to the success of this team. Of course he has to stay healthy.
Rottenrefs – Hockey wise I’m normally all about offense and scoring goals but this year as I eluded to above, could focus on a soon to be battered defensive core. I’m still mad as hell the Wild acquired Ryan Suter five years ago (2012) and expected him to put up Shea Weber like numbers without the offensive skills to go along with it. That’s been a 5-year long experiment gone bad and in the meantime it took a fabulous stay-at-home defender, thrust him into offensive challenges he wasn’t accustomed to, and depleted the defense defensively.
Since acquiring Suter the Wild still need another capable defender. Consider for example, the smallest guy on the Minnesota Wild Roster last year, Jared Spurgeon 5’9” 164 pounds, had 49 hits compared to the outgoing 6’3” 208 pound Marco Scandella. Also gone is Christian Folin. While not totally notable he did do ‘okay’ much of the season last year. He put up minor numbers but he was tough (with 62 hits) and dealt out punishment… Which is not something this team finds important enough to do.
On a personal note I’m sick and tired of who needs to ‘step up.’ For 5 years now that’s all we’ve heard about with this team. My concept is if you need someone to step up, as in former head coach Mike Yeo rambling on about, or other notable ‘core leaders’ chirping the same old tireless crap of stepping up; then they need to find another team to be cheerleader for. In my opinion the softest players on this team are the ones throwing blame on others instead of putting their money where their mouth is. Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter – this means you. These guys are big players who play way too small. Chicken and yellow belly comes to mind with those two, especially Mikko.
KISS_ArmyMan – Departure: Marco Scandella. You don’t lose a veteran offensive defenseman and replace him with an unproven rookie and not feel it. Defensemen take a lot longer to develop, so Olofsson or Reilly are going to have growing pains (getting caught out of position, making that one bad pass that ends up in the net, missing assignments, etc.) that the team is going to have to deal with.
Arrival: Matt Cullen. This was an excellent pick up by the Wild. The guy is ageless and has a strong work ethic. Perfect role model for the young players. Should rub off on the younger players and hopefully it will rub off on the rest of the team, who can appear to be going through the motions at times.
Wild Card: Charlie Coyle. Coyle has shown flashes of brilliance, but is still inconsistent. Yes, he hit 60 points last season. But there were also times where he disappeared for games at a time. If he is going to be the stud player the Wild traded Brent Burns away for, he needs to show more. A lot more.
@TonyDeanHB – I think the departure of Scandella will be felt the most because he was a size/skill defender who probably muted his offense to stay back and compliment others more than fans realize.
Brian – I think Haula’s departure could hurt us. The loss of his speed on the 3rd and 4th lines and man short situations could be a problem. I think Luke Kunin and Tyler Ennis could be the X factor for this team. If everyone has similar years to last year and these two score as they can the Wild should be better offensively.
On behalf of Crease And Assist: A Legally Compliant Minnesota hockey blog we’d like to thank all our panel for participating and the time, effort and care you had in your responses. We couldn’t do it without you!
So what do you think? How do you think the Minnesota Wild will do in 2017-18? Does it match our panel? Share with us what you think in the comment section below or tell me @CreaseAndAssist on Twitter!