The Minnesota Wild waved goodbye to the post-season in 2018-2019, but it was the first time since 2011-2012 they fell short. They saw their chances dissolve on April 2 of 2019, with the Colorado Avalanche holding the keys to the kingdom.
The Wild finished with 83 points, one shy of the Chicago Blackhawks and seven out of that final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They posted a 37-36-9 record and scoring was an issue, as they posted just 211 goals – one more than the Dallas Stars.
Minnesota wasn’t actually too bad in terms of goals against, allowing just 237. That put them seventh in the Western Conference. The goal differential, a minus-26, really is the result of a lethargic offence.
There were just three Wild players with over 20 goals: Jason Zucker (21), Eric Staal (22) and Zach Parise (28).
Without a doubt, the Wild rely on defence and goaltending to get the job done.
Devan Dubnyk is a quality netminder and he closed out 2018-2019 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. That’s about on par for his career average, although it’s his worst year since arriving in Minnesota.
31-year-old Alex Stalock took six wins out of 16 starts, with a 2.99 goals against average and a .899 save percentage. That’s not up to his usual standard.
And without a doubt, that forward group is on the older side. An average age of 29.8 makes them among the forward groups in the NHL, while their defensive unit averages out at just a year and a half younger.
Many of the Wild’s more essential players are locked in for the long haul, with Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter signed through 2024-2025. That’s okay on paper, but it could present problems in the coming years.
Minnesota did offload a few players in February of 2019, including Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund. And January saw Nino Niederreiter head to Carolina for Victor Rask. General manager Paul Fenton also claimed Anthony Bitetto off waivers in January.
The Wild have $11.3 million in cap space, with contracts to offer to Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato. Fiala had seven points in 16 games for Minnesota after coming over for Granlund and he’s worth a look in the top six, while Donato can get creative and came alive when he joined the team after the Coyle trade.
But what else is there? The Wild are a team without a blowout superstar and that’s not going to change any time soon. They’ll have to get their goals the hard way, with new hire Mats Zuccarello an expectant contributor. The 31-year-old signed a five-year deal on July 1 and scored 12 goals in an abbreviated 2018-2019 for the Rangers and Stars.
Minnesota has managed to make their way into the post-season in the past in large part because of stellar goaltending, but this season provided insight as to what happens when that plan doesn’t work. What went wrong is obvious on paper and finding more goals really is the solution, but has Fenton done enough to answer the bell or are there more moves to come?
(Lead photo credit: David Berding/USA TODAY Sports)