Minnesota Wild 2020-21 NHL season preview

Minnesota Wild 2020-21 NHL season preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota Wild 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 35-27-7 (78 points); sixth in the Central Division; 10th in the Western Conference.

Leading scorers: Zach Parise (25 goals), Kevin Fiala (54 points).

Some believed that the Minnesota Wild should have tanked in 2019-20. Generally speaking, they did not, but last season ended up being a mixed bag anyway.

At minimum, there were big changes up top. Stunningly, the Wild fired Paul Fenton in favor of Bill Guerin during the 2019 offseason, even though Fenton was only GM for one turbulent season. (You might say that Fenton’s term lasted only slightly longer than the whip of a lizard’s tongue.)

Despite changing GMs, the Wild still seemed content to compete as much as possible last season, rather than embrace a rebuild. For the most part, the drastic changes happened in-house. While Bruce Boudreau survived the GM change, he didn’t make it through the 2019-20 season; eventually, Dean Evason went from interim to full-time head coach.

Amid all of that front office turnover, the Wild found themselves in a familiar place: the playoff bubble. They performed well enough to enter the NHL’s odd Qualifying Round, yet the Canucks bounced them unceremoniously after four games.

Sure, you can take some good things from the past season. After showing flashes of brilliance, Kevin Fiala enjoyed a breakout year. Especially right before the pandemic pause. Jared Spurgeon stood out on a defense that probably deserved more credit. And Zach Parise quietly plugged along as a player who probably gets defined too often by his contract. (Fascinatingly, his career Devils vs. Wild stats are remarkably similar. At least from a goals and assists standpoint. [His all-around game did fall off over the years.])

Aside from trading Jason Zucker in February, Bill Guerin mainly put his stamp on the Wild during this offseason. While there was a head-scratching move every now and then, quite a few of them made sense. Amusingly enough, some real optimism came from drafting Marco Rossi, even without tanking.

Now, will this translate to the Minnesota Wild bursting through the playoff bubble? If not now, then down the line? That’s tough to tell.

Additions

Cam Talbot (free agency), Marcus Johansson (trade), Nick Bonino (trade), Nick Bjugstad (trade), Ian McCoshen (free agency), Andrew Hammond (free agency).

Subtractions

Devan Dubnyk (trade), Mikko Koivu (free agency), Eric Staal (trade), Ryan Donato (trade), Luke Kunin (trade), Alex Galchenyuk (free agency).

2020-21 Minnesota Wild season preview Guerin Rossi draft
(Photo by Brandon McCauley/NHLI via Getty Images)

3 Most Interesting Minnesota Wild

Kirill Kaprizov

In recent NHL history, there have been hot prospects who took oh-so-long to leave Russia. Sometimes, it really only felt like they were overseas forever. In other cases, it started to feel like people were awaiting the arrival of a ghost. Was this would-be star actually a fictional character?

Luckily, many of those same players lived up to the hype. Players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov proved that they were worth the wait.

Could the same be true of Kirill Kaprizov? He’s one of the true wild cards of the 2020-21 season. If he’s fine, that’s a nice boost for the Wild. If Kaprizov can be mind-blowingly good off the bat, then the Wild’s ceiling could be higher than expected.

At minimum, hopefully we see moves like these in actual NHL games, not just training camps and practices:

 

• Cam Talbot

Kaprizov isn’t the only wild card for the, um, Wild. He’s one of the most exciting ones, though.

Generally speaking, there’s less sizzle to incrementally improving goaltending, but the steak might yield key results for the Wild. Simply put, Devan Dubnyk was a disaster last season. As in, he played a key (involuntary) role in getting Bruce Boudreau fired. With Dubnyk floundering, the Wild had to ask a little too much of Alex Stalock.

Cam Talbot didn’t look otherworldly for the Flames. If he did, they probably would have kept him, rather than splurging for Jacob Markstrom.

But Talbot was solid. If the Wild maintain their strong defense, then a solid goalie could make them a tougher out. (Kaprizov has a better chance of making them more interesting on-ice, though.)

• Marco Rossi

Picking someone like Rossi is tricky because of the key question. Will Marco Rossi be an interesting player on the Wild? Could he bounce between levels, not quite sticking with the big club?

To many draft knowers, the Wild got quite a gem by picking Rossi ninth overall. Ideally, Rossi can serve as the sort of game-breaker the Wild desperately need. You can bet Minnesota fans daydream about Rossi and Kaprizov creating magic for years to come.

But the Wild need to handle this situation properly.

There’s a risk in rushing him to the NHL. With COVID presenting added variables, there’s the chance of extra development disruptions. (Even under normal circumstances, these things can sometimes get derailed.) It’s not the greatest sign to see Rossi listed as one of the biggest disappointments from the World Juniors via Corey Pronman’s poll of scouts (sub required), either.

Actually, Rossi will be an interesting player to watch, whether he sticks with the Wild or not.

Best-Case Scenario

Again, the Wild were a stout defensive team in 2019-20, one derailed in part by shabby goaltending. The hope is that their netminding can rise to at least a solid level. From there, maybe the Wild added just enough offensive flair to make this a viable team at scoring, too? Fighting for a division title would be a nice jump from years of slugging it out for a playoff spot.

Worst-Case Scenario

The Wild probably could have kept Koivu and Staal around at a low cost. It’s understandable that they wanted to keep spots open for younger players, but it’s not certain that they’ll be a better team in 2020-21. Being stuck in puck purgatory while enduring disappointing seasons from Kaprizov and Rossi would dampen much of the optimism surrounding this team. What if they look back in a year or two and realize that they truly needed to blow things up and rebuild?

Pointsbet – Minnesota Wild Stanley Cup odds

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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.

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    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced Friday that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

    Rasmus Sandin
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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”