Next up in our Central Division preview is the Minnesota Wild who have been a perennial playoff team but can’t seem to get past the first round which of course continued last season thanks to the Jets.
Last Year’s Performance
- 101 points, 3rd in Central Division (Lost in first round of playoffs)
- 47.80 CF%, 53.76 xGF% (courtesy of Corsica, all numbers adjusted)
The playoff woes continue for the Minnesota Wild who have made the playoffs six straight years but haven’t made it past the second round since 2002-2003. When looking at the Wild’s past, this is still the best stretch in franchise history as they only made the playoffs three times in their first eleven seasons. Even though the playoff results in recent years haven’t been encouraging, it’s no small feat to make the playoffs for six straight seasons in the parity era of the NHL.
As for last season, Minnesota could best be described as average. They didn’t excel in any specific area, but they weren’t near the bottom of any category either. The Wild finished 11th in the NHL with 3.05 goals per game and 21st in goals against per game with 2.79. Their special teams were also mediocre as they finished with a PP% of 20.4% and a PK% of 81.3% good for 18th and 13th respectively.
When looking at the player level, it becomes more clear why Minnesota was merely average in almost every statistical category.
The Wild were led by a surprisingly youthful looking Eric Staal who scored over 40 goals for the first time in ten years. Yes, you read that right, Erio Staal led the team in both goals and points. In fact, Eric Staal scored his most goals since his sophomore season in 2005-06 where he scored 45 goals and topped the 100 point plateau.
While nobody else neared Staal’s point totals, the depth of the Wild was remarkably strong. Granlund and Zucker both had over 60 points and Suter and Dumba led the way on defense with over 50 points. After these players, the Wild still had four players who scored over 30 points and Parise certainly would have reached 30 as well if not for injuries limiting him to 42 games.
This chart illustrates how well the scoring was spread out as multiple lines contributed all season. This depth was a big strength for the Wild as they didn’t have to rely on one specific line to get the job done each game.
Along with the point totals, the ice-time was also spread out fairly evenly between all four lines.
As you can see, there are two main groups of forwards as Minnesota seemed to have a top six vs bottom six dynamic. It’s interesting to see that no specific players are way above or below the group as both the top six and the bottom six are essentially equal among themselves.
The defensemen ice-time paints a similar story. The Wild leaned heavily on their best four defenders, similarly to the way Nashville runs their defense. It’s a strong strategy if the right pieces are in place. The Wild certainly have those pieces as Suter, Dumba, Brodin, and Spurgeon are all very good defensemen.
The Wild’s strength this past season was their depth as they battled injuries to Coyle, Spurgeon, Parise and Niederreiter. They didn’t excel in any specific category but they were consistently in the middle of the pack across all categories. Couple that with a solid season by Dubnyk and it’s not a huge surprise the Wild were able to make the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
Last Season Against Winnipeg
The Wild finished with a 1-3 record against the Jets last season. Winnipeg nearly completed the sweep before the Wild won 4-1 in their last meeting on January 13th. This trend continued in the playoffs as the Jets and Wild faced off in a first round matchup. Winnipeg came out strong as they won the first two games at home to start the series. Minnesota bounced back in game three where they scored six goals en route to Hellebuyck getting pulled.
After that it was Hellebuyck’s turn to bounce back as he eliminated the Wild with back to back shutouts in games four and five.
- Matt Read
- Matt Hendricks
- Eric Fehr
- Andrew Hammond
- JT Brown
- Kyle Quincey
- Matt Cullen
- Daniel Winnik
The big news for Wild fans during the summer was not so much about who they brought in, but more about retaining their current stars. They inked Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both to five year extensions with an AAV of $6 million and $5.5 million respectively.
The Wild made a few peculiar moves in the off-season. There is definitely something to be said about Matt Hendricks coming to Winnipeg last year. Hendricks played half-decent on the fourth line and was a valuable addition in the locker room as has been pointed out time and time again.
Fenton on Hendricks: "The character that he brings both on and off the ice and being a local guy from here that can have that influence on our younger players was really a critical part that we identified a while ago, and we’re very happy to have him on board."
— Sarah McLellan (@sarah__mclellan) July 1, 2018
Although the off-ice impact might be strong, the Wild are already filled with a veteran lineup and don’t have a need for even older players like Fehr, Read, or Hendricks.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, their core is aging and their best years are most likely behind them. They made little attempt to get younger, faster, or more skilled after getting out-skated and overall out-played by the Jets in the playoffs.
It could be argued that the Minnesota Wild actually got worse this summer as they lost three depth pieces and replaced them with aging veterans who might find it difficult to keep up.
The Minnesota Wild are still a good team. They have a solid core of players with decent depth around them. As this group begins to age, the Wild will most likely go through a few tough seasons. Those are still a little further away as the Wild will likely compete for a top three spot in the division once again. Although they will be strong, I can’t see this group breaking into the top three and they will have to settle for a wildcard birth if they want to make the playoffs for a seventh straight year.