Minnesota Wild 2013-14 NHL Schedule: Must-See Games, Predictions & More

Tom SchreierCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2013

Minnesota Wild 2013-14 NHL Schedule: Must-See Games, Predictions & More

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    The Minnesota Wild kick off the 2013-14 season in a new division with a revamped roster.

    New division rivalries include the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets—three teams located closer to the Twin Cities than the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

    There are also some new personnel. In are Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard. Out are Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Tom Gilbert.

    The following are highlights of Minnesota’s 2013-14 season. For a complete schedule, click here.

Must-See Games

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    March 8 at Dallas Stars:

    The Wild visit Dallas on the day that the Stars retire Mike Modano’s No. 9.

    Modano began his career in Bloomington as a member of the Minnesota North Stars and won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

    The relocation of the North Stars to Texas left the Twin Cities without an NHL hockey from 1993 to 2000.

     

    March 20 at New Jersey Devils:

    Zach Parise returns to the East Coast to play against the team he once captained. The Minnesota native began his career in New Jersey after the Devils chose him in the first round back in 2003.

    Parise led the team to the Stanley Cup in 2012, where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.

     

    December 29 vs. New York Islanders:

    Former Wild forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard return to St. Paul as a member of the Islanders in December. Both players began their career in Minnesota and became fan favorites.

    Current Wild forward Nino Niederreiter will also face the team that drafted him and once considered him an important part of its future.

Breaking Down the New Division

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    Teams in the Central Division:

    Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets

     

    Without a doubt, the Wild benefit from the division change. While they played in front of full crowds and in markets with passionate fanbases, not having to travel as far and being able to play teams with a natural geographic rivalry are two major pluses.

    Chicago, St. Louis and Winnipeg are all relatively easy to get to for a passionate Wild fan, and there is already a natural rivalry with the Avalanche from the old division, Dallas because they took the North Stars and Nashville because Minnesota took Ryan Suter.

    The main competition in the division for the 2013-14 season will be the Blackhawks and Blues. This is great, of course, because they are located in Midwest cities and there should be people with allegiance to both teams when they play in St. Paul and on the road.

    Winnipeg and Colorado have plenty of young talent and should be good in coming years and—the Predators are sort of like Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s—they have no money, but somehow are always good.

    The new division should be tons of fun.

Toughest Stretch of Games

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    December 2 to December 31:

    The Wild will be asking fans to wake them when December ends.

    It is going to be a brutal stretch. The team begins with games against Philadelphia and the defending champion Blackhawks, and has to travel to Orange County, the Bay Area, Denver, Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia and Winnipeg with only one home game in between—against the formidable Canucks.

    Like Sammy Adams, this team is going to coast to coast, and it has to do so over the course of 12 games.

    Assuming Philadelphia improves—and the Flyers always bounce back—there are no real gimmes during this stretch. Columbus has improved, the young Avs and Jets will be ready to pounce on a team weary from travel, and the Islanders game will be emotionally charged.

    If the Wild struggle in December, it will mean they will be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the season. They must take care of business on this coast-to-coast tour.

     

Predictions

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    Projected Western Conference Finish:

    As a result of playing in a division with only 14 teams, the Wild have a better shot of making the playoffs this season than if they were in the East.

    The Blues and Blackhawks will be the toughest opponents within the division. Chicago will be favored to win the Central while the Blues and Wild vie for home-ice advantage.

    The Jets and Avs may compete for a playoff spot, but are too young and inexperienced to be an actual threat to Minnesota, St. Louis and Chicago. Dallas may take the next step and make the postseason this year, but history tells us they won’t, and Nashville is in a rebuilding phase.

    The Pacific will likely be the stronger conference with the Los Angeles Kings likely to win the division and the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks all in the playoff hunt. The Edmonton Oilers are also a dark horse with young talent, as they, like Colorado and Winnipeg, are a team on the rise.

    Expect the Wild to finish fourth, ahead of the Ducks (fifth), Sharks (sixth) and Canucks (seventh), but behind the Blackhawks (first), Kings (second) and Blues (third) with the Jets, Avs and Oilers all competing for the last spot.

     

    Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.