Minnesota Wild: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

Minnesota Wild: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview
Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Minnesota Wild.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 35-16-5 (75 points); third place in West Division
• Postseason: Lost to Golden Knights in Game 7 of First Round.
• Offensive leader: Kirill Kaprizov (55 games, 27 goals, 24 assists).

• Free Agent AdditionsFrederick Gaudreau, Alex Goligoski, Jon Merrill, Dmitry Kulikov, Jordie Benn
• Free Agent Subtractions: Zach Parise (buyout, Islanders), Ryan Suter (buyout, Stars), Carson Soucy (Kraken expansion draft), Nick Bonino (Sharks), Brad Hunt (Canucks), Ian Cole (Hurricanes).

Biggest question for Wild

• Was last season a sign of a team on the rise, or a mirage?

Aside from the most devoted fanatics, most people weren’t expecting much from the Wild last season. A team in transition enjoyed a surprisingly strong season, even if it ended in Game 7 heartache against the mighty Golden Knights.

Truly, Kaprizov’s thrilling season, and the Wild’s general competence, made it easier to accept the team’s reluctance to truly tank.

That said, sometimes a team wins a few bets, then assumes luck will keep going that way. Is it possible that the Wild might renew their cycle of being good-but-not-quite-good-enough?

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

Glance up and down the Wild’s 2021-22 roster, and you can talk yourself into a number of outcomes.

Even the “fancy stats” can leave you scratching your head. The Wild were weak-to-bleak when it came to volume stats like scoring chance percentage, and Corsi For. The Wild checked the “quality-over-quantity” boxes, though, including being a top-five team in high-danger chances for (55.41-percent).

Realistically, it’s tough to picture the Wild easily topping all NHL teams at even-strength shooting percentage (11.5) again in 2021-22. Their forward group has promise … but doesn’t really scream that level of shooting skill.

To some, the signs still pointed to investing more in the future, rather than focusing on the present. Instead, the Wild seem like they’re aiming to do both. They want to bring along young players, but don’t seem committed to goosing their 2022 NHL Draft Lottery odds.

If the Wild’s 2021-22 season looks a lot like the last one, they’ll look reasonably smart walking that tightrope. That’s easier said than done, however.

What’s the salary cap situation?

In one of the most stunning decisions of an NHL offseason filled with swerves, the Wild bought out both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. In an ideal world, those buyouts would put those fraught contracts in the past.

In the reality of the NHL’s salary cap, the relief is limited.

According to Cap Friendly, the Parise – Suter buyouts will look like this on the Wild’s salary cap:

2021-22: $4,743,588 million ($10.3M savings)
2022-23: $12,743,588 million ($2.3M savings)
2023-24: $14,743,588 million ($0.3M savings)
2024-25: $14,743,588 million ($0.3M savings)
2025-26: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2026-27: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2027-28: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)
2028-29: $1,666,666 million (-$1,666,666 savings)

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Did the Wild open up that 2021-22 cap space mainly to sign Kirill Kaprizov? Was the goal to sign Kaprizov, but also do something bold, like trade for Jack Eichel?

Even after the Wild finally signed Kaprizov on Tuesday, the answers aren’t 100% clear. It’s possible that a move or two fell through. Or maybe the Wild are trying to compete while cutting certain costs?

Overall, it’s still a pretty messy salary cap situation. Cap Friendly estimates that the Wild have about $52.5 million devoted to 12 roster spots for 2022-23. For every bit of relief the Wild can anticipate (one more year of Victor Rask at $4 million), there’s a cost that could go up (Kevin Fiala‘s value can skyrocket after 2021-22). Goaltending figures to get more expensive. They’ll also need to make tough decisions with the likes of Fiala and Matt Dumba.

Is Bill Guerin skilled enough as a GM to make this all work? It certainly doesn’t look easy, at least during the most expensive years of the Suter/Parise buyouts (2022-23 through 2024-25).

Breakout Candidate

Marco Rossi/Matt Boldy

If the Wild make their way out of these messes, expect Boldy and Rossi to be a big part of that climb. Before Kaprizov finally arrived, the Wild shrewdly drafting those two forwards inspired a bump in optimism.

Considering the scary-sounding challenges Rossi endured with COVID, the Wild would be wise not to force things with him in 2021-22. As exciting as he is as a prospect, there could be additional growing pains.

Whether the leaps happen sooner or later, both Rossi and Boldy give the Wild quite a bit to be excited about. The team’s lost enough pieces to open the door for fresh faces to make an impact. If Rossi and/or Boldy can make a difference for the Wild as early as 2021-22, that’d be crucial.

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Wild

Kaprizov shows that his rookie season was really just the tip of the iceberg. Joel Eriksson Ek continues to rise much like Sean Couturier did with the Flyers. This team mixes stingy defense, competent goaltending, and sneaky-dangerous offense to rank as the second-best team in the Central Division. From there, they make the sort of playoff run we haven’t seen since the days of Marian Gaborik breakaways.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Wild

Losing Parise, but especially Suter and Soucy, really throws off the Wild’s balance. As hot as the Wild were during the month of April last season, their underlying numbers fell dramatically. What if this team falters in a big way, and lands once again in purgatory? If the Wild missed the playoffs, but also settled for a middling 2022 NHL Draft pick, last season’s heightened optimism would go ice cold. It would be especially bad if $9M ended up looking too rich for Kaprizov, as well.

PointsbetMinnesota 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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    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

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    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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    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    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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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

    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.