Next season’s Minnesota Wild team will be a significantly different one compared to the 2010-11 version, but it remains to be seen if they’ll actually see much improvement. (This point is especially true if you’re among those who believe that Dany Heatley’s career is heading toward a steep decline.)
Perhaps the biggest area of worry used to be Minnesota’s primary strength: defense. While their offense could be improved – again, that’s a matter of debate – and they employ an expensive but above average goalie in Niklas Backstrom, their defensive corps is a question mark at best. The Wild allowed 32 shots per game last season (tied for sixth worst with the New York Islanders) and they traded away their All-Star defenseman and ice time leader Brent Burns during the off-season. If anything, their summer swaps to acquire Heatley and Devin Setoguchi mark a step or two backward defensively.
Of course, there are a few mitigating factors. The biggest change will probably be in their overall scheme, as GM Chuck Fletcher fired Todd Richards in favor of new head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild are also making baby steps in the right direction with some of their most recent moves: signing solid puck mover Mike Lundin and giving Jordan Hendry a training camp tryout today.
Neither one of those moves will make a dramatic difference – Lundin will likely slide into either the second or third defensive pairing while Hendry might not even make the team – but both players provide Minnesota with simple defensive options in case things start to get ugly. With Burns’ 25 minutes per game out of the picture, Marek Zidlicky (21:46 minutes per game) and Greg Zanon (21:33) might be asked to pick up the slack. The two very different defensemen bring some positives to the table, but they’re not exactly an ideal top pairing either. The Wild might give Nick Schultz the nod over Zanon, but that doesn’t really change the picture in a significant way.
Again, Hendry isn’t likely to do much more than provide the Wild with depth, but adding him to the mix seems like a nice low-risk move going into training camp. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about Hendry, who had a rough final season with the Chicago Blackhawks that ended with a torn ACL, but he probably deserves another shot at being a everyday NHL blueliner.
This is a case of two sides needing each other: the Wild need help on defense while Hendry needs a chance to get his career back on track. In a best case scenario, you might not even notice Hendry very often if he makes the team – that’s basically his ideal job as an economical, bottom pairing defenseman.
(H/T to Rotoworld.)