NHL Northwest: Will the Minnesota Wild Be a Playoff Seed in 2011-12?

Kurtis StrangeContributor IJuly 15, 2011

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 24:  Dany Heatley #15 of the San Jose Sharks plays the puck away from Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Vancouver Canucks in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Arena on May 24, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

In a Northwest Division that is seeing many changes and makeovers, one team has made a particularly large splash this offseason.  In a pair of blockbuster trades that saw the departure of Martin Havlat and Brent Burns, the team acquired Sharks Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.

The team improved in a big way by adding an scoring presence in the lineup, which will help contribute majorly to their powerplay which was ranked 13th in the NHL this past season. In the past, Heatley has tallied back-to-back 50-goal seasons and Setoguchi has been a force to be reckoned with, playing on the same line as Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose.

Minnesota also acquired Charlie Coyle, a young first-round pick who, at such a young age, has promised to develop into a potential penalty killer and defensive forward. With a pair of high-caliber wingers around centre and captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild have most certainly gotten stronger.

These good things came at a heavy expense, though.  Brent Burns is a valuable and productive defenseman who scored 46 points in 80 games and plays with grit and determination.  His 6’5" and 220-pound body will bolster San Jose’s blue line troubles in a big way, and punch a hole in Minnesota’s.

Martin Havlat’s ability to tally goals and make plays have shown  in his tenures with Minnesota and the Chicago Blackhawks, the latter in which he put up 29 goals and 48 assists in 2008-09. When he became a Wild, his style of play led him to even become a fan favorite.

His ability to make plays and finish them was a major factor in Minnesota’s regular season last year, and his absence will be no doubt felt as the team begins to adjust with players Setoguchi and Heatley.

Minnesota has locked up a solid goalie in Nicklas Backstrom, having put up mostly good numbers in his seasons with the Wild. Backstrom, however, battled injuries throughout the regular season which led him to only start 51 games and put up an shaky .903 and .916 save percentage in the past two seasons , as opposed to his career best.923 in the 2008-09 season.

If Nicklas Backstrom is able to stay healthy, make an good amount of starts and play like he has in the past, Minnesota’s situation in net should be secure and their backup goalie, Josh Harding, should be able to compliment his partner’s performance when needed.

During the regular season, the Wild’s revamped offense will be tested and, if they appropriately readjust themselves to these two talented players in time, can make it into the top eight teams in the Western Conference with help from their back end. 

The Wild’s management will also need to further dip into the free agency market. While the flurry of activity following July 1 has spread the free agent selection thin, UFA’s such as Bryan McCabe, Brent Sopel and Scott Hannan are players that can complement the defensive corps of the Wild.

With $10,344,723 in cap room remaining, Minnesota will look to find the rest of all the right pieces in the puzzle to reach at least the first round in 2012.