THN's 2016-17 NHL season preview: Minnesota Wild
THN's 2016-17 NHL season preview: Minnesota Wild
The Wild were a playoff bubble team, but can the addition of Eric Staal and new coach Bruce Boudreau get them over the hump?
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 6th in Central
Stanley Cup odds: 40-1
Key additions: Eric Staal, C; Chris Stewart, RW
Key departures: Thomas Vanek, LW
-Can Bruce Boudreau save another team? Boudreau can’t win the big one in the playoffs but has a great track record of coaching teams into contention. He did it with the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. He’s won a division title in eight of his nine seasons as a bench boss. It stands to reason he can turn the Wild, a bubble playoff team, into a juggernaut given his history.
But Boudreau had a young Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in D.C. He had Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in their primes in Anaheim. He doesn’t have the same kind of stars in Minnesota, though it will be interesting to see if he can help Mikael Granlund finally break out.
-How healthy is Zach Parise? Parise is an “old” 32. He missed one or zero games in seven of his first eight seasons but sat out 35 over his past three, averaging 11.7 DNPs. Last season’s back injury was serious enough that Parise lost feeling in his leg and foot for chunks of time. He claims to be fully healthy for 2016-17, but he’s clearly an injury risk at this point. Parise hasn’t topped 62 points since signing with the Wild in 2012, either.
-What does Eric Staal have left? Staal endured his worst campaign since 2003-04, and when we factor in 2003-04 was his rookie year, 2015-16 stands out as his weakest effort. He managed just 13 goals and 39 points. His 2.4 shots per game marked his lowest average since his rookie season. Staal made almost no impact after the New York Rangers took a chance and acquired him from Carolina at last year’s trade deadline. The Wild handed him $10.5 million over three years, so he’ll get a shot to re-establish himself as a top-flight center on a scoring line. Staal’s career trajectory points downward, but he’s not ancient at 31 and has been quite durable.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Minnesota Wild made the playoffs last year as the 17th best team in the league and were six points behind the next best team (who didn’t make it). Blame conference imbalance for that one, but the 87 points was very low for a playoff team. So low that many are wondering if this team slips out of the picture entirely this season considering the many teams below eager to challenge for a spot.
That’s at least one of the reasons we picked them to finish 6th in the Central, but the numbers don’t necessarily agree. And that’s before factoring in new bench boss Bruce Boudreau, one of the best coaches in the league since he came onto the scene almost a decade ago.
The biggest reason the Wild are ranked highly here is they have a very deep forward group. They may not have much in the way of top flight talent, but they have the ability to roll four lines without much concern of a potential mismatch.
Their biggest addition to that group was Eric Staal who had a terrible 2015-16. He still drives possession though and should bounce back on the scoresheet with more talent around him. He forms a very solid one-two punch at center with Mikko Koivu. A lot of players here are getting up there in age and that’s problematic, but they should still provide some value.
The back-end is probably stronger than it’s given credit for here as this model tends to underrate defense, likely lowering Ryan Suter’s and Jared Spurgeon’s value. It’s a very capable group, aside from Jonas Brodin who, for some reason, has a reputation for being a steady defenseman despite results that suggest otherwise. He doesn’t create offense or suppress shots on defense so it’s difficult to see where all the fanfare comes from.
In net, Devan Dubnyk is a very steady presence. He turned the Wild into a consistent playoff threat and has reignited his career as a capable starting goalie. He’s the key to any Wild success and as long as he maintains his play the team will remain competitive.
There’ll be pressure from teams below them like Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, but right now, the Wild look like the favourite to take that final wild card spot.
Up next: Boston Bruins
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