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disappointed with how their 49-win team wilted over the final two months of this season, which ended Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in a 4-1 first-round playoff series upset at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues are a streaking team with a red-hot goalie. You can argue their physical style of play presented a bad first-round matchup for the Wild. The St. Louis coach, Mike Yeo, also might know a thing or two about the Wild’s personnel. However, even considering the Wild’s swoon in March, they still scored the second-most goals in the entire NHL in the regular season and had the seventh-best goals against average. A team like that should not lose three consecutive home playoff games to anyone. There’s no doubt that part of the Wild’s collapse was due to a deterioration in play by goalie Devan Dubnyk. But that’s what happens when you don’t have a backup goalie you can trust and you have to play your top guy almost every single night. It looked to me like he just wore down. The Wild absolutely need to address their goalie depth this offseason so they can keep Dubnyk fresh.
The Wild’s vaunted offense, which relied primarily on speed, finesse and puck movement completely evaporated against the Blues. Yes, Jake Allen played an awesome series in net for the Blues, and the Wild technically put a fair amount of shots on goal, but I don’t feel like the Wild were able to create a ton of truly good scoring opportunities. There’s a difference between flipping a wrist shot into a goalie’s chest and actually making the goalie work. The Wild had much more quantity than quality when it came to shots on goal.
This year was the Wild’s best chance since 2003 to make noise in the playoffs. With top-seeded Chicago losing in the first round to Nashville, this was a golden opportunity to make some hay. Sigh. With each fruitless season that passes, the Wild are in more and more trouble. The grim reality of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter contracts (which both run through the 2024-25 season and carry massive $7.5 million cap hits each year for players that are already starting to decline physically), combined with the NHL’s harsh salary cap structure, means this team is going have to make some very tough choices moving forward. Are they going to have enough cap room to retain Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund when they are due to be free agents? Both Coyle and Granlund established themselves as top-end players this season, and they are going to command big paydays very soon. Trading away a bevy of draft picks at the deadline to acquire Martin Hanzal and Ryan White looks foolish and panicky in retrospect, and losing the ability to acquire cost-controlled talent in the draft might end up hurting the Wild in the long-run.
I don’t blame Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher for going for it this season, especially considering the state of the team at the trade deadline. I’m sure he wouldn’t have made the move for Hanzal and White if he had known the team was going to go belly-up down the homestretch of the season, but hindsight is 20/20. The bottom line is that the Wild aren’t going to have many more chances to make deep playoff runs with their current core of players. Losing 4-1 in the first round is a cruel reminder of the fickle nature of hockey and “puck luck.” With each passing season, the Wild’s situation will grow increasingly dire, and they need to find a way to correct the issues that doomed them down the stretch this season before time runs out on their roster as it’s currently comprised.
Promising season ends in disappointment for Wild
After surging to the best record in the western conference through the first five months of the season, it’s almost inexplicable the degree to which the Minnesota Wild fell off in March and April. Whether it was fatigue, injuries or simple regression for a team that was playing over their heads, the Wild’s complete and utter collapse was noteworthy in a state where sports collapses are the norm. There’s no other way to put it – Minnesota Wild fans have every right to be bitter and
By Andy Thayer