With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.
Record: 35-27-7 (69 games), sixth in Central Division, 10th in the West
Leading Scorer: Kevin Fiala – 54 points (23 goals and 31 assists)
In-Season Roster Moves:
• Traded Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison, 2020 conditional first-round pick.
To call this a strange year for the Wild would be an understatement.
Minnesota came into this season with a new general manager, Bill Guerin. But he was hired late in the off-season after Paul Fenton was suddenly fired after free agency. What that meant was that head coach Bruce Boudreau would be on his third GM which almost never happens in hockey.
Fenton signed veteran forward Mats Zuccarello to a big free-agent contract, which indicated that he thought the team could win right away. Guerin came in and didn’t really do a whole lot heading into the season because his hands were tied given the roster he had at his disposal.
The Wild started the year with four consecutive losses and they dropped six of their first seven. They didn’t beat a team currently in a playoff spot until Oct. 22 when they took down the Oilers (nine games into the 2019-20 season).
So you can certainly forgive those of us who wrote them off early on. But to their credit, they were able to get the season turned around. Starting on Nov. 14, they managed to put together an 11-game point streak.
Heading into the pause, the Wild managed to rattle off eight wins over their last 11 games. Despite the success they had after their sluggish start, Guerin still decided it was best to trade veteran Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh and to fire Boudreau.
Why would he get rid of his veteran coach?
Well, general managers like picking their own head coaches, so when Boudreau started having success again, Guerin probably wanted to cut ties with him because he didn’t want to have to keep him after an impressive turnaround.
The Wild continued to have success under interim bench boss Dean Evason, but they still weren’t locked into a playoff spot at the pause. As of right now, the Wild were one point behind the Nashville Predators for the final Wild Card spot in the West and two points behind Winnipeg for the other one (they have two games in hand on the Jets).
Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk are all household names, but it was two under-the-radar players that helped fuel Minnesota’s success. Forward Kevin Fiala and backup goalie Alex Stalock have been the keys to that turnaround.
No matter what happens to this season, the Wild are at a bit of a crossroads. Do they try to build on this momentum by adding more veterans this summer or do they continue shipping out their older players in an attempt to get younger?
Highlight of the Season
Captain Mikko Koivu is on the downside of his career, but there was a special moment that occurred this season against the Dallas Stars.
On Dec. 1, Koivu played in his 1,000th NHL game (all with the Wild). He managed to score the shootout winner in that game.
• Wild surprises and disappointments
• Wild long-term outlook
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.