I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 campaign.
Let's get a move on with the Minnesota Wild, which play in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.
For the first time in the history of the Minnesota Wild organization, they have a new General Manager, a new head coach and none of the original players from the team’s first campaign are still with the organization.
Doug Risebrough, the team’s original general manager, was fired from the organization after the team’s first head coach, Jacques Lemaire, resigned at the end of the campaign. The franchise’s often injured first superstar, Marian Gaborik, moved on to the Rangers, after signing an unrestricted free agent contract on July 1st.
The Wild will look to a couple of fresh face to help lead this organization back into the playoffs in the Western Conference. G.M. Chuck Fletcher has an impressive pedigree and resume, to help with his new position. He served as the assistant general manager in Pittsburgh and he won his first Stanley Cup, last campaign. He is also the son of hall-of-fame General Manager, Cliff Fletcher and has been around the game of hockey all his life. The history between the Fletchers and Risebrough actually started way back in 1982.
Cliff Fletcher, then the General Manager of the Calgary Flames, traded for Risebrough from the Montreal Canadiens. After announcing his retirement as a player following the 1986–87 campaign, Risebrough served two campaigns as an assistant coach with the Flames. He helped guide Calgary to two consecutive Presidents' Trophies and the 1989 Stanley Cup championship, his fifth Stanley Cup championship as a player or coach.
He was promoted to assistant general manager for the Flames before the 1989–90 campaign, and served as Calgary’s head coach for the 1990–91 campaign. On May 16, 1991, Risebrough became only the second general manager in Flames’ history, and served as both general manager and coach for the first 64 games of the 1991–92 campaign. On March 3, 1992, Risebrough's Flames were destroyed by the Vancouver Canucks 11–0. And immediately after the game, Risebrough relinquished his coaching duties to assistant Guy Charron. He did however continue his role as Calgary’s general manager until November 2, 1995.
One of Risebrough’s first trades was with the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of 1992. Cliff Fletcher had joined the Maple Leafs before the start of the 1991-92 campaign. The Leafs acquired Doug Gilmour along with Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Kent Manderville, and Rick Wamsley in exchange for Gary Leeman, Alexander Godynyuk, Jeff Reese, Michel Petit and Craig Berube. The 10 player deal was the largest in NHL history, and statistically speaking, one of the most lopsided for the Maple Leafs.
After that deal, Risebrough never seemed to be able to pull the trigger on trading a big name player again. That led to the Wild organization losing Gaborik to free agency for nothing in return and ultimately his dismissal at the end of last campaign.
New head coach in Minnesota is Todd Richards. Richards spent four campaigns as an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals advanced to the playoffs each year. In 2004, Milwaukee won the Calder Cup, after sweeping the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in four games.
On August 3, 2006, Richards became the fifth head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. During his first campaign, he guided Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a 51-24-2-4 record and a second-place finish in the AHL’s East Division. The Penguins advanced to the East Division Finals before falling to the Hershey Bears. Richards signed as an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks of the NHL for the 2008–09 campaign.
Richards will have the task of leading a young franchise back to the playoffs, after a one year absence. Let’s take a look at the ’09 -’10 version of the Minnesota Wild.
The unrestricted free agent deals that were signed to join the Wild this campaign are as follows: Kyle Brodziak (Edmonton), Jon DiSalvatore (New Jersey), Wade Dubielewicz (Columbus), Martin Havlat (Chicago), Shane Hnidy (Boston), Ryan Lannon (Phoenix), Nathan Smith (Colorado) and Greg Zanon (Nashville).
The unrestricted free agents that have moved on from Minnesota are: Kurtis Foster (Tampa Bay), Marian Gaborik (N.Y. Rangers), Krys Kolanos (Philadelphia), Corey Locke (N.Y. Rangers), Peter Olvecky (Nashville) and Stephane Veilleux (Tampa Bay).
There are nine former Wild players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise. They are Paul Albers, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Riley Emmerson, Dan Fritsche, Bryan Lundbohm, Tomas Mojzis, Nolan Schaefer, Jesse Schultz and Martin Skoula.
The 2009–10 Minnesota Wild roster.
The Wild currently have 19 players under one-way contracts; 10 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders. The four players that are most likely to fill out the roster, that are on two-way contracts are as follows;
James Sheppard has been a fixture with the Wild for the last two seasons. During his NHL career, he has played 160 games, tallying nine goals and adding 34 assists. He will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so he will be looking a big season with the Wild.
Colton Gillies spent last season with Wild. He played in 45 games, tallying two goals and adding five assists.
Benoit Pouliot has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Minnesota Wild. During his NHL career, Pouliot has appeared in 57 games, scoring seven goals and chipping in with seven assists. He will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so he will be looking a big season with the Wild.
Cal Clutterbuck has spent parts of the last two seasons between the Wild and the AHL’s Houston Aeros. Clutterbuck has played in 80 games thus far, scoring 11 goals and adding seven assists. All of these points came last season, when Clutterbuck appeared in 78 games.
With these 23 players, the Wild’ Salary Cap would sit at $54.4 million. With the new management team in Wild, the team will be looking to move away from the tight checking style that was employed by Lemaire. It may give some of the more talented players, a little more room to show off their offensive skills. According to hockeysfuture.com, Fletcher is going to have his work cut out for him because the Wild prospect list is 30th in the NHL. He is a look at some of the Wild’s top prospects that will be looking to impress G.M. Fletcher and Head Coach Richards.
Minnesota's first round pick (23rd overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft has played the last three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. The 19 year-old defensemen will likely either play with the 67’s again or go to AHL’s Houston Aeros. He doesn’t turn 20 until January but he has already signed his first entry-level contract.
According to NHL Director of Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire, “Cuma’s strengths are that he is an offensive defenseman, really adept at knowing when to pass the puck out of the zone or to put the wheels on and carry the puck out of the zone. He helps the Ottawa 67’s power-play from the point and is really reliable. I find him to be equally adept at the defensive game as well as the offensive game, yet I find him to be more closely aligned with an offensive defenseman-type player."
The outlook for Cuma’s career is that "Tyler projects as a team’s second or third defenseman, with the offensive flare. He’s probably best teamed with a defensive, stay-at-home defensemen that gives him that green light. That’s the way coach Brian Kilrea uses him in Ottawa and the team is much better for it."
The Wild’ first overall pick (16th Overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft, spent the last campaign playing High School hockey at Eden Prairie High School. Leddy was awarded Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award that is presented to the Most Outstanding Senior High School Hockey Player in the state of Minnesota.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee, “Leddy is such an explosive skater. It's pretty obvious he's a target of every opposing team because he's the engine that drives the train. Really, though, he's a world-class skater. I'd say he's in the same class as John Moore (Central Scouting's No. 8 ranked skater) and Josh Birkholz (No. 33) of this year's class."
The Wild’s second round pick (55th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is a late bloomer physically, having grown tremendously over the last three years so it's hard to say where his ceiling is at this point. He will most likely be a second-pairing, possible shutdown-type of defenseman at the pro level. He will probably play at the junior level for another season, and then begin his pro career in the AHL in 2010-11.
According to NHL Director of Central Scouting Chris Bordeleau, “Scandella is a strong skater with great balance and mobility; is comfortable rushing the puck. He is not an overly physical player.”
Minnesota’s third round pick (77th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, spent last campaign with the Plymouth Whalers, his third in the Ontario Hockey League. Matt is the nephew of former NHL goaltender Jeff Hackett. Jeff played 500 NHL games with six teams (NYI, SJ, CHI, MTL, BOS, PHI) between 1988-89 and 2003-04.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Al Jensen, “Hackett has great potential, very good size, very poised. His angles, his net positioning are very good. He's a very smart goaltender with excellent net coverage.”
Recap of 2008-09
The Wild finished third in the Northwest Division and finished ninth in the Western Conference with a record of 40-33-9, good for 89 points. They finished just two points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the final playoff spot in the Conference.
The Wild' offense was lead by Mikko Koivu (67 points) and Own Nolan (25 goals). The Wild had three players break the 20-goal plateau and 11 players finished with double digit goals.
The Wild offense was 22nd in the NHL with 212 goals for and defensively, the Wild were second in the NHL and first in the Western Conference, giving up only 197 goals.
The Wild powerplay was ranked ninth in the NHL, clicking at 20.1 percent and were second in killing penalties (87.6 percent).
Outlook for 2009-10
The Wild have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding helped lead the organization to the best defense in the Western Conference. This year may be a challenge for Backstrom with the change in philosophy from the new coaching staff. Despite being a Vezina Trophy finalist, Backstrom could not single handily get the Wild into the playoffs.
The five-on-five play for the Wild was the franchise’s issue last season. The team finished 28th in the NHL by only scoring 125 goals at even strength. To help with the team’s offense, the Wild went out and replace the franchise’s leading scorer, Marian Gaborik with Martin Havlat from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild may have only replaced one injury prone star with another one however. Prior to last season, Havlat had missed 137 games, from the 2005-06 through to the 2007-08 season. He was healthy last year, only missing one game, so only time will tell what his impact will be with his new club.
I do not believe that the addition of Havlat for Gaborik will be enough to get the Wild back into a playoff position. Havlat led the Blackhawks last season in points but he had a much better supporting cast in the Windy City.
I believe the Wild will finish fourth in the Northwest Division and 11th in the Western Conference. With the improved defensive groups in Calgary, Vancouver and with the addition of Nikolai Khabibulin in Edmonton, the Northwest division is going to be a very difficult division to score goals in. If Minnesota tries to go too far away from their trap system defensively, the Wild will have a hard time winning games against their division rivals.
On Aug. 31, I will be reviewing Montreal Canadiens as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.