Wild show promise, despite latest one-and-done in playoffs

In the end, the Minnesota Wild were left with another early exit from the playoffs.

Still, this truncated season, while fully enveloped by COVID-19 protocols, looked a little bit like a new beginning.

Pivoting further away from the core and identity of the teams of the previous seven years, before the advent of the coronavirus and the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild entered a new era with the dynamic Russian left wing at the forefront of their attack.

The Calder Trophy front-runner, who led all NHL rookies with 27 goals and 51 points, did not disappoint in his long-awaited debut. Kevin Fiala picked up where he left off before the pandemic pause in 2020 and gave the Wild another proven scorer. Joel Eriksson Ek played like a first-line center, ratcheting up his offense to match his tenacious defense. New goalie Cam Talbot was a decent match with the deep group of defensemen in front of him.

The Wild enjoyed a significant boost from the 56-game schedule that had them only playing opponents in the temporarily reshuffled West Division, with San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim producing three of the league’s seven worst records in 2021, but any pad the three California teams provided them in the standings was negated by the presence of Colorado and Vegas at the top.

Pitted in the first round against the Golden Knights, who had the most wins in the NHL, the Wild gave them all they could handle before falling 6-2 in the decisive seventh game of the series on Friday. Injuries caught up with them, with standout defenseman Jonas Brodin departing early and Eriksson Ek and defenseman Ryan Suter playing through pain.

“We all felt like we could beat these guys. Everyone else might think one thing, but the group of guys that we had we felt confident in ourselves,” Suter said. “We are pretty disappointed that it’s ended the way its has.”


Head coach Dean Evason’s first full season on the job was an unquestionable success, but he’ll need to help the Wild build on this showing and ultimately advance in the playoffs for general manager Bill Guerin to give him another contract. Evason’s current deal will expire after next season.

“We got ourselves to a Game 7. We just didn’t push through. We need to learn from this experience right now, and we will,” Evason said.


Guerin has plenty to work on with the roster this summer, starting with a lack of depth at center. He’ll have to figure out which players to leave unprotected in the July 21 expansion draft for Seattle. Then there’s the matter of managing the salary cap, with Kaprizov, Fiala and Eriksson Ek all needing new contracts as restricted free agents. Veteran forwards Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad and Marcus Johansson will all be unrestricted free agents along with defenseman Ian Cole.


After playing their first season without longtime captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild appear headed for a split with another lineup fixture in left wing Zach Parise.

Parise, who helped trigger an unprecedented run for the franchise on and off the ice when he and Suter signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012, fell to the fourth line down the stretch of the season and was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the Vegas series.

After reminding the team of his value by tallying two goals and an assist over the last three games, Parise described his benching as “sideshow stuff” in his interview with reporters following Game 7.

“We’ll have to figure that out in the coming summer what’s going to happen, but I really don’t have an answer on that right now,” said Parise, who has four seasons left on his deal.


Under the previous alignment the NHL has planned to return to next season, the Wild would have finished in second place behind Colorado. They would have had home-ice advantage against Nashville, which was eliminated by Carolina in six games.

Seattle will enter the league for 2021-22, when Arizona moves over to become the eighth team in the Central Division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.


The Wild have made the postseason eight times in the last nine years, but they have not won a series since 2015. Los Angeles is the only other team in the Western Conference, which covers the Central and Pacific divisions under the regular alignment, that has gone longer without advancing. The last time the Kings won a series was actually the Stanley Cup finals in 2014.

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    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.


    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”


    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”


    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”


    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.