BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Minnesota Wild
Preface: After starting yesterday with the Edmonton Oilers, we're moving further into the Northwest division with last year's division champion Minnesota Wild.
Now even though there was no division leader for the Oil, I still sought one out. Unfortunately, I didn't get that far with the Wild, and seeing as I'm still waiting out on the other three teams, I figured to go ahead with Minnesota.
First of all, I'd like to apologize for the laziness on behalf of Ken Armer and myself—but this job ain't all it's cracked up to be, and finding 30 CL's in the half year we've both been on the job is hard.
Second of all, consider this an open tryout for Community Leadership of the Wild. Publish your own "CL Review" in the comment section, and if you'd like to be considered for the position, go to my profile (or Ken's....but he's got school and working very hard at it while I'm a slacker, so maybe give him a break) and we'll discuss it!
So without much further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008/09 Minnesota Wild preview!
A lot of people believe, including myself, that Winnipeg should:
A) Have never lost the Jets, and
B) Despite losing the Jets, they should be awarded a new NHL franchise, especially to capitalize on the booming Canadian hockey market.
But lost in all of our passion over one city regaining a franchise, we've overlooked Minnesota who, despite losing the North Stars in 1993, have regained their franchise, and developed one of the most passionate fan bases in the United States.
Whenever I've watched a game in Minnesota (albeit on television), be it the regular season, or the post season, the building has always seemed loud, and like a very tough arena for opposition teams to play in.
In that light, I'd like to congratulate the people in Minnesota and thank them. You're the kind of fans that make this sport truly enjoyable.
Now on to business...
Roster Additions: Anti Miettinen-F (F.A.), Andrew Brunette-F (F.A.), Owen Nolan-F (F.A.), Corey Locke-F (Trade/Sign), Marc-Andre Bergeron-D (Trade), Marek Zidlicky-D (Trade)
Roster Subtractions: Mark Parrish-F (Buyout), Brian Rolston-F (F.A), Keith Carney-D (F.A.), Ryan Jones-D (Trade), Shawn Belle-D (Trade)
How did 2007/08 go? 44-28-10, 98 points, third in conference, first in Northwest, lost in first round of 2008 playoffs (Western Conference)
2007/08 Goal: First in Northwest, Conference Finals
Let's Break'er Down!
For a long time, the Minnesota Wild have been dependant upon their defensive brand of hockey to hold them to one or two goal leads, and for a very long time it’s been successful.
With the improvements in Edmonton however, the added firepower in Calgary, and the loss of offensive weapons Pavol Demitra, Mark Parrish, and Brian Rolston, the Minnesota Wild may be in for more of a challenge than their defense-first style can handle.
Why have one when you can have two?
Every year it seems that a different goalie tandem will be manning the pipes for the Minnesota Wild. It used to be Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez, but when Roloson left, Niklas Backstrom took his place, and now Josh Harding and Backstrom are preparing for their second straight year as the top tandem in Minny.
So far in his young career, Harding has proven to own the number one ability that he was drafted for. Despite posting an 11-15 record last season and owning a slightly high 2.94 goals against average, Harding has stopped pucks with regularity, posting a .916 save percentage in 36 career NHL games.
Alongside him, Backstrom has been nearly unflappable in his two career NHL seasons. His 2.31 GAA from last season is actually higher than that of his rookie season (1.97), while each season he’s had a save percentage over .920. As he’s coming off his first 30-win season, Backstrom will look to repeat that same success, although with Harding’s continuing development, Backstrom could see a game total closer to his 41 of 2006/07 rather than the 58 he saw last season.
If Harding starts to really come into his own however, one has to wonder whether or not the Wild will shop Backstrom to help them out in other areas of their roster.
They always said three was company…
I just wonder if they were referring to the scoring threats employed by Minnesota when they said that.
In losing Demitra, Parrish, and Rolston, the Wild have lost a quality second line that could create some offense—a necessity when playing on a goal-starved team (The Wild were 18th in the NHL in goals scored last year and ninth in the West).
The main threat that everyone will always talk about, no matter who leaves, is Marian Gaborik. Gaborik is an accomplished scorer as he’s potted 30 or more goals in five of his past six seasons (the one season he didn’t he was holding out and began playing that season in Slovakia), and he’s also improving his play-making game, gathering a career-high 41 assists.
Joining Gaborik as the team’s official scorers will be Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. In an injury-shortened season, Saku’s little brother was on pace to eclipse his 2006/07 career-high of 54 points if he were to play in 70 or more games, so if he stays healthy this year he could easily reach 25 goals and 65 points if he were to play alongside Gaborik.
Bouchard meanwhile, is starting to look like he’s cut from the same mold as Adam Oates—one of the most underrated passers of this generation. With 50 assists last season, Bouchard displayed excellent vision and play-making ability, and if his linemates are able to convert on the chances he gives them, there’s no telling how high his numbers could reach.
After those three, Andrew Brunette is the most lethal scorer, and although I like Bouchard, he’s no Joe Sakic, so don’t expect Brunette to be potting 20 goals or 80 points like he did while in Colorado.
Of the rest of the forwards, only James Sheppard, Corey Locke, and Cal Clutterbuck have some scoring potential, but they’re going to have to earn their playing time to prove they can put up points.
Invoking a sense of a two-way game amongst the forwards has to be at the top of Lemaire’s list this season, because if the team isn’t going to be putting many pucks in the net, they’re certainly going to have to be adept at keep the opposing forwards from doing the same thing.
I’ve got this Brent Burning sensation on my Kim Johnsson…
In a twist not many people saw coming, Brent Burns is the best at his position on the Minnesota Wild. If you’re familiar with him from Brampton of the OHL, you’d think it’d be at right wing, but today? Brent Burns is Minnesota’s top offensive defenseman.
Last year Burns was able to post a career-high 43 points, and a sparkling plus 12, thriving on the blueline alongside Kurtis Foster and Martin Skoula. Skoula had a tough year both offensively and defensively, posting career-lows in categories across the board, while Foster kept putting his shot to good use from the point, netting seven goals, and improving his play in his own end.
Although one might think that the addition of Marek Zidlicky will help the defense as a whole, there’s one player in particular his addition may help. If the offensive-minded Zidlicky—who posted 43 points last season—can work with Kim Johnsson and help Nick Schultz harness the offensive talents that have dogged him at the NHL level, then the Wild may have four top-scoring defensemen, along with the bullet shot Foster owns.
The problem, yet again, is that the Wild need a break from the defensive style every so often.
Of the five that were on the team last season (Foster, Skoula, Johnsson, Schultz, and Burns), three of them combined to score 44 percent of their points on the powerplay. Neither Skoula nor Schultz had a point on the powerplay last season and more of the defensemen will have to follow suit and increase their even-strength scoring if the Wild want balance this season.
So what does this all mean?
We get it: defense comes first in Minnesota and scoring comes second.
Unfortunately, the West is a conference that is stockpiled with tough, lock-down defenses. The difference between those teams and the Wild? Those other teams can sport an offense that can score on the oppositions lock-down defense.
I just don’t think the Wild have that.
Third in Northwest
Remember, this can be your audition for the Minnesota Wild's Community Leadership! All you have to do is write your thoughts on my preview, whether you agree, disagree, or anything else you can come up with!
Coming up tomorrow: Whichever Northwest team rep gets back to me first!
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, and you can read more of his previous work in his archives.
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