2018-19 Record: (37-36-9) 83 pts
The season started with so much hope and optimism. The skies were blue, and everything was going right. It was time for a new era to rise and under Paul Fenton, the new-look Minnesota Wild was looking to try and get past the eternal first-round struggles that have haunted them in years prior. After 23 games, the Wild were flying and third in the standings with players like Zach Parise having a resurgence and Mat Dumba finally taking the next step and was one of, if not the best defender in the league. Devan Dubnyk was stellar, and they found themselves within one point of being first in the entire NHL; surely playoffs were on the horizon for the State of Hockey.
The Disastrous Turning Point
However, then December happened, and everything changed. The game that was the turning point was against the Calgary Flames on the 15th. The two teams had met nine days earlier and Dumba had made a major hit on Mikael Backlund in frustration late in the game. Matthew Tkachuk remembered it for the rematch and within the first minute, Dumba was out for the season after a fight with him. Rotten luck and responsibility towards the broken hockey code of the old days, were the culprits and all of a sudden the Wild were without their best player of the season. From there the season went to the pits. Dubnyk came down to earth, scoring vanished and the defense got stretched thin. Especially after the captain, Mikko Koivu also got hurt for the season.
The downfall that happened since the injury, accumulated with the trade that saw Nino Niederreiter being sent to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask. Arguably the worst trade in Wild history and one that happened in order to shake things up in order to help the struggling team. After the trade, Rask only contributed three points, while Niederreiter scored 30 for Carolina. The stories from that trade only made it look worse later. Especially as stories from Mike Russo later revealed that the Wild and Fenton didn’t even scout Rask prior to the trade. An absolute abomination of a trade and the absolute low point of the season.
Even worse than the ending was where the Wild capitulated offensively and subsequently missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years. That makes it easy to summarize the season in just one word: Disappointing.
Season MVP – Jared Spurgeon
After the injury to Dumba and the stagnation of the offense when it really mattered late in the season, the choice for MVP was simple. Jared Spurgeon once again had a great season and put another exclamation mark behind his qualities and ability to be a top defender in the league despite his size. He was stellar and with 43 points from the blueline and the most reliable player on the defensive side of the puck for the Wild, Spurgeon did it all this season. Re-signing him within the year or trading him before his contract is up, must be of the utmost importance for Fenton since Spurgeon is a player you can’t let go for nothing.
Most Improved Player – Matt Dumba
What a breakout season he was having until that December game against the Flames. He was finally showing his potential and was honestly an early pick for the Norris. In the past few seasons he had been good offensively but a pylon on defense. This season, he added a lot to his defensive game, with more stability and physical presence. From the get-go, it was clear Dumba was willing to lay down the body and it suited him. On the offensive side, he was still a monster with an absolute laser of a shot. His blueline bomb was a weapon that was sensational for the Wild and I might even say it looked better than years before it. He took major strides to become a star defender, and it is expected to be the same for the upcoming season.
Disappointment – Victor Rask
The trade which he arrived in made his life in Minnesota difficult from the get-go. Being traded for a fan favorite like Niederreiter one for one, he had the fans against him from the start. Or he didn’t but he had to overcome a lot of doubt and fans who already saw his arrival as a mistake and wanted Niederreiter back. Add to that an injury and his season was almost certain to fail.
However, I don’t think anyone thought it would be this bad. Three points would be laughably bad if it wasn’t so sad for the Wild. Rask has done next to nothing and he is on a fairly big contract. Too big to really be a fourth-liner which seems to be his role on the team. For someone like Niederreiter, it’s a major downgrade and well within the rights of the disappointment of the season. Both from Rask and Fenton who made the trade.
Highlight of the Year
Current Depth Chart
While the Minnesota Wild by no means have the strongest of draft pools in the league, they do possess one which has a lot of players who are poised for a breakout year. This made the job of narrowing it down a lot tougher, as players like Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway sadly just missed out. All are players who should be watched carefully over the upcoming season as well.
- Kirill Kaprizov – Viewed as the Russian savior of Minnesota, there is no doubt on who is the top prospect for the Wild. What he has achieved in his career is astonishing, as it includes being an Olympic gold medalist, KHL top goalscorer, KHL All-star, KHL champion, and the list goes on. To make it more impressive, Kaprizov is only 22 years old. Probably one of the best players not to play in the NHL next year, Wild fans are following him closely in what is more than likely to be the final season before he will dawn the green and white jersey from the State of Hockey.
- Matt Boldy – With the 12th overall pick in the draft, Minnesota had to bolster the offensive prospect pool. A major weakness has been the lack of up and coming offensive talents and despite having Kaprizov on the doorstep, he will need a playmate. That answer is Boldy, who is a strong winger, with fantastic vision and playmaking abilities. A few years away, but he looks to be a perfect linemate for the Russian superstar in the next two to three years.
- Luke Kunin – Finally got the chance last year to play regularly in the NHL and he took advantage of it. While he didn’t necessarily get the points he deserved, he was doing all the right things to impress against the very best. He is a workaholic and was playing hard and taking a lot of responsibilities despite only being 21 years of age. That commands respect and I see him having a full year on the third line on the Wild, where he should flourish under the guidance of Mikko Koivu.
Mats Zuccarello – What the Wild lacked last season, they found an answer to. That answer seems to be from Norway as Zuccarello was signed within the first hour of the free-agent market opening. A player that is all that the Wild need in order to make the playoffs again. It did come at a rather expensive contract, but if Zuccarello can stay healthy, he could be the gamechanger the Wild have been looking for since they signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
Free Agent Signings (as of 07/24)
- Mats Zuccarello acquired via Free Agency, signed for five years, $30 million
- Ryan Hartman acquired via Free Agency, signed for two years, $3.8 million
- Gabriel Dumont acquired via Free Agency, signed for two years, $1.4 million (two way)
- Luke Johnson acquired via Free Agency, signed for two years, $1.4 million (two way)
- Jared Spurgeon: one year, $5.187 million AAV with M-NTC remaining.
- Jason Zucker: four years, $5.55 million AAV with M-NTC remaining.
When looking at the starting lineup of the Minnesota Wild, it’s a team that’s more than capable of being very competitive. Maybe even with the skills to make some noise in the playoffs. However, should injuries happen to hit, the lack of strength in the minors is more than capable to trip up the campaign. To truly become a contender for Lord Stanley they need to find a way to solve this depth, so they can cope without a player like Dumba in a much better way than they did last season, where they fell with his season-ending injury.
The Wild have had a nice offseason and with the signing of Zuccarello, one of the main weaknesses has been dealt with. Combine that with some of the younger players like Donato and Kunin being a year older, it’s hard to see the Wild being worse than last year. Dumba is back and if he is healthy for the entirety of the season, the Wild are a different team. He will be a major part of the powerplay, which stagnated after his injury and plays top-line minutes that the Wild need in order to keep the energy up for the entire season on the backend. The main question mark for the upcoming season is Devan Dubnyk. He has to be better than last year and stay consistent because if he plays at a decent level, the Wild are capable of making the playoffs next season.
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