Mikko Koivu

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Coyle, Niederreiter headline a disastrous Wild injury report

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Last night, Bruce Boudreau raved about how the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks despite dealing with serious injuries.

They might need to get used to that feeling.

The Wild shared an utterly disastrous injury report on Friday.

(Brace yourself, Wild fans.)

Good grief, that list is just … wow.

The Wild estimate that Nino Niederreiter will miss a minimum of three weeks. Charlie Coyle already underwent surgery, and Minnesota expects his window of recovery to be six-to-eight weeks. Marcus Foligno is ruled out for at least one week with a facial fracture.

Honestly, those Niederreiter and Foligno issues could be worse than those minimums make them seem, too.

This team is already dealing with Mikael Granlund‘s issues (probably a groin injury) and Zach Parise (he insists it’s not a back issue), which might sideline them for a while considering the murky nature of day-to-day updates.

At 1-1-1, the Wild are three games into a road-heavy start (three of five away from home), and then they’ll begin a six-game homestand on Oct. 24. The team already expects to be shorthanded on Saturday, their home-opener.

“What a great challenge,” Boudreau said on Thursday. “If we can come away from this in a good frame, that’s great. You have to accept challenges, and this is a real big challenge early on in the year.”

That Boudreau comment came yesterday; one can almost picture a profanity-laced, HBO 24/7-esque rant about this today, though.

Foligno and Coyle were two-thirds of a top line with Eric Staal, while Niederreiter joined Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker to form a nice second trio. The Wild are likely going to lean more on those guys, not to mention Joel Eriksson Ek, Tyler Ennis, and maybe even Matt Cullen.

If nothing else, Boudreau is the sort of coach who might be able to rally Minny through this challenging stretch. The Wild can also look to their Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Blues, for an example of a team fighting through a tough start.

But yeah, this is brutal stuff.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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PHT’s Central Division preview: Blackhawks, Wild, Predators, and more

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For ages, it felt like the Central Division was the reigning champion as the toughest division in the NHL.

The Metropolitan Division seemed to knock the Central off its perch, right down to the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Still, much of those stumbles seemed self-imposed, as the Dallas Stars struggled, the Winnipeg Jets disappointed, and the Colorado Avalanche were jaw-droppingly bad.

Let’s take a look at PHT’s material on the Central Division with the 2017-18 season set to begin.

Click here for the Atlantic Division preview.

Click here for PHT’s staff predictions.

Chicago Blackhawks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Colorado Avalanche

Poll/looking to make the leap

Dallas Stars

Poll/looking to make the leap

Minnesota Wild

Poll/looking to make the leap

Speaking of signings, the Wild inked a deal with Daniel Winnik today:

Nashville Predators

Poll/Looking to make the leap

St. Louis Blues

Poll/looking to make the leap

One other Blues note:

Winnipeg Jets

Poll/looking to make the leap

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.

Looking to make the leap: Joel Eriksson Ek

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This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

There’s no shortage of talented young prospects in the Wild organization — Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, to name a few.

But in terms of being ready to make the leap, one stands out.

Eriksson Ek, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft, and made his NHL debut last season by scoring seven points in 15 games, while appearing in three postseason contests. That came during a year in which he made the Wild out of training camp, stuck around for a month before being returned to his native Sweden, then came back to Minnesota late in the year, making his Stanley Cup playoff debut in the process.

An exciting year, sure, but one with quite a bit of upheaval.

Now Eriksson Ek’s looking to stick in one place.

That, of course, would be in North America, preferably in Minnesota rather than Iowa. And it sounds like there’s a good chance of that happening, given Eriksson Ek’s performance in ’16-17 alleviated many of the club’s concerns about his game translating to the NHL.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said last season, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player.”

It doesn’t seem like playing surface really matters to Eriksson Ek. Consider what he accomplished last year. With SHL club Farjestads, he had 16 points in 26 games, and six in seven playoff contests. With Sweden at the World Juniors, he captained the club and had nine points in seven games. With Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, he had three points in 10 games en route to a gold medal win over Canada.

Yet even after all that success, there’s still an undeniably steep learning curve ahead. Eriksson Ek played limited and sheltered minutes last season, cracking the 12-minute plateau in just three of his 15 games (he was used sparingly in the postseason as well, skating just 22:44 total in the series versus St. Louis).

But that might change, as head coach Bruce Boudreau no longer has a wealth of options down the middle.

Last season, Boudreau didn’t have to throw Eriksson Ek into uncomfortable positions, because he had a host of veteran centers to fill ’em: Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Graovac all logged extensive minutes.

That depth is no longer there. Hanzal signed in Dallas, Haula was taken by Vegas at the expansion draft, and Graovac was traded to Washington.

As such, it certainly seems like Fletcher and company have opened up a spot for Eriksson Ek this fall.

Now we wait to see if grabs it.

Wild salary cap outlook with Granlund, Niederreiter signed

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The Minnesota Wild are a fascinating team to observe, especially after several players received a shot in the arm playing under Bruce Boudreau.

While the team still needs to settle matters with RFA Marcus Foligno, GM Chuck Fletcher navigated the choppy waters of a challenging off-season, dealing with the expansion draft and finding fair compromises with Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

Now that Fletcher avoided arbitration hearings with Niederreiter and Granlund, this seems like a good time to take a wider look at the Wild’s salary structure. In doing so, we’ll see quite the mix of good, bad, and uncertain.

Crossing their fingers

There’s no sense ignoring the twin elephants in the room: matching $7.54 million cap hits for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, which don’t run out until after the 2023-24 season. As of this writing, Suter is 32 and Parise is 33.

The debates regarding Suter’s ultimate value seem like they’ve died down in recent years, likely because he doesn’t get the same Norris hype that he once did. Right now, it seems like he’s in a reasonable spot, especially since his workload is at least trending toward something more reasonable. He averaged 26:55 TOI in 2016-17 after receiving between 28:36 in 2015-16 to a ridiculous 29:25 in 2013-14. In the grand scheme of things, Suter is fine, though Boudreau would be wise to continue to spead the wealth to Minnesota’s other defensemen.

After many years of outstanding work, Parise now stands as arguably an even bigger concern than Suter.

This is a situation where one must consider value, as Parise is still a fine player; injuries are the main reason he didn’t fall in his typical 25-goal range.

Other signs inspire a bit more concern. His per-game point average was just .61 last season compared to his career average of .8. Parise also didn’t shoot as often (2.8 vs. 3.39 for his career) and has been less of a possesion driver in the past two seasons.

Maybe some of those 2016-17 struggles were injury-related, but it’s tougher to ignore such worries when Parise makes so much money, for so long.

Not every costly veteran sets off alarms, though.

Mikko Koivu enjoyed such a resurgence last season that he was a Selke finalist, but that $6.75M still feels less foreboding when you realize it expires after 2017-18. Maybe he’d take a discount to help his long-time team compete?

Strong deals

Chalk up Granlund at $5.75M and Niederreiter at $5.25M to good-to-great deals.

The Wild’s most promising contract likely goes to Devan Dubnyk, however. At $4.33M, Dubnyk’s delivered at-or-near-elite goaltending for Minnesota. At 31, there’s some reason to expect an eventual decline … but that’s some strong value on paper.

Naturally, goalies are an unpredictable lot, but Minnesota’s outlook has come a long way since the end of the Niklas Backstrom era.

Eric Staal‘s brilliant rebound season makes his $3.5M look like a steal, and at 32, there’s a solid chance that it will remain that way for the two years that cover his current deal.

Mysteries

There are some fascinating situations in Minny.

They saved money in sending Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Even so, Ennis has had serious injury issues, making his $4.6M look a bit risky. Then again, what if Boudreau once again revitalizes a flawed talent?

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both eyeball RFA statuses after this season, while Charlie Coyle seems like he could go either way on his $3.2M deal. It also remains to be seen if Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin can take that “next step.”

***

Not that long ago, the Wild seemed to be stuck in limbo.

To the credit of Fletcher, Boudreau, and some emerging talents, things look a lot more promising today. The Wild have about $4.8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, and while Foligno is likely to eat up some of that, there’s at least breathing room there.

It’s not a perfect situation, yet the Wild stand as a reasonably viable contender … though they haven’t yet enjoyed the sort of deep playoff push you’d expect with all of that spending.