Mathew Dumba

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Do Wild have short-term path back to playoffs?

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Before the 2018-19 season went sideways, the Minnesota Wild had a five-year run where they were a mostly outstanding and consistently underrated hockey team.

They had three 100-point seasons in a four-year stretch and even though they had limited success once they made the playoffs, they were at least always there.

All of that disappeared this past season when the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12 and finished with one of the worst records in franchise history (the .506 points percentage was fourth-worst in their 18-year existence). A lot of things went wrong and resulted in the shocking decision to fire general manager Paul Fenton after just 14 months on the job.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they are still stuck in a brutally competitive division with Nashville, Colorado, Winnipeg, Dallas, and a (potentially) improved Chicago team ahead of them. On top of that they were seven points back of a playoff spot last year in what was one of the weakest Western Conference playoff races ever, are relying heavily on big-money players in their mid-30s this season, still do not have a general manager to call the shots, and could probably use a rebuild that the owner does not seem to want to fully commit to.

Not exactly a great set of circumstances.

So is there a path back to the playoffs this season? Let’s take a look at three key factors that might help.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factors]

Better Health

While injuries were not a huge factor in the Wild’s regression, they did have a couple of significant ones with the loss of Mikko Koivu (48 games) and defender Mathew Dumba (only 32 games).

Koivu is one of the many mid-30 players on the roster and is not the same player offensively that he was a few years ago, but he’s still an excellent two-way player and key part of their forwards.

Dumba, on the other hand, was the big one. Losing him was a significant blow to the team’s blue line, especially since he was in the middle of a breakout season offensively at the time of his injury. Getting a 23-minute, potential 50-point blue-liner back in the lineup would be significant.

Jason Zucker is still there

Zucker was nearly traded on two separate occasions over the past year and it is probably fortunate for the Wild that both deals fell apart before they could be completed. He is still one of the best all-around players on the team and seems to be a prime bounce-back candidate. He was still a great possession-driver for the Wild last year (they had a 53 percent shot attempt share when he was on the ice) and finished with one of the lowest shooting percentages of his career. The return of a healthy Koivu and Dumba, as well as a bounce-back from Zucker, would help a lot.

Some new faces

Zuccarello is a long-term risk because of his age, but he is still an outstanding playmaker and will upgrade the roster that ended the regular season in Minnesota.

Then you have the young players acquired by former general manager Fenton at the deadline, specifically Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala. There are a lot of reasons to question the direction Fenton sent the team in at the trade deadline, but now that they trades are done all the Wild can do is hope for the best. While there seems to be little hope the Nino Niederreiter trade can produce positive results for them, Donato and Fiala do at least have the potential to become useful.

There is absolutely something that can be salvaged there.

Donato looked promising after the trade from Boston, while Fiala is just one year removed from a 23-goal, 48-point season, is still only 23 years old, and is coming off of a tough shooting percentage and PDO (on ice shooting percentage plus save percentage) year while also posting strong possession numbers. There is potential for a bounce-back there.

More consistent performance from Devan Dubnyk

This might be the most important potential development.

From the moment he arrived in Minnesota during the 2013-14 season Dubnyk has been one of the best, most productive goalies in the league and finished with two top-five finishes in the Vezina Trophy voting. But the 2018-19 season was far from his best as he struggled with consistency, went through one of the worst slumps of his career, and faced yet another heavy workload.

If he is able to return to his previous Minnesota form that is a season-changer for the Wild.

That is a lot of “ifs,” and even if they all go perfectly it still probably will not be enough to make them a Stanley Cup contender. It could, however, get them back in the playoffs.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

What’s in store for Wild after disappointing season?

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The Minnesota Wild need a miracle.

Without one over the next five days, their season is going to come to a bitterly disappointing end that not only snaps the team’s six-year run of consecutive postseason appearances, but also spoils the guarantee from coach Bruce Boudreau that the team would, in fact, make the playoffs.

What has to make this season so disappointing for Minnesota is where the team was coming from the previous two years, and just how wide open the playoff race in the Western Conference turned out to be.

You may not have looked at the Wild as one league’s top teams before this season, but keep in mind only three teams in the NHL recorded more points than Minnesota’s 207 during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, while they topped the 100-point mark in three of the past four individual seasons. It may have never resulted in a meaningful playoff run, but the Wild were always good enough to matter, even if they weren’t quite good enough to actually do anything that would make them stand out come playoff time.

Add in the fact that the second wild card team in the West is likely to finish with one of the lowest point totals any playoff team has had in the salary cap era and it is kind of stunning that this team is almost certainly going to fall short, even when you take into account the injuries that have sidelined Mathew Dumba and Mikko Koivu for most of the season.

They should still be better than this.

That is almost certainly going to lead to more changes for an organization that has already undergone significant change over the past year.

The first big question is probably going to be the fate of Boudreau, and given the circumstances it is worth wondering if he is coaching his final games in Minnesota this week.

Anytime you have a team that will (again, barring a miracle) be now going four consecutive years without a postseason series win, and is likely to miss the playoffs by regressing by nearly 20 points in the standings, the job security of that coach, no matter their credentials in the league, is going to be in question. That is especially true when the team in question has a new general manager (Paul Fenton) that is almost certainly going to be looking for an excuse to bring in their own coach.

Realistically speaking, it is going to be awfully difficult for the Wild to find a better coach than the one they have now (unless they can convince Joel Quenneville to take their job, if it becomes available) so there is definitely going to be a risk there if that is the direction they go. And that is a concern.

But no matter who the coach is the future of the franchise is going to come down to the players Fenton and his staff are able to assemble.

And that is where the real red flag should be for Wild fans.

In his first full season as general manager Fenton dramatically overhauled the core of the team by trading Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund in an effort to get younger. That also seems to have been the only primary objective because there is not much to suggest the team got better as a result of that sequence of trades.

The early returns, especially in the case of Niederreiter (traded straight up to Carolina for Victor Rask), are looking … poor.

It is not necessarily the results of the trades that is most concerning right now, but the process behind them.

In all three trades the Wild were trading core players, all of whom still had term remaining on their contracts beyond this season (meaning the Wild shouldn’t have felt pressure to trade them when they did), at what was arguably their lowest possible values.

If you are going to trade such significant players you need to make sure you are maximizing the return of that asset as best you can, and there is plenty of objective evidence to argue that the Wild did no such thing.

You don’t need to dig very far to see just how concerning the thought process was in these moves.

At the time of their trades, all of Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund were stuck in down years that could probably best be described as unlucky.

Niederreiter, a proven 25-goal scorer that plays a heck of a two-way game and can drive possession, was getting just 14 minutes of ice-time and had what was the second-lowest PDO of his career (PDO simply being the sum of a player’s on-ice shooting percentage and save-percentage during 5-on-5 play). Everything about his season and his career should have indicated that he was due to bounce back at some point, whether it was this season or next season. The bounce back began almost as soon as he arrived in Carolina where he has been one of the Hurricanes’ best and most productive players. He looks like the player he has always been, and one that the Wild could absolutely use both this season and in future seasons.

In return for that, the Wild received Victor Rask  who is roughly the same age as Niederreiter, with a lesser resume in the NHL, and a career that seems to be trending in the wrong direction.

It was the same situation for Granlund, a forward that scored at a 70-point pace over the previous two seasons and was one of the few difference-makers the team had at forward.

And while the return for Granlund (Kevin Fiala, a long-time favorite of Fenton going back to his days as Nashville’s assistant general manager) looks better than the return for Niederreiter, it’s still worth wondering how much better it makes the team in the long-run.

The only trade that is looking overly promising at the moment and could be a decent upgrade is the Coyle for Ryan Donato swap.

Given that almost all of the Wild’s roster is still under team control for the foreseeable future (Koivu, Eric Fehr, Brad Hunt, Anthony Bitetto, J.T. Brown, and Jared Spurgeon are the only players eligible for unrestricted free agency over the next two years) it is almost a given that any other significant overhaul of the roster is going to have to come through trades, and the early look into his process there is, again, concerning.

If the Wild are going to turn things around in the short-term they are going to need to see significant steps from young players like Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek, while also hoping that Fenton and his staff gambled correctly on the likes of Fiala and Donato and don’t continue to sell core players at their lowest value.

Without any of that that it’s hard to see better days being on the horizon for the Wild.

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.

Wild aren’t going away, despite injuries and trades

You’re to be forgiven if you had already written off the Minnesota Wild this season because, well, it was a pretty easy thing to do.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that they were in the middle of a stretch where they had lost nine out of 10 games, were on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture and surrounded by a pile of teams that all seemed to be in a better position to make a run at a playoff spot than they were, and the roster was in the process of being torn apart by trades and injuries.

Already playing without one of their top defenders in Mathew Dumba, they also lost their captain, Mikko Koivu, for the remainder of the season.

As if those two injuries were not enough, there were the trades that saw Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund all get shipped off in exchange for Victor Rask, Ryan Donato, and Kevin Fiala. Those trades allowed the Wild to get younger and a little cheaper, but it didn’t seem to make the team much better in the short-term (or even the long-term where a couple of those trades are still questionable moves).

There was every reason to believe the season was teetering on the edge of collapse not long after coach Bruce Boudreau all but guaranteed a playoff berth.

Somehow, even with all of that adversity and roster upheaval, the Wild have managed to collect a point in seven consecutive games (winning five of them) and still have a hold on a playoff spot in the Western Conference, sitting two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for the second Wild Card spot and only two games back of the St. Louis Blues for the third spot in the Central Division.

Their past five games alone have been against Calgary, Winnipeg, St. Louis, and Nashville (twice) and they managed to come out of that stretch with eight out of a possible 10 points. That is three of the top teams in the Western Conference and a fourth (St. Louis) that is one of the hottest teams in the league. And they came out way better than could have reasonably been expected going in.

What is driving that recent success?

For one, starting goalie Devan Dubnyk deserves a lot of credit for playing some outstanding hockey over that stretch, posting a .935 save percentage and a 5-0-1 record. If you get a .935 save percentage (and let’s not forget backup Alex Stalock posted a .953 mark in his one appearance during that stretch, too)  you are going to have a chance to win a lot of hockey games no matter what the rest of your roster looks like or who you are playing on any given night.

They have also received some big contributions from some of their newest acquisitions.

Since arriving from Boston in the Coyle trade Donato has been one of the team’s best offensive players with two goals and five assists in seven games.

Fiala also had a big game on Tuesday night with a pair of goals against his former team to help the Wild secure at least a point in the standings.

Eric Staal has also been on a role as of late with nine points over the past seven games.

[Related: Zach Parise having sneaky good season for Wild]

Put all of that together and suddenly the playoffs don’t just seem to be a possibility for the Wild, they seem to have a great chance to punch their ticket even with all of the chaos that has happened within.

It certainly helped that they caught Calgary, Winnipeg, Nashville when they did, because while all three are the top teams in the West, none of them have really played their best hockey as of late.

It has also helped that the competition for the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference has thinned out dramatically.

Vancouver, Chicago, Edmonton, and Anaheim — teams that were all within a point or two of a playoff spot just a couple of weeks ago — have fallen back out of the race and now sit as many as seven points back. None of them, realistically speaking, are a serious threat to the Wild (or anyone else in the playoff race, for that matter).

The two biggest threats on the outside remain Colorado and Arizona, while Minnesota still has a head-to-head game remaining with each.

A couple of weeks ago the Wild were a battered team whose roster was in the process of being broken apart and were one of nine teams fighting for what would only be three playoff spots.

Today that potential playoff race has been whittled down to just five teams fighting for the same three spots.

The Wild are not only one of the five teams still in it, they are probably sitting in a better position and playing better than at least three of them. That might be all they need to get in the postseason and give themselves a 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.

PHT Power Rankings: No one is close to Lightning right now

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The 2018-19 NHL season is almost at its halfway point and the Tampa Bay Lightning are rolling into the holiday break with what has been the best team in the league this season.

There is no one really close to them, either.

A quick look at where they stand compared to the rest of the league…

  • They have a six point lead over every other team in the league, one of the largest leads any team has had at this point in the season in recent history
  • They are on pace for 128 points this season. The NHL’s second best team at the moment is on pace for 115.
  • Their plus-48 goal differential is 11 goals better than any other team in the league, while there is only one team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) that is within 20 goals of that mark.
  • Their 28 wins are tied for the most of any team through the first 37 games of a season in the salary cap era.
  • Over the past 25 years only two teams (the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2005-06 Ottawa Senators) have scored more goals than Tampa Bay’s 154 through 37 games.

Needless to say, they are in the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

On to the rest of the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Just a stunningly great hockey team right now. An offense that no one can slow down, an outstanding defense, and great goaltending. Put it all together and you have a team that is 16-2-1 in its past 19 games and is six points ahead of every other team in the league heading to the holiday break.

2. Winnipeg Jets — The Jets have one of the best records in the NHL and they haven’t really received great goaltending from Connor Hellebucyk yet. Kind of scary to think about how good they could be if he starts to get back closer to the level he showed a year ago.

3. Washington Capitals — After winning just seven of their first 16 games the Capitals have gone on a 15-4-0 run in the 19 games that followed and Alex Ovechkin is scoring goals at a pace that is ridiculous even for him.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs —  Talk of them losing any of their young stars to an offer sheet is a waste of time (it is not going to happen) but they are still heading toward a truly fascinating offseason with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Both players have been absolutely sensational this season, with Marner already topping the 50-point mark just 36 games into the season.

The Playoff Teams/Contenders

5. Columbus Blue Jackets — Sergei Bobrovsky has won his past four decisions with two shutouts. That is just what the Blue Jackets need right now.

6. Calgary Flames — The biggest surprise on one of the biggest surprise teams is still the play of Elias Lindholm. With 17 goals and 39 points on the season he has already matched his career high in goals and is just five points away from matching another career high.

7. Nashville Predators — The injuries are really starting to catch up to them, but it is nothing to worry about at the moment.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are starting to look like the Penguins again. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are scoring almost every night, Kris Letang is playing at a Norris Trophy level on defense, and the goaltending is starting to perform like they need it to.

9. Vegas Golden Knights — Early on it looked like the Golden Knights were headed for a big year two regression. Even though they are unlikely to match their year one point total they have gone 12-5-3 in their past 20 games. They are just three points out of first place in the Pacific Division.

10. Boston Bruins — They have managed to keep winning and maintain a playoff spot despite some significant injury issues. They are starting to get healthy again with the recent returns of Charlie McAvoy and Patrice Bergeron.

[Related: Patrice Bergeron grabs four points in return to lineup]

11. Colorado Avalanche — The top line is as dominant as it has been at any point over the past two years. At some point, though, the Avalanche are going to need another line to become somewhat of a goal-scoring threat.

12. San Jose Sharks — They went on a roll by winning seven out of eight and looked like they were starting to become the team we expected them to be. Then they dropped three in a row going into the break, including games against the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes. Erik Karlsson is starting to look like Erik Karlsson again, which is great news (he also received a two-game suspension … which is not great news).

13. Buffalo Sabres — Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel have not cooled off, but the rest of the team has. Fortunately for them that early season winning streak and great start gave them a nice cushion so this recent slump has not hurt them too much.

The Bubble Teams

14. Montreal Canadiens — Carey Price had a couple of good games this past week but he is still way below what they need from him. It is actually kind of remarkable they have won as much as they have this season with the level of goaltending they have received from Price and Antti Niemi.

15. New York Islanders — They keep hanging around, especially impressive when you consider Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey have only combined for 12 goals at this point.

16. Anaheim Ducks — They occupy a playoff spot at the moment but I am still skeptical they will hold on to it. The team is too dependent on goaltending and has been outscored by 14 goals on the season. Not a good sign!

17. Edmonton Oilers — After the initial surge that followed the coaching change the Oilers have started to look like, well, the Oilers again. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can only carry this team so far on their own.

18. Vancouver Canucks — They have put together a little run here in recent weeks to get back closer to a playoff spot. They’ve been an extremely hot and cold team this season, but the two constants have been the play of Brock Boeser (when healthy) and rookie forward Elias Pettersson. They are great building blocks.

19. Dallas Stars — They backed into the break by losing six out of eight. Getting John Klingberg back will help a lot in their push for a playoff spot, though.

20. Minnesota Wild — The offense has dried up and now they are without one of their top defenders in Mathew Dumba for the foreseeable future.

[Related: Bad news for Wild as Dumba to miss significant time]

The Lottery Teams

21. Carolina Hurricanes — Andrei Svechnikov looks like he has a bright future ahead of him. Sebastian Aho is a star right now. These are the positives for the Hurricanes at the moment. They also played really well in the Hartford Whalers uniforms.

22. Philadelphia Flyers — The Carter Hart era has officially started. Will he be the one to finally solve the decades long problem in net, or will he be doomed to whatever it is that happens to goalies once they put on a Flyers uniform? He has won two of his first three decisions. The Flyers have already used six different goalies this season.

23. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov finally got whistled for his first penalty of the season this past week. He has drawn more than 20. He has taken one. Just one of the under-the-radar things that makes one of the league’s most under-the-radar stars so dominant on the ice.

24. St. Louis Blues — I still wonder what this season would have looked like for the Blues with better goaltending. A flawed team for sure, but they should not be this far down in the standings.

25. Los Angeles Kings — Points in five out of their past six and a three game winning streak to head into the break. Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the lineup and played his best hockey of the season with three points, including an overtime goal, in his first two games back.

26. Chicago Blackhawks — They had their first three game winning streak of the season with wins over Nashville, Dallas, and Colorado. A nice little stretch, but not enough to make much of a dent in the deficit they face for a playoff spot.

27. New York Rangers — It has been a tough month for the Rangers with just two wins, and only one of them coming in regulation. Kevin Hayes is having a strong season and could be an attractive trade chip as we get closer to the trade deadline later in the season.

28. Arizona Coyotes — After a promising start to the season the Coyotes have really struggled in recent weeks with losses in seven of their past 10 games.

29. Detroit Red Wings — What will this team look like if — or when — they trade Jimmy Howard? He has been one of the few bright spots on the roster this season.

30. Ottawa Senators — Just what the Colorado Avalanche, owners of the Senators’ 2019 first-round pick, want to see happening this season.

31. New Jersey Devils — Other than Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri there just is not much going on here with this team. Goaltending is a massive issue right now as it looks like Cory Schneider might be completely done.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Bad news for Wild as Dumba set to miss ‘significant time’

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After dropping a 2-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night the Minnesota Wild find themselves stuck in a three-game losing streak and have now lost 10 of their past 15 games, keeping them on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Things are not looking much better on the injury front.

The Wild announced on Friday that defender Mathew Dumba will undergo surgery next week for an “upper-body injury” and is set to miss a significant amount of time.

“We won’t know [an exact timetable] until they get in there,” said general manager Paul Fenton, via the Wild’s website. “They’re giving me a general timeline, but I don’t want to say anything that just comes back and haunts us. Let’s just make sure first how the surgery goes, and then we’ll make a statement from there.

“Certainly, we were hoping that it was going to be a quick thing to go through things but from talking to doctors, he does need surgery. But for those that have had surgery and they say it’s gonna be six months and you’re walking three months later, that’s what we’re kind of hoping for is that he gets something taken care and maybe it’s quicker.”

Dumba last appeared in a game for the Wild a week ago when he played just five minutes in a loss to the Calgary Flames. He exited that game after the first period and did not return. It is worth noting that he was involved in a fight early in that game with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk as a carryover from a previous meeting when Dumba injured Mikael Backlund with an open ice hit. Dumba and the Wild have refused to say that fight is where the injury happened, while  Dumba insists he is not sure when it happened.

No matter when or why it happened, this is a huge loss for the Wild in the short-term.

The 24-year-old Dumba is not only one of the team’s most important players, he is having one of the best seasons of his career and was on track to set new career highs across the board while playing close to 24 minutes of ice-time per night. His 12 goals are not only tied for the second most on the team, they lead all NHL defenders while he is one of just three (Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs with 11, and Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators with 10) to have scored more than eight goals so far this season. Chicago Blackhawks defender Erik Gustafsson is the only other one with more than seven.

The Wild are currently eight points out of the third playoff spot in the Central Division and three points back of a Wild Card spot with the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars sitting in front of them. The Wild do, however, have games in hand on every team they are chasing. They finished the 2017-18 season with 101 points, good enough for the eighth best mark in the league, but have struggled for a number of reasons this season, including most recently the extended slump by starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk. He has started to get back on track lately and play at his expected level, but now they are without one of their top defenders.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.