Final Report Card for Minnesota Wild's 2013-14 Season
If you want to measure progress in small but steady steps, the Minnesota Wild are on the right track.
Two summers ago, this largely faceless franchise made a big splash when it signed superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter through free agency.
Last year, the Wild made the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference but were summarily eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in five games.
There was significant progress this year. The Wild made the playoffs again and eliminated the favored Colorado Avalanche with a Game 7 road victory. The final game was a remarkable one, as the Wild came back from 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits to push the game into overtime, where they won on Nino Niederreiter's ringing shot off the post.
That victory enabled the Wild to meet the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. The Wild would lose in six games, but they pushed the Blackhawks hard and might have been able to reverse the results with a little more finishing ability around the net.
While the final result of the series was somewhat painful, the Wild had their second consecutive playoff season and are making progress.
In this piece, we give them a report card for their performance in the 2013-14 season.
This is one specific area in which general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Mike Yeo will want to see improvement next season. The Wild were just an ordinary offensive team and went through some long dry patches that were quite troubling.
Minnesota averaged 2.43 goals per game during the regular season, a figure that left them tied for 24th in the NHL. That's simply not good enough for a team that wants to be thought of as one of the league's elite.
There is plenty of offensive talent in Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle. Additionally, explosive Erik Haula proved to be one of the Wild's best offensive players in the postseason, while Nino Niederreiter also showed the ability to score clutch goals.
As the postseason progressed, the Wild emerged as one of the faster-skating teams in the NHL. This should help them in the future.
However, they just didn't finish around the net well enough this season, and their performance in 2013-14 was ordinary.
The play of the defense in the 2013-14 season was one of the strengths of the Minnesota Wild, and this area should get better in the future.
Ryan Suter is one of the best defenseman in the league, and he is always a Norris Trophy contender. He was not named one of the finalists this year, but he is a tower of strength who can separate the best forwards from the puck and win races to get into position. He is an excellent puck carrier, and he has an overpowering slap shot when he has time to step into it from the point.
Suter is not alone. He is joined by a core of defenseman who have a chance to develop into stars. Jonas Brodin is the most promising of the bunch, as he can skate brilliantly, is a good puck carrier and knows how to jump into the offensive play.
Jared Spurgeon is not a big man, but he has a huge shot from the point and plays with toughness. Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard are both dependable.
The Wild allowed 2.42 goals per game, and they ranked seventh in that category this season.
Minnesota's defensive performance was quite good this year and should only get better.
The game plan for most teams is to go through the season with two goaltenders who will split the workload over the 82-game schedule. Perhaps a third goaltender will get called up from the minor leagues if one of the two regulars gets injured, but that's about the only time more than two goaltenders would be used.
Then there's the Minnesota Wild, who had five goaltenders suit up and play this season. Injuries and illness were the causes of this situation. By the end of the playoffs, the Wild had gone through Niklas Backstrom (3.02 goals-against average, .899 save percentage), Josh Harding (1.65 GAA, .933), Darcy Kuemper (2.43 GAA,.915), John Curry (3.00 GAA, .930) and Ilya Bryzgalov (2.12 GAA, .911).
Bryzgalov was the last man standing, and he did a solid job in the second-round series against the Blackhawks. Bryzgalov had a shaky postseason record going into the series, but he played with confidence against Chicago, and his performance was respectable.
Ideally, the Wild would probably go with Backstrom and Harding as their top goalies, but the performance of Kuemper and Bryzgalov gives Fletcher options for the future.
It was a tough year in net for the Wild because of all the injuries, but the team survived and had an adequate showing.
Special teams were an issue for the majority of the season with the Minnesota Wild. Head coach Mike Yeo had an ordinary power play, while the penalty kill was a problem area.
Zach Parise was a big-time performer on the power play, and he led the team with 14 man-advantage goals. He was joined by Jason Pominville, who scored seven goals with the man advantage. The Wild scored on 17.9 percent of their power-play chances, and that ranked 16th in the league.
The Wild struggled with their penalty kill. While they would play well occasionally, they simply did not have the consistency that they needed in this department. The Wild killed 78.8 percent of all their short-haned situations, and that ranked 27th in the NHL. No other team that earned a spot in the postseason performed as poorly as the Wild on the penalty kill.
Minnesota is going to need to make improvements to both special teams if it is going to continue to climb the NHL ladder.
Mike Yeo would seem to have earned himself a good grade based on the progress the Wild made in the postseason and the team's seemingly bright future.
However, it's not quite that simple. The Wild certainly played well down the stretch and earned their playoff spot. However, the team played ordinary for long chunks of 2013-14, and it appeared there was a good chance Yeo could be fired at the midway point of the season.
The Wild did win that game and played better from that point, but there are no guarantees that Yeo will develop into a championship coach.
The Minnesota Wild have every reason to feel good about their postseason performance.
Not only did they defeat the Central Division champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round, but they also pushed the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks hard in the second round. If the Wild had been able to finish a few shots around the net in Game 6, they could have made it a seven-game series.
Minnesota has developed into a tough team to play on its home ice (26-10-5). However, head coach Mike Yeo would like to see a little more from his team on the road (17-17-7).
The Wild played well in the second half of the season, and they have the kind of talent to be a playoff factor in the tough Western Conference.
However, this team is going to have to develop a more consistent offensive approach, and the Wild will have to avoid the painful slumps that nearly doomed them this season.