How about we take a look back at the Wild’s 2013-14 season, then?
The Wild dealt with a dizzying array of injuries and bad luck with their goalies, at least health-wise. Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper dealt with maladies at different points in the season while Ilya Bryzgalov endured a turbulent season of his own. Maybe it wasn’t always spotless, but considering the circumstances, Minnesota survived netminding headaches that would submarine more fragile franchises.
Speaking of goalies, answering that question for next season is key … and isn’t exactly easy.
Ryan Suter may just be primed for his long-awaited Norris Trophy win. If nothing else, there is little doubt that he’s recognized as a top NHL defenseman logging huge minutes. In general, the Wild’s top guys continue to produce, even the likes of Zach Parise seem to cringe at charges of boredom.
GM Chuck Fletcher keeps making big moves to bolster this team. While the occasional transaction backfires (Matt Moulson didn’t fit in too well), he has a strong batting average, including the proactive trade for Bryzgalov. With rampant rumors that Thomas Vanek might come to town, this team could make yet another step with the right tweaks.
Then again, maybe it’s just a matter of developing some of the team’s promising young players. Wild fans should be excited about the thought of Mikael Granlund’s continued growth, alone.
Minnesota fought to make the playoffs and fell to the Blackhawks again, yet they tested Chicago this time around after slinking against them in five games in the second round last year. It won’t be easy in a stacked Central Division, but the question is whether the Wild can be deeper in the mix for a higher playoff seed in 2014-15.
Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.
OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.
It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.
Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.
In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.
It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.
The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?
“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”
Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.
The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.
Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.
With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.
They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.