Ryan Suter

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Looking at the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota Wild

Record: 35-27-7 (69 games), sixth in Central Division, 10th in the West
Leading Scorer: Kevin Fiala – 54 points (23 goals and 31 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Traded Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison, 2020 conditional first-round pick.

Season Overview

To call this a strange year for the Wild would be an understatement.

Minnesota came into this season with a new general manager, Bill Guerin. But he was hired late in the off-season after Paul Fenton was suddenly fired after free agency. What that meant was that head coach Bruce Boudreau would be on his third GM which almost never happens in hockey.

Fenton signed veteran forward Mats Zuccarello to a big free-agent contract, which indicated that he thought the team could win right away. Guerin came in and didn’t really do a whole lot heading into the season because his hands were tied given the roster he had at his disposal.

The Wild started the year with four consecutive losses and they dropped six of their first seven. They didn’t beat a team currently in a playoff spot until Oct. 22 when they took down the Oilers (nine games into the 2019-20 season).

So you can certainly forgive those of us who wrote them off early on. But to their credit, they were able to get the season turned around. Starting on Nov. 14, they managed to put together an 11-game point streak.

Heading into the pause, the Wild managed to rattle off eight wins over their last 11 games. Despite the success they had after their sluggish start, Guerin still decided it was best to trade veteran Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh and to fire Boudreau.

Why would he get rid of his veteran coach?

Well, general managers like picking their own head coaches, so when Boudreau started having success again, Guerin probably wanted to cut ties with him because he didn’t want to have to keep him after an impressive turnaround.

The Wild continued to have success under interim bench boss Dean Evason, but they still weren’t locked into a playoff spot at the pause. As of right now, the Wild were one point behind the Nashville Predators for the final Wild Card spot in the West and two points behind Winnipeg for the other one (they have two games in hand on the Jets).

Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk are all household names, but it was two under-the-radar players that helped fuel Minnesota’s success. Forward Kevin Fiala and backup goalie Alex Stalock have been the keys to that turnaround.

No matter what happens to this season, the Wild are at a bit of a crossroads. Do they try to build on this momentum by adding more veterans this summer or do they continue shipping out their older players in an attempt to get younger?

Highlight of the Season

Captain Mikko Koivu is on the downside of his career, but there was a special moment that occurred this season against the Dallas Stars.

On Dec. 1, Koivu played in his 1,000th NHL game (all with the Wild). He managed to score the shootout winner in that game.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals visit Wild on NBCSN

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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.

Parise: ‘Games were hard to play’ while Wild talked trade

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the past week, Zach Parise was carrying some extra weight with him around the ice: The Minnesota Wild were actively talking about trading him.

Now that the deadline has passed, relieving Parise’s stress and ensuring he will complete an eighth season in his home state of Minnesota, the standout left wing can better focus on trying to help the Wild return to the playoffs. Beyond that, though, his future with the organization has become obviously uncertain.

”Those games were hard to play. You just don’t know. Once it gets brought up to you, in your mind you’re thinking, ‘Am I leaving tomorrow? What’s going on here?”’ Parise said Tuesday, before the Wild hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets. ”Now that that’s over, we can just worry about here and winning and getting ourselves into that wild-card spot.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin, who’s in his first year running the team, took the uncommon tack of publicly acknowledging Monday after the deadline that he discussed a deal involving Parise.

Guerin didn’t identify the corresponding team, which The Athletic reported was the New York Islanders. Their general manager, Lou Lamoriello, declined to divulge specifics to reporters. ”I don’t know what the definition of close is. You always think there’s something that could potentially happen, but until it materializes you weren’t close,” said Lamoriello, who drafted Parise in 2003 when he was general manager of the New Jersey Devils.

The wrinkle with a potential deal involving Parise is that he has a no-movement clause in his contract, requiring him to approve any trade. More transparency, thus, is necessary from the front office regarding such discussions. Guerin approached him a week ago while the team was on the road, Parise said, with the possibility. Parise declined to confirm whether he told Guerin he’d waive the no-movement clause, but had he indicated disinterest the talks surely would’ve ended then.

That’s probably why Parise was choosing his words carefully as he took questions from reporters Tuesday, realizing that acknowledging a willingness to leave could make for an awkward stay for however much longer he’s with the Wild.

”I don’t know how close it got. I really don’t,” Parise said. ”I love it here. I always have. My goals here haven’t changed: It’s to help this team. I’m not disappointed by any means that I’m here. I really enjoy playing here.”

When Parise and his longtime pal, defenseman Ryan Suter, simultaneously signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Wild on July 4, 2012, the profile and expectations of this frequently middling franchise were instantly heightened.

The additions sparked fervor anew in an already fervent fan base and laid the foundation for a sellout streak that reached 230 straight games, until ending on Oct. 20 for the second home game of this season. The Wild made the playoffs in each of the first six seasons with the Parise-Suter duo, but that run ended in 2019, too. They’re below the cutoff again this year, too, in 11th place in the Western Conference and five points out of a spot. Since Parise and Suter arrived, the Wild have only won a playoff series twice and never advanced past the conference semifinals.

Parise again has the most goals for Minnesota (21) this season, the fifth time in eight he has led the Wild in scoring. He was one goal off the team lead in his second season (2013-14), too. That’s been part of the problem, though. Parise has long been a workmanlike scorer, excellent at rebounds and redirects while always willing to muscle his way into traffic against bigger defenders, but he’s not the type of player who can take over a game or consistently create chances for others. The salary cap space taken up by Parise and Suter has ultimately made it more difficult to build a contender around them.

The 35-year-old Parise, as he’s skating toward the end of his 15th season in the NHL, has not been shy about voicing his heightened urgency to win a Stanley Cup. Just because the Wild didn’t trade him this week doesn’t mean Guerin wouldn’t take another crack at it in the summer.

”There are certain moves that just require more time and a little more detail,” Guerin said, speaking generally about the seed-planting process that deadline-week discussions can initiate. ”Sometimes you want to get through a season with a player and revisit it. You’re not unhappy with him, but you could see the potential return you could get, so you revisit it. Like I said, we’ll handle that at the end of the season.”

As for any disappointment in not completing the deal?

”Not at all. I’m actually kind of excited to see what this group can do,” Guerin said. ”I’ve said all along that they’re getting an opportunity, a longer leash.”

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: Red Wings eliminated before trade deadline; Spurgeon’s surge

Red Wings already eliminated from playoffs PHT Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

Spurgeon collected a hat trick on Friday. It was the first hat trick of his career, making him the second Wild defenseman to pull off such a feat after Ryan Suter. Spurgeon enjoyed a tremendous all-around performance, managing six shots on goal, a +3 rating, three blocked shots, and one hit in 21:55 TOI.

Spurgeon reached the 10-goal mark in just 53 games. He’s hit double digits in goals during four of his last five seasons, and could top his 2018-19 career-high of 14. He also generated nine goals in 2014-15 and 2017-18. In other words, it’s almost OK to write “Spurgeon, hands of a surgeon” in headlines. Almost.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins provided quite an effort for the Oilers in their loss to Spurgeon’s Wild. RNH managed two goals and one assist, but Edmonton fell short.

2. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders

Eberle generated the third hat trick of his career as the Islanders took care of business against Detroit. Eberle supplied the game-winner in a 4-1 win. His last hat trick came on April 9, 2017, while he was still with the Oilers. The only knock against his hat trick is that it came against the Red Wings, who have already been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The Islanders decided to re-sign Eberle despite a down season in 2018-19 where he was limited to 19 goals and 37 points. With 13 goals and 34 points in 50 games, Eberle looks closer to the player he was during his debut season with the Isles. (Interestingly, Eberle is enjoying similar rebounds in his possession stats after a slight dip last year.)

Mika Zibanejad and Colton Parayko also enjoyed strong three-point nights, but the third star goes to …

3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

The Predators received five power-play opportunities, including some 5-on-3 time. They fired 20 SOG on Crawford during the second period alone, failing to beat him during that frame.

Crawford ended Friday making 42 out of 43 saves in a goalie duel with Pekka Rinne (36 saves). Alex DeBrincat ended up scoring both of Chicago’s goals to grab an OT win for the Blackhawks. Crawford broke a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) with this splendid performance.

Highlights of the Night

Now, this is one strange goal credited to Leon Draisaitl:

DeBrincat broke loose for the OT-winner:

(This Petr Mrazek save ranks as a runner-up.)

Red Wings already eliminated and other factoids

  • The Red Wings became the first team to be eliminated before the trade deadline since the Penguins suffered that ignominious fate in 2003-04. Hey, at least that paved the way for better things for Pittsburgh, eh?  Getting mathematically eliminated in game 63 is the quickest boot-out since the 1995-96 Senators. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Colton Parayko has been a nightmare for the Stars this season. The big Blues blueliner collected one goal and two assists on Friday. Parayko increased his output to seven points (4G, 3A) in three games vs. the Stars in 2019-20.
  • Pavel Francouz celebrated his contract extension with a steady performance for Colorado with his first career shutout.
  • Spurgeon’s hat trick was of the natural variety. He became the 12th player listed as a D to score a natural hat trick. Justin Faulk and Dustin Byfuglien authored the most recent ones that preceded Spurgeon’s surge. (NHL PR)
  • The Rangers pushed their road winning streak to seven consecutive games, tying a franchise record. (NHL PR)
  • The Bruins fell behind the Flames 3-0 less than four minutes (3:23) into Friday’s game. Despite that, Boston ended up winning. This marks the seventh instance where a team fell behind 3-0 within the opening four minutes of a game, only to win. (NHL PR)

Scores

NYR 5 – CAR 2
NYI 4 – DET 1
CHI 2 – NSH 1 (OT)
STL 5 – DAL 1
BOS 4 – CGY 3
MIN 5 – EDM 3
COL 1 – ANA 0

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.