Joel Eriksson Ek

Minnesota Wild
Getty

What is the Wild’s long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Minnesota Wild.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Wild are kind of drifting toward that middle ground where they are not a true contender and they are not exactly awful, either. They have good players, but they also have some pretty significant flaws.

One of the biggest might be the fact they have a lot money tied up in players that are on the wrong side of 30. Mikko Koivu is a free agent after this season, and no one really knows what his future is at this point, but Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Devan Dubnyk are some of their biggest contracts beyond this season and Spurgeon is the only one younger than 32 years old. It is not a stretch to believe that every single one of those players has already played their best hockey. Parise was also the subject of trade rumors on deadline day with the New York Islanders, something that could be revisited later.

Beyond that, the Wild do have some intriguing younger players making up a second-wave of talent.

Kevin Fiala has been an outstanding pickup and is having an outstanding year, while Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek are other younger players the Wild are hoping can become bigger contributors.

The most intriguing young player in the organization, though, has yet to even play a game in North America. That player is Kirili Kaprizov, the 22-year-old winger that has dominated the KHL for the past few seasons. He was a fifth-round pick by the team a few years ago and his arrival in Minnesota has been anticipated for some time now.

Long-Term Needs

Really what the Wild need is a difference-maker. A game-changing forward that can be the focal point of the offense and carry it. A franchise cornerstone to build around both in the short-and long-term.

They do not really have that player right now, and the ones that most closely resemble that player on the roster right now are older and on the downside of their careers. They are also not really well positioned to get one without a lot of luck going their way in the draft lottery. It is a tough spot to be in.

Their biggest hope for that sort of presence might be with the aforementioned Kaprizov. For as intriguing and exciting as his potential is, it is still just exactly that — potential. Even if he does eventually become that top-line standout player, it may not happen as soon as he arrives next season. There could be some growing pains and an adjustment period along the way.

Long-Term Strengths

When they are all healthy their defense has some intriguing players and can be really good with Suter, Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, and Jonas Brodin are all signed through the end of next seaon, with the former three names all being signed to long-term deals. When it comes to scoring chances against and expected goals against the Wild have been one of the league’s top teams this season. The only thing that has held them back from being an elite defensive team has been inconsistency in net.

The addition of Cale Addison in the Jason Zucker trade also adds another intriguing blue-liner to the long-term outlook.

If Fiala can duplicate his 2019-20 performance he could also turn into a pretty big strength. He has been one of the league’s most productive 5-on-5 players on a per-minute basis this season and is still signed for another year at a very manageable salary cap hit.

The presence of him, Kaprizov, a still productive Zuccarello and hopefully improvements from players like Kunin, Greenway, and Eriksson Ek could give the Wild a formidable group of forwards.

MORE WILD:
Looking at the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild surprises and disappointments so far

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals visit Wild on NBCSN

Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the first of two meetings between these teams this season, facing each other again in Washington on April 2. The Wild won their last meeting against the Caps in March of last season, having lost eight straight games against Washington prior to that win.

Washington is coming off a 3-0 loss at Winnipeg on Thursday, just the second time the Caps have been shut out in this season (3-0 loss at CBJ on Dec 16). Minnesota has won five of their last six games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak. They have scored five-plus goals in each of their last three wins (17 goals total) and are coming off a 5-0 win at Columbus on Friday night. Their 17 goals scored are tied most in a three-game span in franchise history (April 2009).

While the Capitals have 21 road wins this season (second most in NHL) they have lost four straight on the road, being outscored 12-5 in that span. After starting the season 10-1-1 in their first 12 road games, the Caps have fallen back down to earth, now 11-9-0 in their last 20 on the road.

Kevin Fiala leads the Wild with 47 points this season and has had three straight multi-point games. After scoring just nine goals in his first 46 games this season, Fiala now has 10 goals in his last 13. With 19 goals on the year, Fiala is set to hit the 20-goal mark for just the second time in his career (23 goals for Nashville in 2017-18)

After facing Washington, the Wild host the Predators on Tuesday, who currently sit one point above Minnesota in the West. They then go on a three-game California road trip against the three worst teams in the Western Conference.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Washington Capitals at Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerIlya Kovalchuk
Richard PanikNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden DillonJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMichal Kempny
Jonas SiegenthalerNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

WILD
Gerald Mayhew – Eric Staal – Kevin Fiala
Zach PariseJoel Eriksson EkJordan Greenway
Marcus FolignoAlex GalchenyukMats Zuccarello
Ryan DonatoMikko KoivuRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Brad HuntGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Alex Stalock

Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Kathryn Tappen will host Sunday night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Anson Carter and Mike Johnson.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Wild on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues enter Sunday’s matchup off a dominant 5-1 win over the division rival Stars Friday night. With the top spot in the conference on the line, St. Louis opened their lead to 4-0 early in the second, chasing Ben Bishop on their way to a third straight win – during their current win streak, St. Louis has outscored opponents 9-1.

The Blues have appeared to find their form following a season-worst 5-game losing streak that capped a 2-7-3 run from mid-January to mid-February. Friday’s win also opened a small gap between the Blues and their Central Division rivals (Dallas and Colorado). With the win over the Stars, St. Louis ensured they’ll be on top of the Western Conference at least heading into Sunday night’s matchup.

From Jan. 15 to Feb. 16, the Blues were 2-7-3 (seven points), arguably their worst stretch under Craig Berube. During that same period, St. Louis allowed 3.92 goals/game, the worst mark in the NHL.

The Wild are just over a week removed from firing head coach Bruce Boudreau and promoting his assistant Dean Evason to the interim head coach position, his first head coaching stint of any kind in the NHL. After losing their first game under Evason, Minnesota has now won two straight and are 2-1-0 under their interim coach.

Evason is in his second season on the Wild bench after spending the previous six seasons (2012-18) as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ AHL affiliate. Prior to that, he had spent seven seasons (2005-12) as a Capitals assistant. He played 13 seasons in the NHL from 1983-1996. A hard-nosed player who racked up 1,002 penalty minutes in his career, Evason has not overhauled the system, but has brought an accountability to Minnesota as the team looks to make a Blues-like run up the standings and avoid missing the playoffs for a 2nd straight season.

Minnesota will also come into Sunday night’s game off a big win, defeating the Oilers 5-3 in Edmonton on Friday night. That win finished off a two-game Western Canada swing, during which the Wild beat Vancouver and Edmonton.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blues-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden SchwartzRyan O'ReillyBrayden Schenn
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Alex SteenOskar SundqvistJordan Kyrou
Sammy BlaisIvan BarbashevMackenzie MacEachern

Carl GunnarssonJustin Faulk
Marco ScandellaColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

WILD
Zach PariseEric StaalKevin Fiala
Alex GalchenyukLuke KuninMats Zuccarello
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkJordan Greenway
Victor RaskMikko KoivuRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMathew Dumba
Carson SoucyGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Xcel Energy Center alongside analyst Pierre McGuire. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBCSN will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

The Buzzer: Elvis rolls on for Blue Jackets; Matthews hits 40

Getty Images
2 Comments

THREE STARS

1. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets rookie needed only 16 saves to record his second straight shutout in a 2-0 win over the Red Wings. He’s now undefeated in his last eight appearances, the longest win streak by a Blue Jackets rookie goaltender ever. Merzlikins also took over the NHL lead in shutouts with five. According to the NHL, only nine different rookie goaltenders in league history have picked up a win in nine-plus consecutive regular season appearances.

2. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs forward reached 40 goals for the second time in his career during a 5-4 overtime win over the Ducks. He also added three helpers, including one on John Tavares‘ winner. In tying his career high in goals, Matthews became the fifth player in franchise history to record multiple 40-goal seasons, joining the likes of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Rick Vaive, and Mats Sundin.

3. Joel Eriksson Ek, Wild

Down 2-0, the Wild staged a comeback and Eriksson Ek played hero by snapping a 2-2 tie with 25.7 seconds to go with his second of the game.

Devan Dubnyk was tremendous with 31 saves, including this late blocker stop on Radek Faksa:

PASSING PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

• Facing his former team, Jimmy Vesey made an impact during a 3-2 Sabres win over the Rangers. He scored what ended up as the game-winning goal and assisted on another. That assist kicked off a lovely sequence that was finished by Sam Reinhart:

Zach Werenski broke the franchise single-season record for goals by a defenseman with his 17th following this excellent set up:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Zemgus Girgensons has five goals in eight games at Madison Square Garden since the start of the 2015-16 season. (Jourdon LaBarber)

SCORES
Sabres 3, Rangers 2
Maple Leafs 5, Ducks 4 (OT)
Blue Jackets 2, Red Wings 0
Wild 3, Stars 2

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Wild hold on against Lightning, snap losing streak

What a difference 48 hours made for the Minnesota Wild.

When we saw them on Tuesday night they were getting dominated on the scoreboard and embarrassed by a lineup card gaffe that forced them to play with a shorthanded defense.

On Thursday, they went toe-to-toe with one of the NHL’s best teams and snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is just the WIld’s second win in their past eight games, and their first in regulation during that stretch.

Ryan Suter‘s goal late in the second period ended up going in the books as the game-winner, while Zach Parise and Joel Eriksson Ek also scored for the Wild. Goalie Alex Stalock stopped 18 out of 20 shots he faced, including a shot from Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos at the buzzer to secure the win.

Nikita Kucherov scored both goals for the Lightning in the losing effort.

The Wild desperately needed this to win because their recent slide has really started to bury them in the Western Conference playoff race. Their playoff hopes are barely flickering right now and every point the rest of the way is going to be massive. They have almost no margin for error.

The most impressive part of this particular win is just how strong they looked for most of the game, especially on the heels of such a lackluster performance on Tuesday night. Coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday he had two options after that game — either “bag skate” the team, or send them home and tell them to get away from hockey (via Michael Russo). He chose the latter, saying they would find out on Thursday if it was the right decision. It seemed that it was as they took what has been one of the NHL’s hottest teams (11-1-0 in their previous 12 games entering Tuesday), and one of the most dominating offenses, and for the most part completely shut it down.

The Lightning were on a 16-5-1 run since the start of December (second best record in the league behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins during that stretch) and averaging more than 32 shots and 3.5 goals per game. On Thursday, the Wild limited them to just two goals and only 20 shots. That shot total is the Lightning’s third-lowest of the season, and the lowest since a November 19 against the St. Louis Blues.

Thursday’s game is the first of a 12-game stretch where the Wild play 11 games on home ice, where they have actually played extremely well this season. If they are going to make any sort of a move toward a playoff spot, this is their chance.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.