It’s Minnesota Wild Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Minnesota Wild.

Ever since the Minnesota Wild locked up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million deals things have slowly improved only to see their fate end the same way in the playoffs.

Two seasons ago, they stole their way in as the seventh seed in the West and got the bum’s rush out in the first round in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks. Last season, things got a bit better as they vanquished the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in the first round to earn a rematch with the Blackhawks. Things improved slightly as they bowed out in six games.

It’s that steady improvement in the face of difficult situations that gives fans in Minnesota hope for even more improvement.

The Wild saw injuries befall just about everyone they put in goal. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding started the year as the tandem and while Backstrom dealt with nagging injuries, Harding was brilliant. That stellar play was submarined by his struggles with his medication while playing with Multiple Sclerosis.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, it was Ilya Bryzgalov and Darcy Kuemper holding down the fort with Bryzgalov standing tall while helping beat the Avs. If you predicted that would happen before the season, let’s hope you’re sitting on the beach relaxing as a new millionaire.

If there’s truly a reason for Wild fans to be excited about the years to come, it’s thanks to the emergence of a few key young forwards. Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, and Nino Niederreiter all had solid regular season play followed by flashes of brilliance in the postseason. Adding them to the mix with Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville helps give the Wild a very gifted set of forwards.

Things weren’t so bad on the blue line either. Suter logged an incredible number of minutes and former Calder Trophy finalist Jonas Brodin had a solid season, although seemingly not as strong as his rookie campaign. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella stepped up their play to help give their blue line a boost. They’ll need to be that much better next season as the Central Division and Western Conference figures to be brutally difficult once again.

Offseason recap

Minnesota’s summer was virtually too easy to predict. After lots of rumors and speculation, Thomas Vanek inked a three-year, $19.5 million deal to go back to his American home. After playing college hockey at the University of Minnesota and always having a home in the state, it seemed inevitable he’d go back as a free agent. Even after a less-than impressive turn in the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens didn’t scare the Wild away and they may be able to get a steal of sorts because of it.

With Vanek in the fold, they parted ways with Dany Heatley whose contract expired. He and defenseman Clayton Stoner both landed in Anaheim while they brought back Justin Falk who had been with the New York Rangers.

They also added former Vancouver Canucks forward, and Golden Gophers standout, Jordan Schroeder. There’s never not a homecoming of some sorts in the State of Hockey, but it’s Vanek who comes away as the prize.

NHL cracking down on slashing, faceoff violations to begin preseason

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The NHL has made it a point to crack down on slashing for the upcoming regular season. With the preseason underway, the foundation for the new standard is being set.

Dating back to late June, the NHL had vowed to call slashing more closely after a number of incidents last season, including Marc Methot‘s gruesome finger injury, which was the result of a slash to the hands from Sidney Crosby.

Monday’s game between the Islanders and Rangers featured nine slashing minor penalties. The Devils and Capitals were only 41 seconds into their preseason game Monday when Jimmy Hayes was called for slashing. A total of six slashing minors were called in that game — not to mention three faceoff violations.

From the Washington Post:

There’s been talk of being harder on slashing following several wrist, hand and finger injuries last season from dangerous stick work. “Now, as soon as your stick is off the ice and you touch the other players’ stick or hands, it was zero tolerance today,” Eller said. More surprising was the three faceoff violation penalties called in the first period of the game. That also represented a new emphasis from the league. “Cheating” on faceoffs has been commonplace, and for centers who’ve made their name winning faceoffs with a certain style and routine, staying perfectly within the red lines in the circle was an adjustment.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the Senators-Maple Leafs game Monday also featured three faceoff violations. It appears right now there will be quite an adjustment for players across the league to the apparent crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations, especially early on.

However, will this be the standard for the entire season? For the playoffs?

“I have a tough time believing that in the playoffs, in Game 7, that kind of call is going to be made,” Mark Letestu told Sportsnet. “Right now, there’s an overemphasis on it, and hopefully it doesn’t go all the way back to where it was.”

Video: No. 1 pick Hischier scores ‘tenacious’ goal in Devils preseason debut

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Nico Hischier, the first overall pick from this year’s NHL Draft, provided quite a glimpse into the type of player he can be for the New Jersey Devils during his first preseason game on Monday.

The Devils recorded a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, with Hischier’s goal late in the third period putting it away. For Devils fans at Prudential Center, this should provide a little more optimism for a club that has looked to upgrade its offensive attack this offseason.

Hischier hounded Capitals forward Kevin Elgestal in the neutral zone, and eventually stole the puck while splitting two Washington players for the breakaway. In all alone, Hischier made no mistake, sliding the puck under the pad of goalie Vitek Vanecek.

“His skating was a factor. He was competitive on the puck,” said Devils coach John Hynes, per NJ.com.

“As the game went on, the second and third period, he started to make a few more plays, and I think he got adjusted to the time and space and battle level that was out there. You see the goal, he was really tenacious on the puck. He hunted it, had the second effort and a great stick to create the turnover. His work ethic put him in position for half a breakaway, and that’s when his skill takes over.”

While Nolan Patrick had for months been talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick, Hischier put together an impressive year in the QMJHL and when the time came for the Devils to make their selection, they went with the 18-year-old Swiss center over Patrick.

It will be interesting to see exactly what role the Devils give Hischier this season, although the plan since the draft has been to give him every chance to make the NHL club right out of camp. Per NorthJersey.com, Hynes discussed the topic of Hischier in a potential top center role following Monday’s game.

“Certainly he has the skills and the hockey sense to play in that role but is he really ready for that?” said Hynes. “We’ll put him in a situation that will benefit him the most and the team the most.”

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.