Minnesota just couldn’t pull it off (again). So why haven’t things worked out for a team built through free agency? Colby Kephart explores the possibilities for the Wild to make sense of their season and make changes accordingly this offseason in this edition of Colby’s Corner.
Chicago eliminated Minnesota from the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, again. This was the third year in a row that Minnesota was eliminated by Chicago. Even though the faces on both rosters have changed, what hasn’t changed is the team moving onto the next round. This year was even worse than the past 2 years, they got swept and lost on home ice. Last year they battled six games and the year before they battled for five games, having at least earned one win.
Minnesota landed big name forward, Thomas Vanek, in free agency on a multi-year deal to help boost their attack. They hoped with the development of their young talent and bringing in better role players would help them in the playoffs.
Then at trade deadline they added an upgraded defenseman in Jordan Leopold and another now former Buffalo Sabres forward in Chris Stewart. Devan Dubnyk also emerged with a spectacular performance and led the Wild to the playoffs, earning him a Vezina nomination (and now a finalist for this year’s Vezina Trophy).
So Minnesota fans had high hopes coming into the playoffs, with big name forwards Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and others in company.
It was going as planned as they beat the St. Louis Blues in the first round, forcing a second round rematch with Chicago again. Then Patrick Kane and company showed the Wild why they have the rings and took them in 4 games with Kane getting a goal in all of them.
What’s next for Minnesota?
Minnesota has old players under huge contracts; most of them are from free agent signings similar to Vanek. The Wild can place the blame on Vanek for a lack of offense in the playoffs, but what about Mikko Koivu? Koivu had just as many point as Vanek (4).
It gets worse though. Charlie Coyle may be young, but last year he put up 7 points, this year Coyle had a whopping 2 points. Minnesota needs to make decisions on some of these forwards. They need players who feel like their playing for their job.
They don’t have the grittiness in their 3rd line that can spark the team. The only player who showed up offensively was Zach Parise. They need more from current players and they need players who want to be back next season.
Defensively, Minnesota needs to bring help for Ryan Suter, who is useful in 5 on 5, penalty kill, and power play situations- if they could, he probably would play goalie for them too. Suter finished -8 in plus/minus, a career worst in the playoffs. Suter only had 3 assists, but it wasn’t only him who struggled.
Only one defenseman was positive in plus/minus, the Wild had another defenseman finish even, and the rest were all minuses. What bothers me the most is your best defenseman finishes -8, what does this say? Your best D unit didn’t cut it, you need to spend the money and land a true number two defenseman like Keith Yandle, who is a pending UFA at the end of this season.
Goaltending, I’m going to upset all you Wild fans with this one, but Devan Dubnyk is a ONE SEASON WONDER. I’m sorry, but this kid came from nowhere and I believe he will disappear again. Dubnyk bounced from team to team, and in most cases wasn’t even a backup. Minnesota was so desperate for a goalie, they gave him a chance. Just like Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov received in the years past. Dubnyk will repeat history again and Minnesota will be looking for another goalie.
Overall making Minnesota a team that can beat the Chicago Blackhawks will not be an easy process. They need to find a true number one goalie. They need to add a true partner for Ryan Suter, so they can lower his playing time. They also need to trade a big contract player, and bring in a clutch, sparking, scorer like Justin Williams, who is also a pending UFA.
Images courtesy of sportslogos.net, USA TODAY Sports, and nhl.com.