The Hockey News publishes their annual ‘Hockey Yearbook’ and usually delivers it around the start of August. Even though I am a grown man into his 40’s, I still look forward to its arrival in the mail and paging through to see what they think of the Minnesota Wild’s chances are for the upcoming season. The Athletic‘s Michael Russo usually authors the off-season story and key questions going into the upcoming year as he has for over a decade, but its the ‘experts’ at the Hockey News that will provide a prediction as to where they think the team will finish and its not pretty.
The experts at the Hockey News believe the Wild will again finish in last place in the Central Division and have the team’s Stanley Cup odds at 66 to 1. I think the prediction is reasonable when you consider the team returns with a roster that one of the oldest, lacks offensive punch and the club won a scant 16 games on home ice last year. I think it would be strange to think any publication or website would be bullish on the Minnesota Wild right now. Here is the NHL Network‘s E.J. Hradek and Dan Rosen‘s take on the Wild going into the 2019-20 season.
But what about the fans?
In an effort to keep this from becoming just an ‘echo chamber’ I’ve asked a person who is not a fan of the Minnesota Wild to get his outside perspective as well as the perspective of 6 die hard Wild fans their thoughts on the team and its current direction. I’d like to thank all 7 of these fans for their time and effort sharing these ideas as well as their passion for the game. So with each portion of this three-part series we will tackle different issues around the organization going into the 2019-20 season. You can read what these fans said about this team in the links below.
I asked each of them 6 questions pertaining to the Minnesota Wild’s 2019-20 season. I’ve asked that each fan introduce themselves so you know a little bit about their background before you start reading their responses to the questions. Here is our panel for the 2019-20 version of Wild Fans Speak!
Ricky (@Van_city_Nucks) ~ Hey guys, I’m Ricky Sangha. I’m a born and raised Vancouverite, who is a diehard Canucks fan and hockey fan in general. I first started watching hockey as a 9 year old and fell in love with the game right away. I currently own Vancouver Canucks quarter season tickets, and I always look forward to every trip to the rink!
Bruce (@LangeB1) ~ I am a former ‘Team of 18,000’ member who gave up my tickets after the Wild became the only team that didn’t lower ticket prices after the 2004-05 Lockout. I live in Forest Lake, MN and tend to be more critical of the team than I probably should be.
Jodi (@Jodi_Halvy) ~ I am an avid hockey fan, and enjoy watching just about any level of hockey. I am most passionate about the Minnesota Wild and have been a season ticket holder, along with my dad, for about 10 years now. I have three specific Minnesota Wild hockey wishes, not that anyone asked. My first wish is to see the Minnesota Wild win the Stanley Cup. My second wish is to see Kirill Kaprizov wearing a Minnesota Wild jersey. The last thing I would wish is for Kunin, Greenway, Donato and Fiala to all take a significant step forward.
Aaron (@AngryFinn) ~ He is a lifelong hockey fan going back to the days of the Minnesota North Stars. Aaron is also a founding member of 3 in the Box, the longest running underground Wild podcast.
Tim (@Timnado) ~ When he’s not tweeting about the trials and tribulations of his beloved Wild, he’s probably playing a video game or working on his Perfect Strangers fan fiction. A tasty, local malted beverage is always within reach, and he has firmly embraced the
#DadJoke phase of his life.
DaveyJ (@daveyj6568) ~ I’m old enough to remember when Gump Worsley played for the North Stars and have played and been a fan of hockey just as long. I also coached my first team when I was 19 and have coached mites, squirts, and peewees ever since. I have also been an evaluator for my youth hockey association the past several years. One thing that separates me from some hockey people is that I watch hockey (at all levels) as a scout. I am always assessing players’ ability, progress, and potential. It’s just how I watch and enjoy the game.
Brian ~ I’m Brian Felska and have been a long time hockey fan at all levels. Growing up in outstate Minnesota in the 50’s and 60’s where it was tough to participate in hockey as a school sport. The only school teams were in the metropolitan area or in northern Minnesota. We did spend a lot of time at the rink skating, shooting, and playing pickup games. We had very little formal coaching but did have rec. teams from junior high on. Seasonal high school sports took the spotlight but I did manage to play some hockey in my senior high years. When I was in college the St. Cloud State program was in its infancy just switching from club to a varsity sport. Even then the players shoveled their own rinks. I was lucky enough to coach some peewee teams before starting a family. I have always enjoyed the speed and physically of sports so hockey was I game I loved.
5. If you had a pick an identity for this current Wild squad what would it be? What sort of identity should they be striving for? With the moves the team made over the last year, are they closer or farther away from defining their style of play?
Ricky ~ I’m not sure if the Minnesota Wild have an identity right now, as an outside viewer of the Wild from Vancouver, I remember Wild teams of the past being very defensive oriented and stingy to play against, the type of team you didn’t want to spot a 2-0 lead against. I think the Wilds identity will be based on the type of players they have coming up in their system now and in the future. I think Minnesota needs to strive to be a hard working team that makes the other team work their ass off to win, you may lose the game but the other team leaves the rink bruised and short of breath, at the end of the day that’s the basic approach that I think all teams who are trying to find themselves should take. Minnesota added Kevin Fiala and Victor Rask who I believe are excellent fits going forward, and it seems they’re trying to be a more skilled team upfront that want to add some offence, they’re not there yet but are getting closer to that being a staple in their game.
Bruce ~ Right now the Wild don’t have an identity. They’re not possession team. They rarely skate the puck in over the line, preferring to ‘dump and chase’. But instead of an aggressive forecheck to try and maintain possession, they generally peel off for a line change. They’re not a lock-down defensive team. At least not like they used to be under Lemaire’s dreaded Neutral Zone Trap. They’re not a high scoring offensive team. Under Mike Yeo they consistently were ranked in the low twenties for “goals for”. Bruce Boudreau seemed to spark something his first season (the Wild ranked #2 in Goals For), but since then the Wild have slid back into the low twenties. They’ve got such a mish-mash of players they’re kind of a “Jack-of-all-Trades, Master of None” type team. Fenton said the team needed to get “younger and faster”, but that’s really not a playing style, more a description of the roster make up. And Fenton never really said what type of team he was trying to build, just that the goal was the Playoffs. And I haven’t heard what type of style Guerin prefers (I would assume something similar to what the Penguins employ, but we’ll have to wait and see.). So in my opinion, they are neither closer nor farther away from defining their style, because they don’t have one.
Jodi ~ Honestly I would just like the people who know way more about hockey than me, to PICK an identity. I do like that we got a bit younger, and maybe got a little of our speed back? But I also think we still lack size to compete with the larger teams in our division. So truthfully, I don’t even know how to answer this question.
Aaron ~ Current identity is The Zach & Ryan Show. They should be striving for “Make to the first round” identity, as that’s probably their ceiling. Unfortunately Fenton’s tainting will color the Wild for years to come.
Tim ~ The Wild are definitely a team in flux. I think it will be the job of GMBG (and the staff that he brings in) to define the style of hockey that will characterize this team going forward. For the short-term , i.e. this year, I think there is only one identity that could lead to competitive play. While it may be unsexy, I think a return to stingy, defense-first hockey is the only way to make a run with the current roster. Fortunately, there are a few precedents that could help with this. The first iteration of the Wild made hay adopting this identity to smooth over some roster deficiencies, so the fans have a familiarity with this style, and winning cures all ills. In addition, Bruce orchestrated a remarkable turnaround for the struggling 2015-2016 Anaheim Ducks after convincing the squad to commit to a responsible two-way game. While I’m not sure the current Wild players have the necessary tools or buy-in to successfully execute this type of defensive system, I don’t see many other pathways to success in the standings.
DaveyJ ~ As much as I think this team is NHL-average at best, I do think it can be categorized as balanced and deep. They might actually have too many NHL-caliber players. I am always a fan of balanced teams and I think that’s the way all teams should endeavor to build their franchises, but I do hope the Wild are close to revealing some actual star power at the forward positions in Kaprizov and (maybe) Boldy. I’ll take my chances with a good, balanced team with 2 or 3 stars sprinkled in any day. Just chew on this for a minute, the Wild have really only had ONE bonafide first line forward in team history (Gaborik). It is absolutely not possible to be legitimate Cup contenders without a star forward or two or three. Most of the depth is at the forward positions, however, and not on the blue line. They are probably one injury from their top 4 away from another putrid season. I do think, as currently constructed and without injury, the Wild blue line is good enough to win a Cup, but the forward lines are not even close.
Brian ~ After last year’s “management flop” I don’t know if anyone knows what this team’s identity is supposed to be. And so far we haven’t heard much from the new management as to what they want this team’s identity to be. So here we are, a few weeks before a new season, with no plan to get this team back on track. I suppose we can hope that a “secret strategy” is in place but this is starting to feel more like Timberwolves basketball than Wild hockey.
6. Do the Minnesota Wild return to the NHL playoffs in 2019-20 or how do you see them finishing points-wise? Do they have enough to compete for a Top-4 spot in the Central Division?
Ricky ~ The Minnesota Wild will not make the playoffs this season, and as I stated earlier will have to grind through the season playing in the NHL’s toughest and deepest division. Out of the 8 playoff teams in the West I really think the Central division could have up to 5 teams occupying 5 of the 8 spots, or at least 4, which leaves Minnesota basically fighting for 6th spot in the division with the Blackhawks. Minnesota will probably hit a 75 to 85 point season, and could have a high pick in a very deep draft which I think is huge going forward.
Bruce ~ If about three or four major things align, they’ll make the Playoffs: IF they stay healthy; IF Staal and Zucker rebound; IF the younger players (Donato, Fiala, Kunin, Greenway, etc.) take a step forward; IF the older core’s (Staal, Parise, Suter) production doesn’t drop off; I know there’s a lot of IF’s there. But stranger things have happened. However, if one of these things doesn’t happen, I can see them struggling to make the Wild Card spot. They’re a decent team, just not a great team. The Wild really don’t have that Go-To player that will pick the team up and carry it across the finish line. They probably have enough to squeak into the Playoffs if everything aligns. But those are big IF’s.
Jodi ~ I do think they have a chance to return this season. Dubnyk has to play consistently, Dumba has to stay healthy, Zucker and Staal need to return to 2017 form, and Ek, Kunin, Greenway, Donato and Fiala need to take significant steps forward. So I guess I’m saying if the stars align perfectly, we will get in. I am still a believer that if you can get in, anything can happen, so I’m always just hoping we get in!
Aaron ~ The Wild’s ceiling is just barely scraping into the playoffs (wildcard), and their floor is what they did last year. The ongoing health of the team will play a big factor, as will the durability of the aging core of veterans that make up the bulk of this team’s payroll. It will be easy to want this team to rebuild if the playoffs are looking like a long shot, but Fenton already gave up most of the pieces with any value, and trading what is left will likely just further erode any chance for this team to be competitive over the remainder of Zach & Ryan’s collective Wild career.
Tim ~ As an eternal Wild optimist, I believe the Wild will return to the Playoffs. As a realist, I think they do it by snagging the 8th seed with 90pts. What makes this possible? A) Boudeau-coached teams historically have been virtual locks for the playoffs B) Firing Fenton caused a rejuvenation of the team, and they will be able to ride this momentum to start the season C) The Wild had very tough injury luck in ’18/’19, and the Law of Averages indicates this year will be better D) Hockey is unpredictable, and I’m betting that 2 other teams in the Central perform below expectations this year, opening the door for Nordy’s co-workers.
DaveyJ ~ Well, NHL-average teams make the playoffs every year so anything can happen. As a betting man, I would not place a wager on them in the post-season, however. I can’t see Koivu being very effective, even in a 3rd line role until after Christmas because of his knee injury last season. I also think Staal and Parise are declining and can not be leaned on to carry much of an offensive load anymore, and expecting the youngsters to carry the load is not going to happen. As a result, I do not see them returning to the playoffs and I see them struggling mightily against the bigger, stronger, and faster teams of the Central Division. If Guerin hasn’t already convinced Leipold of the need to rebuild, I think his argument will stand on firmer ground after consecutive seasons ending without a playoff berth.
Brian ~ At first look you would have say to that the playoffs would be a big surprise. However, I’m sure Leipold still feels this team can be the next coming of the 2019 Blues.
We’d again like to thank our panel for their participation for this series, and we would also love to hear from those of you who are reading this. What are your thoughts about these questions? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!