The Wild have had one of the worst offenses in 2016 and finding a spark on offense could be all Minnesota needs to make another push for the post-season. GM Chuck Fletcher swung the deal to land Devan Dubnyk last season and the Wild could use another savvy deal this season.
There was a time last season when no one expected the Minnesota Wild to make the post-season. Minnesota had a league-average offense, good possession numbers and their defense was strong. The problem was in goal where the tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper was woeful at best.
The Wild corrected that problem in January 2015 when they went out and scooped up Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes for a third-round pick. Dubnyk, who had bounced around the league and was mired in backup duty in Arizona, came into Minnesota and immediately caught fire. In 39 games, he lost just 11 times and posted a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage en route to a third-place finish in Vezina Trophy voting.
The Wild made the post-season and were bounced in the second round by the eventual Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but nabbing Dubynk was the most savvy acquisition of the season. It earned Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher high praise.
But one season after Fletcher made the savvy move to land Dubnyk, he finds himself in need of yet another minor miracle if he has any designs on the Wild making the post-season for the fourth-straight year. Only this time it’s not his goaltending that needs work, it’s the opposite: Fletcher desperately needs to find someone who can give his offense a jolt.
Through 54 games, Minnesota has the 22nd ranked offense in the league and their 2.46 goals per game put them only slightly ahead of clubs such as the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers and, yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. That said, placing the Wild offense in 22nd actually paints a more favorable picture of Minnesota’s scoring ability than has been the case since the calendar turned over to 2016. It’s been a nightmare for the Wild since Jan. 1. Only 35 times has Minnesota lit the lamp in 2016, which puts them in the same place as the struggling Arizona Coyotes and oft-injured St. Louis Blues.
Mikko Koivu is the only player who has found anything resembling a scoring touch with any regularity this season. Zach Parise hasn’t been bad, either, but he’s still on pace to post the worst offensive numbers of his time with the Wild. Even Thomas Vanek, who some considered an underachiever in his first year in Minnesota, is taking a slight step back.
Fletcher seems more than aware of his team’s offensive struggles, too. Before Ryan Johansen was sent to the Nashville Predators for Seth Jones, there was mention Minnesota may have been one of the team’s interested in acquiring the young pivot. The Wild have also come up in reports surrounding Tampa Bay Lightning winger Jonathan Drouin. Acquiring someone, anyone, to boost the offense might be the right move, but even Fletcher said he’s not about to make a trade for the sake of making a trade.
Blame the lack of offense on what you will, but one of Minnesota’s greatest struggles has been maintaining the possession game that was one of the keys to their game in 2014-15. Before Dubnyk had even been brought into Minnesota, it was one of the reasons the Wild were believed to have playoff potential. The Wild ranked 16th in 5-on-5 shot attempts for percentage last season at 51 percent. Tie in the solid goaltending from Dubnyk and you had a team that got hot at the right time. But this season the possession game has taken a dive. Minnesota ranks 22nd in 5-on-5 shot attempts for percentage at 48.1 percent. If the playoffs were to begin today and the Wild were to squeak into a wild-card spot, that would be the lowest possession percentage of any playoff team outside of the Florida Panthers (47.3 percent).
Addressing scoring and boosting possession isn’t easy, but if Fletcher was ever going to turn things around in Minnesota, now has to be the time. He has a number of young, talented defenseman, some of whom could likely bring back roster players in return. At the very least, Fletcher could find himself acquiring depth scoring, something the Wild, who only have five players with more than 10 goals and zero with 20, have been missing for much of the year.
The Wild are only two points back of the Predators and have three games in hand on the Colorado Avalanche, who have a four-point lead on Minnesota for the top wild-card spot in the West. If Fletcher can swing a deal, the Wild might have a chance at sneaking into the post-season as a wild-card entry again this season. Otherwise, Minnesota faithful will have to hope the offense finds a spark from within if the Wild want to be post-season bound again in 2015-16.
(All advanced statistics via Stats.Hockeyanalyis.com)