It hasn’t gone too well for the Minnesota Wild this season. Sure, they’re in the playoff picture at the moment, but they haven’t exactly convinced the State of Hockey that they’re capable of making any kind of run in the postseason.
Injuries, regressions, trades and inconsistent performances are among the many reasons the Wild are trending in the wrong director for the first time in the Parise-Suter era.
Here are five reasons why the Wild have been a disappointment this season.
1. Zucker, Granlund, Coyle regressions
The core of Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and the traded Nino Niederreiter have not lived up to expectations.
Zucker, who’s a summer removed from a five-year contract, is probably the most disappointing. After securing career highs in goals, assists and points last season, Zucker’s name has been missing from the score sheet way too often.
The 27 year old is on pace for just 43 points (21 goals), nowhere near the 64 points (33 goals, 31 assists) he tallied in 2017-18 en route to being rewarded with a new contract.
Granlund, who was getting MVP buzz a year ago, got off to a nice start but has just one goal in his last 29 games entering play Feb 9.
Coyle continues to tease fans and the coaching staff with his potential, but it remains unclear if he can consistently score goals and whether he can do so best as a wing or center.
And finally, the ultimate gut punch, Niederreiter has been flourishing in his new home in Carolina (six goals in eight games) after scoring just nine goals while carrying a $5.2 million cap hit, which was way too expensive for such little production.
2. Not ‘Our Ice’ anymore
Xcel Energy Center has been a notoriously difficult place for opponents to win at, but that’s just not the case this season. Minnesota is just a few games over .500 at home after being one of the best in the league on home ice the past couple of seasons.
- 2016-17: 27-12-2
- 2017-18: 27-6-8
- 2018-19: 13-10-4
This team was winning 65 percent of its games at The X the past two seasons. Every NHL team’s goal is to be at .500 on the road, not at home.
3. Dubnyk struggles
But wait, he’s an All-Star, right? Does a 20-18-4 record with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage scream All-Star to you?
League average for netminders this season is 2.85 GAA and a .908 SV%, according to Hockey Reference, so he’s barely playing above league average. Both his GAA and SV% are his worst since being traded to the Wild in 2015.
Part of me wants to give Dubnyk a pass because the guy does play a ton (on pace for a career-high 72 starts), but something is clearly off with his game and that’s not a good future indicator for a goalie who turns 33 in May.
Just about everyone on the Wild missed time last season with injuries. This year though, the team’s remained relatively healthy with the exception of some big blows.
Matt Dumba was having a breakout season, pacing NHL defensemen with 12 goals before he ruptured his pectoral muscle in a fight against Calgary’s Mathew Tkachuk on Dec 15.
One could put the blame on Tkachuk because he instigated Dumba to fight following Dumba’s hit on Mikael Backlund a week early, but the fact of the matter is that the Wild are without their most dynamic weapon and his presence on the power play is greatly missed.
Minnesota also lost Mikko Koivu to a torn ACL this month. Koivu’s eight goals and 21 assists should be replaced easily enough, but it’s everything he does away from the puck that the Wild will continue to miss he he recovers from reconstructive surgery.
Without Koivu, winning faceoffs, battles for pucks in the corners, killing penalties and other little things that the box score doesn’t pick up will be missed. Look no further than Minnesota’s embarrassing performance against a slumping Oilers team on Thursday.
5. The killer December slump
The Wild were 14-7-2 and near the top of the division standings on Thanksgiving, but once Black Friday hit the Wild played like they were trying to tread water in a flushed toilet.
From Nov. 24 through Jan. 1 the Wild went 4-10-1 and had the fewest points in the NHL during that time. Being the worst team in hockey for more than a month isn’t the key to the hearts of hockey fans, which is why it’s so hard to believe the Wild can stay in the playoff picture much less convince anyone that they can win a playoff series.
Bonus sadness: Still waiting for the future franchise player
The Wild’s best prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, is still lighting it up in Russia. In 51 games in the KHL, Kaprizov has 24 goals and 15 assists.
Just look at this rocket of a shot and you’ll see why diehard fans are drooling in anticipation for what the 21 year old will bring to the State of Hockey.
He’s dynamo the Wild desperately lacks, and he’s not eligible to come to the NHL until the year after next. It’s a kick to the Wild’s groin that the league forbids NHL teams from buying out KHL player contracts without 18 months prior notice, according to the Athletic’s Micheal Russo.
The best-case scenario has Kaprizov donning a Wild sweater during the 2020-21 season.
General Manager Paul Fenton met with Kaprizov in Russia in November, but it’s still not a sure thing that he’ll come to the NHL on a deal with the Wild. It’s wait-and-see mode and that mode is a grind.
If I were in Fenton’s shoes, I’d be selling Eric Staal – who’s on an expiring contract – and shedding any dead weight I can by the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
The Wild had a really nice run, and a couple of exciting moments over the past decade. But the reality is that the current core didn’t get it done and it’s probably best for a bit of a restart.