Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pool Outlook for Minnesota

The Central Division has had a reputation of being rather difficult in recent years and it seems like exceptional things have to happen for your team to succeed in this division or else you're just left behind.  The Minnesota Wild didn't have a star rookie and whatever player was getting on a hot streak, would end up getting hurt and the Wild, as competitive as they were, finished in last place in the division, but was only 7 points out of a playoff spot and 21st overall in the league.

The season was looking fairly promising for the better part of the year, but a stretch at the beginning of February, losing 10 of 11 games, starting on February 1st, was ultimately their undoing, as they couldn't claw back all of those points they lost in that stretch. 

Injuries to Matt Dumba in December and Mikko Koivu in January were also huge hits to this team, losing two of your core players to season-ending injuries so early on in the year meant that the depth of the team was going to surely be tested and in the difficult Central Division, that's the sort of thing that gets eaten alive.

The Wild were still able to make a couple of moves at the trade deadline, trying to improve their overall depth and contract situation, picking up a couple of younger players with speed, but it was far from enough for this season, but this team should still be competitive for the next little while yet.

Another year done in Minnesota, another year where Devan Dubnyk leads the team in hockey pool scoring.  This season, he appeared in 67 games for the Wild, tying a career-high, but he only posted 31 wins and 68 points and didn't have the point total that would generally have him among the top players and goalies in the league.  His 68 points were only good enough for 68th overall and 10th among all goalies, a real down year for him, thanks mainly to the 28th ranked offense in the league that played in front of him.

Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and newcomer Kevin Fiala were the only four forwards to finish in the top 200 in scoring this season, making them the only notable forwards on the roster at the final buzzer.  Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon led the way from the blueline, while Matt Dumba only played in 32 games this season, but still had 22 points and finished 91st among all defensemen in scoring.  Of course, with Dubnyk taking the big part of the workload, no other goalie was really going to be worthy, more for a lack of action, than a lack of performance.

Only eight players on the Wild roster finished in the hockey pool conversation, which makes it somewhat surprising that they mustered a strong 21st place finish in the standings.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

We haven't seen the Predators or the Jets yet in this set of posts, but it should be fair to assume that they're going to be very good again next season, making the job of the Wild to keep up with them, more than anything else. They have a goalie in his prime, once Dumba is signed, they'll have a great blueline core group and their forwards are being infused with some unique talent from across the board, which will keep their opposition on their toes. I think it's an exciting time for the Wild and they'll continue to run with the big dogs, even if they still finish 3rd in the division, it'll be nice and close. I wouldn't hesitate to keep a close eye on their young players for next season either, there could be some good pool assets there too.

They tried so hard to run with the big dogs this year, they really did.  When the injuries set in, February rolled around and stomped their hopes completely.  The only thing about what I said last year that really truly resonated was that their blueline corps, with Dumba healthy, was pretty dynamic and it will likely mean business moving forward, but there wasn't much they could do without him.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I was expecting a little bit more out of the hulking forward Jordan Greenway in the 2019 season, but only 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games just wasn't going to be enough to be worthy or help carry this team to the promised land.  The 22-year old has great size and decent hands, but maybe lacks that extra little bit of speed that the league seems to be trending towards, but if he can find another gear, then he'll certainly be one to watch.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Zach Parise 7.538 Ryan Suter 7.538 Devan Dubnyk 4.333
Mikko Koivu 5.500 Matt Dumba 6.000 Alex Stalock 0.785
Jason Zucker 5.500 Jared Spurgeon 5.188
Victor Rask 4.000 Jonas Brodin 4.167
Eric Staal 3.250 Greg Pateryn 2.250
Marcus Foligno 2.875 Nick Seeler 0.725
Luke Kunin 0.925
Brandon Duhaime 0.925
Jordan Greenway 0.917
Alexander Khovanov 0.843
Kyle Rau 0.700
J.T. Brown 0.688

There is a pretty good core group of players on this team and if Koivu and Dumba were healthy for the back half of the regular season, they may have made a few more players better and point totals all around would have been better.  Still, they do have the important names still signed on and primed to play next season

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

As you may have noticed, that 20-man roster above is lacking some serious depth and that is a product of the free agency period to come this summer.  Kevin Fiala is the only pool worthy free agent on the list, but they do have some other key players unsigned for the upcoming season, like Pontus Aberg, Ryan Donato and Joel Eriksson Ek.

From a numbers perspective, the team is pretty top heavy, when it comes to cap hits, so even this 20-man roster above is still safely over the projected cap floor by almost $5 million, so they have some room to play and fill out their roster, but there might not be any real big ticket purchases on the free agent market this year.

The Minnesota Wild were considered to be big winners in the NCAA free agent sweepstakes with the signing of Nico Sturm out of Clarkson University, where he posted 45 points in 39 games in his final season in school.  The 23-year old German already has size, 6'3" and 207 pounds, and he did figure into a couple of games before the end of the year, burning the only year on his entry-level deal, making him a restricted free agent this summer.  Nevertheless, he should be re-signed fairly easily and inserted into this roster that is desperate for a bit more oomph.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

The Wild are going to be selecting with the 12th overall pick in the opening round of the draft in Vancouver this summer and they just need to stock up on the best players available this year.  Their cupboards are bare and there isn't a whole lot coming up through the system for them.  The Wild like a bit of size in their kids, so a scoring winger with a decent frame on him leads me to believe that they could be looking at Matthew Boldy of the US Development Team.  Boldy is already 6'2" and 192 pounds, playing at the World Under-18 tournament at the moment and is destined to head to Boston College next year.  He is ranked in the top-10 in many lists as a scoring forward, so the Wild would be fairly fortunate to see him drop down this far.

The Central Division isn't going to get any easier, so the Wild are going to have to get better and right away, if they want to make good use of the window of opportunity that they have with this core group of players.  This team does have a fair bit of flexibility coming up this summer, but it will be a competitive marketplace out there for free agents and probably even trades as well.  The Wild certainly have the core group to overcome what they were missing in the 2019 season, but they will need to pad their depth, if they truly want to make a solid run at anything.  The Wild will be back in the wild card chase next spring, that much we feel certain about, but the variables on getting in or missing out are just too great for them right now.

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