Mathew Dumba

Previewing the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: If we are comparing the Wild right now to where they were at the beginning of the 2018-19 season it would be difficult to argue that they are better following the in-season trades of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle. But if we are comparing them to where they were at the end of the 2018-19 season they might be a little better. Mats Zuccarello is another big-money player on the wrong side of 30, but he is still good. Mikko Koivu and Matthew Dumba are returning after missing significant portions of the 2018-19 season. There is also some potential with younger players to maybe take a step forward. The important question is whether or not those improvements are enough to get them back in the playoffs and help them return to contention in the Western Conference.

Strengths: The top half of their defense is really good with Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Dumba leading the way. Suter is the biggest name and the one that gets most of the attention because he never seems to leave the ice, but don’t overlook the other two. Spurgeon just signed a seven-year contract extension to remain with the team and has been a criminally underrated player for most of his career. Dumba, meanwhile, brings a ton of offensive potential from the blue line and was in the middle of a breakout season until an injury sustained in a fight sidelined him for most of the season. Behind them they have an above average goalie in Devan Dubnyk serving as the last line of defense. When he is on his game, he can carry the team and has been one of the league’s most productive goalies since joining the team in them middle of the 2014-15 season.

Weaknesses: The Wild have a lot of really good veteran players and some young players that could become really good players. What they are lacking is great players. They don’t really have anyone that can be a difference-making, impact player that puts the team on their back for a game (or a stretch of games) and carries it. That kind of limits what your team’s ceiling is among the league’s hierarchy of contenders. The other concern is the age of the core. With Spurgeon now re-signed, they now have six players over the age of 30 signed for at least two more seasons. Several of those players are signed beyond the age of 35. How will all of those players hold up during those contracts?

[MORE: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Bruce Boudreau is entering his fourth season as the Wild’s head coach and is already going to be working with his third different general manager. That is kind of shocking, not only because the Wild have gone through that much change in their front office, but that the head coach has outlasted all of it. We will put his hot seat rating as a 6 out of 10. He does not have one foot out the door, but he is probably not totally secure, either.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Jason Zucker, Zach Parise, and Kevin Fiala are the three players worth keeping a close eye on this season.

One of the more bizarre aspects of Paul Fenton’s one year of error in Minnesota was his apparent burning desire to trade Zucker. He has not only been one of the team’s best two-way players and a popular member of the community, but Fenton was also trying to sell him at what was probably his lowest possible value. A similar move with Niederreiter went about as poorly as could have been expected, and repeating the same mistake with Zucker would have been crushing. As it stands now, Zucker is back in Minnesota and should be poised to have a bounce back year offensively.

Speaking of bounce back years, Parise went through one of his own during the 2018-19 season and saw pretty significant improvements in his production across the board. He is almost certainly never going to be a 40-goal, 90-point player again, but was his bounce back a one-year outlier in what has been a steady decline in recent years? Or can the Wild expect similar production this season?

Of all the players Fenton acquired during the 2018-19 season the one that seems most intriguing is Fiala. He is still only 23 years old, has already shown 20-goal ability in the NHL, and has some fairly promising underlying numbers to his game. He is a better player than what he showed immediately after the trade.

Playoffs or lottery: There is a short-term path back to the playoffs for this team, but a lot of things need to go right in order for that to happen. Realistic outcome is this looks like a team that finishes somewhere between 7th and 11th in the Western Conference. Not good enough to truly contend, but not bad enough to play its way into the highest draft lottery odds.

More
Do Wild have short-term path back to playoffs?
• 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.

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.

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.

Wild’s Dumba asked Boogaard’s family permission to wear No. 24

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Kind move here from Minnesota d-man Mathew Dumba, who will be switching from No. 55 to No. 24 this season:

Boogaard, who passed away in 2011 from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose, wore No. 24 in Minnesota from 2006-10 and emerged as something of a cult figure, thanks in large part to his pugilistic skills.

His jersey eventually became one of the Wild’s top sellers.

Two other players have since worn No. 24 for Minnesota — Martin Havlat and, most recently, Matt Cooke. Like Dumba, Cooke reached out to Boogaard’s family to get their blessing.

“The team told me they’re OK with me wearing it because Marty [Havlat] wore it after [Boogaard],” Cooke said, per the Star-Tribune. “I don’t really feel comfortable putting it on without his mum and dad’s blessing. I’ve sent emails off to them. I want to let them know that by putting it on I’m absolutely not doing anything disrespectful. It’s been my only number in the NHL, but at the end of the day, I don’t want anyone’s feelings hurt.

“I don’t want anyone to think that I am being disrespectful and I want to make sure I take care of that before I even entertain the thought of putting it on.”

Cooke was bought out of the final year of his deal last month, which paved the way for Dumba to inherit No. 24.

Leopold out, Prosser in as Wild look to avoid Chicago sweep

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The Minnesota Wild are making a lineup change in the hopes of living to play another day.

Veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold, who’s appeared in all nine playoff games thus far, will be dropped from the lineup in Game 4 against Chicago in favor of Nate Prosser, who’ll make his postseason debut.

Prosser appeared in 63 games during the regular season and finished with two goals and seven points. According to head coach Mike Yeo, Prosser will help the club on the penalty kill; it’s also worth noting Leopold was barely used in the Game 3 loss to the ‘Hawks, getting just 8:36 of ice time.

As for other lineup notes:

— Prosser looks like he’ll be on a pairing with Mathew Dumba.

Chris Stewart briefly participated in this morning’s skate, but looks like he’s still struggling with his upper-body injury and won’t suit up tonight.

— Projected lines, per the Star-Tribune: