Meet The Rivals: Minnesota Wild

Travis Hrubeniuk
September 17 2013 12:23AM

Finally, after two long and rather ridiculous seasons that saw the Winnipeg Jets based out of the Southeast, the league has undergone re-alignment and have the team in a realistic division: The Central. All week I will provide a preview of the Jets new Divisional Rivals, giving you with a brief review of last years’ stats, each team's potential opening day lineup, strengths and weaknesses, and a few major storylines (both Jet and non-Jet related). Today we review what will surely become fierce rivals, the Minnesota Wild.

The Minnesota Wild

Scheduled Meetings:

  • October 10th – Minnesota
  • November 17th – Minnesota
  • November 23rd – Winnipeg
  • December 27th – Winnipeg
  • April 7th – Winnipeg 

2012-13 Review:

 

Wild

Jets

Record (Point %)

26-19-3 (.573) – 8th in West

24-21-3 (.531) – 9th in East

Home/Away

14-8-2

12-11-1

13-10-1

11-11-2

Goals/Game

2.46 – 22nd

2.62 – 16th

Goals Against/Game

2.60 – 16th

2.94 – 25th

Power play %

17.9% - 16th

13.8% - 30th

Pentalty Kill %

80.7% - 18th

79.7% - 24th

Fenwick Close %

48.68%

49.71%

5v5 Corsi For %

49.5%

49.5%

PDO

990

995

Opening Day Projected Lineup:

Parise – Koivu – Pominville
Heatley – Granlund – Coyle
Cooke – Brodziak – Niederreiter
Zucker – Konopka – Rupp
 
Suter – Brodin
Ballard – Scandella
Spurgeon – Stoner
 
Backstrom
Harding
 
Additions: Ballard, Cooke, Niederreiter
Subtractions: Cullen, Bouchard, Setoguchi, Clutterbuck, Gilbert 

Strengths & Weaknesses:

The Wild finished second in the Northwest last year and made the playoffs, only to be booted in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks. They hope to be a playoff team again this year and make more of a push, but a glaring problem persists:

Goal Scoring

It’s hard to believe that with players like Zach Parise, Mikku Koivu, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley that the Wild have struggled to score goals, yet they have managed to do just that, finishing 22nd in goals for per game. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is hoping that the dismissal of Setoguchi and Cullen, paired with the rise of Mikael Granlund and the acquisition of regular 60-point man Jason Pominville will lead to the end of that problem. It’s a risk that needed to be taken, but until it proves to produce something positive, or Dany Heatley finds a time machine, goal scoring remains a concern in Minnesota.

Despite finishing last season among the middle of the pack in most defensive stats last year, the Wild do have strengths when it comes to keeping the puck out of the net:

 

The Finnish Backstrom

Minnesota has one of the stronger, more proven goaltenders in the Central Division in Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom had a down year last season that saw his career SV% of .917 drop to .909, likely due to the workload of starting 41 of the Wild’s 48 games. A longer season will allow coach Mike Yeo to better utilize his backup and see more of the spectacular Nik Backstrom, provided he keeps himself healthy.

The Blue Line

Minnesota’s depth on the blue line has greatly improved over the past two seasons. First came the expensive acquisition of Ryan Suter. Paired with the surprising emergence of 2011 1st round pick Jonas Brodin, who quickly began logging almost 30 minutes a game near playoff time as the youngest defenseman in the league. Add in ex-Canuck Ballad to Scandella, Spurgeon and Stoner, and you have a solid group of defensemen. Let’s not forget that young Matt Dumba will be pushing to steal a spot out of training camp as well, providing the Wild with many options to work with.

Storylines Entering the Season:

Pressure Mounting

When you spend nearly $200 million on two players, and almost single-handedly ensure a lockout is coming, you better hope your team performs. You can be sure that a first round exit and lack of scoring was not what the Wild front office expected from the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but that’s what they got. With more additions and Chuck Fletcher’s prospects starting to enter the lineup, the Wild are at a point of time that they need to start winning and take that next step. It’ll be tough in a division with the Blackhawks and Blues, but no one said the NHL was easy.

Players With Things to Prove

Nino Niederreiter is likely the poster boy for players that need to prove themselves this season. After throwing a (mini) hissy fit on the Island when he didn’t make the Islanders squad coming out of the lockout, Nino found himself moved to the Wild in the offseason. He now has to prove his doubters in New York that they made a mistake moving him, and step cleanly into the Minnesota lineup.  Further, both Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and both need to start putting points on the board if they want to keep getting big dollars. They will be provided with the opportunity this year, so if they fall short don’t expect to see either in a Wild uniform next year.

Can Backstrom Stay Healthy?

Mike Yeo may have made a terrible mistake by placing such a ridiculous workload on his goaltender last year. During warm-ups in game 1 on the playoffs, Backstrom suffered a lower-body injury that may have been related to his insane 41-game workload. He later underwent sports hernia surgery before signing a 3-year extension with the team. His workload will be heavy again this year and he will be relied upon, but lower body injuries are deadly for goaltenders, so hopes are high in Minny that he is 100% and won’t suffer long term. Should Backstrom get hurt, things don’t look so good for the Wild.

A Budding Rivalry

The Jets and the Wild are going to become one heck of a rivalry. Even before the Jets came back, fans from Winnipeg made regular trips to Minnesota, and often drew the hatred of the hometown fans (I’ve seen it with my own eyes, they don’t like us). The back and forth and eventual playoff matchups are a recipe for hate, and this rivalry will certainly become a heated one.

Conclusion

If the young guns in the system and already on the team take a step forward, the Wild will be a team to fear. If Granlund's rookie season struggles continue, you will likely see a team very similar to last year's, fighting to slide themselves into the playoffs. There is a lot of pressure to perform in the “State of Hockey”. If the team can’t live up to it, changes will be on the way.

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