Three questions facing Minnesota Wild

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

1. Can this team really contend?

At times, the Wild have looked like a really feisty team under Bruce Boudreau.

That was especially true during his debut season as coach in 2016-17, as the Wild topped the Central Division for much of that season before slipping behind Chicago. It’s far too easy to dismiss how tough it is to finish above 100 points, as the Wild have done under Boudreau in both 2016-17 (106) and 2017-18 (101).

The temptation might be to look to Boudreau’s former team, the Capitals, and say: “Hey, they seemed to take longer than expected to make that deep run, but they did it. Why can’t we do the same?”

And, yes, there’s a decent collection of talent there. That’s especially true if Devan Dubnyk can play at an elite level, as he’s managed for multiple stretches of his solid career.

That said, it’s also quite plausible that things will only go downhill from here. Could it be that Boudreau’s clever coaching helps to patch up some weaknesses that ultimately surface during the concentrated competition of the postseason?

If you put together the Central Division’s top teams, it’s tough to feel great about the Wild’s chances. Minnesota, on paper, really lacks the high-end punch of the Predators and Jets. The Blues seem like they might have passed them by, as well, after an aggressive summer. Minnesota can’t assume that the Blackhawks won’t be a nuisance once more, and it’s perfectly feasible that the Stars and Avalanche may pass them by.

2. Is it time to blow it up?

Really, this might be that moment where the Wild decide to “live to fight another day.”

Scan this team’s salary structure and you’ll see some worrisome ages, even if you want to take a break and not beat the dead horse that is the Zach Parise contract.

Parise is 34, with a contract that runs through 2024-25(!), while Ryan Suter is just a year younger with the same deal. Mikko Koivu is 35, and Eric Staal is 33. Sometimes you forget about the ups and downs of Dubnyk’s career, which is easier to recall when you realize he’s 32.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Under Pressure]

Should GM Paul Fenton totally flush this out? Well, assuming that Peter Chiarelli’s kept away from his cell phone at odd hours, it’s probably not particularly plausible to trade Parise’s deal. (Honestly, with his very-much-legit health issues, Parise feels sadly LTIR-bound. At some point.)

This could be just about the ideal time to move some of those deals, especially since Fenton isn’t the one who agreed to the contracts he’d want to move, anyway. (Those commitments to young talents such as Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker make total sense, and can be part of the solution.)

Staal is playing at a fabulous level, but his bargain $3.5M cap hit expires after 2018-19. If you’re a contending team, you’d do worse than to rent Staal, even if it costed some serious assets. The Wild might be wise to “sell” Suter now, while his perceived value is relatively high, as years of ridiculous ice time may finally be catching up with him.

Moving someone like Koivu could really sting for fans, but a savvy team may see him as worth the risk. Although, honestly, the extra year of term might make that a tough sell this season. Still, it’s a conversation worth having, and an opposing GM should at least mull over such a decision.

3. How long will it take to see Paul Fenton’s vision?

This ultimately all trickles back up to Fenton, who had a quiet first summer as Wild GM. As the Star-Tribune’s Michael Rand noted in late July, Fenton threw the word “tweak” around a lot when hired, but hasn’t really done that yet.

“I’ll look at small trades. I’ll look at big trades,” Fenton said. “Whatever is going to improve this organization going forward to give us a chance to win the Stanley Cup, we’re going to look.”

Apparently the Wild haven’t liked what they’ve seen just yet, so how much more will Fenton need to observe before he makes his mark?

Will Bruce Boudreau be on a short leash? How does Fenton differ from Chuck Fletcher when it comes to constructing a roster? Is there still time to win big with this core?

Fenton hasn’t really tipped his hand, and understandably so. At some point he’ll need to push some chips to the middle of the table, though, and timely such gambles correctly could end up being crucial for the Wild.

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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.