Author: Ryan Dadoun

Zach Parise

Wild ’15-16 Outlook


When looking at the Minnesota Wild, it’s easy to see their potential, but without making any major additions over the summer, are they in a position to get past the second round for the first time since 2003?

To a decent extent, Minnesota’s fate rests on Devan Dubnyk’s shoulders. This is a team that was in a free fall when he was acquired and his stellar play helped right the ship. Minnesota doesn’t necessarily need him to win the Vezina Trophy, but if he struggles mightily, as he did in 2013-2014, then Minnesota could be in serious trouble. Of course Darcy Kuemper and perhaps even Niklas Backstrom could step up to fill the void in that scenario, but Backstrom is 37 years old with a history of injuries while Kuemper is coming off of an erratic campaign.

Part of the reason why so much rides on Dubnyk though is because Minnesota’s offense hasn’t been anything to write home about. Which is a shame because in theory, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Mikko Koivu should make for a great core and when you throw in promising youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle, the potential is there for the Wild to be more than a middle of the road team when it comes to offensive production.

That’s what they were last season though, in part because Koivu regressed while Granlund, Niederreiter, and Coyle weren’t able to make meaningful offensive improvements compared to their 2013-14 campaigns. Perhaps that will change this season though and if it does, that would certainly take some of the pressure off of the Wild’s goaltending.

As far as their defense goes, Ryan Suter is expected to once again play in nearly half of every game. Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, and Jonas Brodin are projected to make major contributions too, but the X-factor is 21-year-old Matt Dumba as he should play a bigger role in his sophomore campaign after being limited to 15:00 minutes per contest last season.

The makings of a contender are there. It’s just a question of if everyone will click this time around.

It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

Devan Dubnyk

The Minnesota Wild’s 2014-15 campaign was a tale of two seasons. There was the time before Devan Dubnyk and then the time after his arrival.

Before Dubnyk was traded on Jan. 14, the Wild were a team in disarray. They had lost 12 of their last 14 games, shifting the question from if they could take a step forward from their 2014 second round exit to if they could even make the playoffs. Now in the third season of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter era, their stagnation was tremendously disappointing.

On Jan. 7, Wild coach Mike Yeo seemed to lose his cool during a team practice in dramatic fashion. To make matters worse, goaltender Darcy Kuemper left the same practice with a lower-body injury.

The Minnesota Wild went on to lose another four games, including a 7-2 defeat to Pittsburgh on Jan. 13.

“We’re so easy to play against,” Zach Parise said after the game, per the Associated Press. “We lose battles. The details of our game are terrible. We don’t make it hard on the other team.”

Then Minnesota acquired Dubnyk from Arizona for a third round pick and he was given the nod on Jan. 15. He ended up starting in 39 of the Wild’s final 40 games and posted a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage over that span to salvage their campaign.

Once in the postseason, Minnesota bested the St. Louis Blues in six games, setting up a series against the Blackhawks for the third consecutive year. Chicago had beaten them twice before and despite all the Wild had accomplished on their road to Chicago this time around, the outcome would not be any different. The Blackhawks powered past Minnesota in four games.

Offseason recap

After his strong performance, the big question for the Wild this summer was how much re-signing Dubnyk would cost them. Determining fair value was no simple matter given Dubnyk’s rocky history, but the two sides ultimately settled on a six-year, $26 million deal.

Up against the cap, this has been a quiet summer for Minnesota as far roster changes go. Chris Stewart and Kyle Brodziak walked as unrestricted free agents while former Wild players Sean Bergenheim, Matt Cooke, Jordan Leopold, and Keith Ballard remain unsigned. On top of that the Wild haven’t made any significant additions thus far.

That’s to be expected though as the team has to factor in the potential raises that Jason Zucker, Jared Spurgeon , Matt Dumba, and Kuemper might get as restricted free agents next summer.

Glencross regrets taking hometown discount

Curtis Glencross

If Curtis Glencross could talk to his younger self, it sounds like he would have advised him to hold out for more money.

He signed a four-year, $10.2 million contract with Calgary back in 2011, but the Flames traded him to Washington in March of this year and now he can’t seem to secure a new contract with September just around the corner.

“I love my time in Calgary and the organization, but you learn that eventually it’s a business and you’re just a number,” Glencross told the Calgary Sun.

“If I could do it again … as much as I love (Calgary) and call it home and met great people, at the same time, when it’s time for you to cash in, you have to take advantage and cash in. You can’t take a pay-cut or hometown discount because things change.”

Glencross, who had 13 goals and 35 points in 71 games last season, admitted that this year’s free agent market has been frustrating. With a modest salary cap increase for the 2015-16 campaign, teams have been more disciplined in their summer spending than usual. He has been in talks with some organizations, but so far nothing concrete has come out of it.

“There’s still got to be something out there,” Glencross said. “I still want to play. I’m only 32 and thinking I have a few more years left in me.”

Under Pressure: Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad has won the Stanley Cup twice and he deserves recognition for his role in that, but when he was in Chicago, he wasn’t the player people expected to step up when it mattered most. He was a valuable forward for the Blackhawks, but not one of the team’s biggest stars.

Columbus is a decidedly different situation for him. The Blue Jackets provided Chicago with a significant package to get Saad and made a serious commitment by inking him to a six-year, $36 million contract. His $6 million annual cap hit will place him second on the team next season, behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even factoring in the two titles he’s been involved in, it seems fair to say that he’s getting paid based on potential rather than past accomplishments. His 23 goals and 52 points in 82 contests last season, taken by itself, wouldn’t typically warrant that kind of payday. That’s especially true when you remember that his most common five-on-five linemates by a wide margin last season were Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, per Hockey Analysis, so while playing alongside Ryan Johansen will be a luxury, it’s not as if he wasn’t sharing the ice with highly skilled forwards already.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a 22-year-old forward (23 in October) still has some untapped upside and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to improve and become a player that looks more than worthy of that contract. But for the first time in his life, someone has bet tens of millions of dollars on the idea that will happen and a city is putting their faith in him being a player that can lead the charge.

It’s a big opportunity for him and if he lives up to expectations, then there could be quite a few more serious playoff runs in his future.

Poll: Will Columbus win its first playoff series?

Ryan Johansen

Since the Columbus Blue Jackets’ debut in 2000, they have made the playoffs twice and won just two postseason games. So it would be fair to label their 2015-16 campaign as successful if they make the playoffs, but is it unreasonable to put expectations higher than that?

Columbus had a 42-35-5 record last season and while that might not be great, it is actually impressive when you consider all the injuries that team had to endure. The Blue Jackets suffered 508 man games lost last season, which surpassed the old franchise record by over 100 games, per the Columbus Dispatch. At the other end of the spectrum, Man Games Lost put the Canadiens’ figure at just 88. The Stanley Cup finalists — Tampa Bay and Chicago — had 168 and 158 respectively.

In fact, Columbus was so unlucky that if you added up all the man games lost from the Canadiens, Rangers, Kings, and Blues, you would still arrive at a number lower than the Blue Jackets alone.

Which begs the question: How much better could Columbus have done if the team stayed healthy? We’ll never get the answer to that because the Blue Jackets made a big splash this summer by acquiring Brandon Saad. He’ll bring with a wealth of experience despite the fact that he’s just 22 years old and provide the team with another significant offensive weapon along with Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno, and Scott Hartnell.

Then there’s also the question of if Sergei Bobrovsky will bounce back after struggled at times during the 2014-15 season. As already touched on, the Blue Jackets need him to play like an elite goaltender. If he does manage to return to his Vezina Trophy-winning form though, then that combined with their improved offense could make Columbus a headache for a lot of teams.

Of course, this is all painting the Blue Jackets in a preferable light. Team president of hockey operations John Davidson described the Blue Jackets’ injury problems last season as “just flat-out bad luck,” but perhaps enough of it was more than that to cause history to repeat itself. Maybe Bobrovsky won’t bounce back. Maybe Foligno, who shattered his career-highs last season at the age of 27, will fall back to Earth.

What do you think is the more likely scenario?