NHL on NBCSN: Wild, Avs enter season with plenty to prove

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the Minnesota Wild at 8:00 p.m. ET.

If there’s a common thread between the Avalanche and Wild, it’s how much each club has on the line this season. The reason for their heightened stakes is where the differences start to become apparent.

The Avalanche surprised pundits by taking the Central Division in 2014, but at the same time attracted calls that they overperformed based on their unflattering fancy statistics. So when they fell short on the playoffs last season, it not only was expected by some, but interpreted as confirmation that they were never as good as their 2013-14 showing suggested.

It’s up to Colorado now to show that GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy are leading this franchise in the right direction after those two polar opposite campaigns. The potential for them to do just that is there, especially if Nathan MacKinnon can rebound from his rough sophomore season and firmly join Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson, and Semyon Varlamov as one of the cornerstones of this franchise.

Minnesota didn’t have nearly as rough a campaign, but there was a time when it seemed like the Wild would miss the playoffs as well. When they acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14, the Wild were eight points out of a playoff spot. Had he not posted an unreal 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 starts following the trade, their season would have likely ended very differently.

Which begs the question: Can Dubnyk maintain anything close to that level of play going forward? And if he can’t, what does that mean for the Wild?

On top of that, simply being able to tread water might not be seen as much of a victory in Minnesota. Since the Wild acquired Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, they have made the playoffs in three straight campaigns, but have failed to get past the second round. The obvious hope after signing two elite players to massive contracts was that the move would help the Wild capture the Stanley Cup. If Year Four of their tenure comes and goes without any tangible progress then it will be reasonable to ask if they’re on the right course.

In short, a poor showing by either franchise in 2015-16 could lead to substantial changes. But both have an opportunity to prevent that, starting today.