Central Division Preview- Wild Roll the Dice
I’ve made no secret that I loathe this franchise, so pardon me if my feelings are transparent through the words on this page. If you’re wondering about the level of hatred, I was pulling for CHICAGO each time they met in the playoffs. *GAG*
The Wild are owned by former Predators inaugural owner Craig Leipold. The guy who cried poor mouth after buying the Nashville franchise for $80M, then tried to sell them to Blackberry mogul Jim Balsille for $220M. Thankfully, Gary Bettman stepped in when reports circulated that Balsille was already selling season tickets in Hamilton, ON and nixed the deal. Despite Leipold’s claims that he’s the one who backed out, let’s not be naïve, the deal was all but done before Bettman got involved. The potential sale happened in June of 2007. After selling for a mere $193M to a local group guaranteeing to keep the team in Music City, what is the poor former owner going to do with all the money he lost? Oh yeah, 7 months later he purchased the Wild for $225M. Poor, poor guy. I suppose in a way as a Preds fan I should thank him. If it wasn’t for him, the Preds would’ve overpaid that Ryan guy for the next 13 years and who knows how the roster would look right now. Add to that the fact Suter lied to GM David Poile about his intentions to stay, and there’s fuel for hatred (Josi’s better, younger and much cheaper by the way). Oh, I almost forgot…..in 28 playoff games for Minnesota over his first 3 years there, Suter has exactly ONE goal, and is a -18. Money well spent Mr. Leipold. Ok, I got that out of my system, so back to the matter at hand.
Yes, the Minnesota Wild have made the playoffs three straight years, which is the most successful stretch ever for the young franchise. The problem for them is they keep running into the playoff buzz-saw known as the Chicago Blackhawks. Each of those three seasons, they’ve been sent home packing by Chicago and questions continue to be asked about how they can take the next step. This summer, they decided to take on an unusual approach… do nothing.
Minnesota had 17 players that totaled more than 10 points during the regular season and 16 of them are returning, with Kyle Brodziak being the lone missing piece. So here’s a team that finished as the top wild card a year ago, thinking they’ll somehow be better than before with the same players. Is that possible? Let’s see….
What’s forgotten by most is that this team was on the verge of a complete meltdown 2/3 of the way through the year. From December 16th until the All-Star Break, a span of 18 games, they went 4-9-5 with three of their wins coming against Buffalo, Arizona and Toronto. Needless to say, Coach Mike Yeo went on a couple profanity filled rants and temper tantrums during practices over this period of time. With many expecting his coaching reign to end, the club acquired Devan Dubnyk from Arizona to fix their goaltending woes. They traded a third round pick for a goalie with a career GAA of 2.85. Sounds silly, I know. Miraculously, the 6’6” Regina, SK native played out of his mind for the Wild with a GAA of 1.78 over his 39 starts with the club. This catapulted Minnesota to go on an amazing stretch that saw them go 24-5-1 over two months, boosting them from 12th in the West, all the way to 3rd in the Central at one point. So who are the real Minnesota Wild?
The truth is, they’re somewhere in the middle. No reasonable person believes that Dubnyk is going to duplicate the 2nd half of last season. The numbers on the surface are sensational, but if you watched the games, he was bailed out a lot by his defense. The only consistency in his game is the number of rebounds he leaves about 5-8 feet in front of him. Nobody can blame GM Chuck Fletcher for making sure Dubnyk stayed put, but for SIX years? In his six previous seasons, he put together two months of great numbers, and was rewarded handsomely for it. A big credit goes to his agent and former middling goaltender Mike Liut for making sure his client got a big payday while he had the leverage.
Though the jury is out on Dubnyk, one thing that isn’t debatable is the fact this team will continuously mortgage future assets in the name of making playoff runs (they have 2 picks in the first 5 rounds of next year’s draft). Despite the fact they have forked over mega-contracts to players like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Ryan what’s his name, they are a middle of the pack team in goals. I get the fact they are a defensively oriented team and they get a fair amount of depth scoring, but they only had 4 players reach 40 points last year. They are going to need more than that, especially if Dubnyk performs like he has over the majority of his career to this point. So good luck Minnesota on your roll of the dice between the pipes. Although you’ll probably make the playoffs again as a wild card, you’re gonna need plenty of luck to get any further.