The Competition: Minnesota Wild

wild.gifI continue to wander through the Northwest Division with a gander at the plucky Minnesota Wild. (Read my take on the Avalanche here, the Canucks here and my most recent mildly salient thoughts on the Flames here.)

Potential 2007-08 Opening Day Roster
(Head coach: Jacques Lemaire)
* Again, I am not an “expert” on any of these teams, and have cobbled these rosters together from various lists, and compiled the depth charts from my own observations. Real experts, feel free to take me to town in the comments, and especially mention top prospects I’ve missed …

FORWARDS
Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Mikko Koivu, Mark Parrish, Brian Rolston, Eric Belanger, Branko Radivojevic, Wes Walz, Stephane Veilleux, Matt Foy, Steve Kelly, Dominic Moore, Derek Boogaard.

You’ve gotta give it up to the skillz on the top two lines of the Wild, though it’s also all about balance — which means an injury to any one of the Top 5 could be an absolute killer to this team. Gaborik is unstoppable when he’s healthy, and Demitra is as clever a player as exists in the league when he’s on his game. I like Koivu’s future, and Rolston is a skilled leader while Parrish is good if not great. Stick Wes Walz, Eric Belanger or Radivojevic on the top two lines with these guys, and you’re good to go.

But Gaborik or Demitra go down long-term, and you’re talking problems for this team’s offensive capabilities. From watching this team last year, it seems as though every player outside of Rolston and Walz is complimentary to another — there isn’t a guy who can go out there with any other two players and make things happen. This is especially true with the Slovaks: Demitra was good when Gaborik played. And that means your depth — especially with the forgettable dudes in this team’s bottom four or five — takes a big-time hit.

DEFENCEMEN
Kim Johnsson, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Keith Carney, Shawn Belle, Martin Skoula, Sean Hill, Petteri Nummelin.

I suppose these guys got the job done last year, but I’m not sure how. Johnsson’s the only puck-mover outside of Nummelin, who doesn’t get to play much because he isn’t a Lemaire guy (despite the deepest protests of my girl walkinvisible). Carney’s at the end of his career. Burns, Schultz and Belle are young but unspectacular. And Martin Skoula has a last name that sounds like a chocolate bar. (Skoula really satisfies!) Not sure what to make of the Sean Hill signing — is he really so reliable that he’s worth the 20-game suspension and “drugs” background? He’s good, but not irreplaceable. Man, I have no idea how this team got 100 points last year.

GOALTENDERS
Nicklas Backstrom, Josh Harding.

From watching him last season, I think Backstrom’s the real thing — I would have made the same call to dispatch Manny Fernandez. If he isn’t, I think Harding could be the real thing. Of course, none of that is proven, which would make me nervous if I were a Wild fan. There are certainly worse goaltending situations in the league, but they’re behind the Flames and Canucks in the Northwest to be sure, and probably on par with the Oil and Avs. Gotta be better than that to be a true contender.

FLAMES BLOG SAYS
I’m really psyched the Wild are going to those red retro-style jerseys full-time at home this season, but that’s not enough for me to start liking the team. The best word to describe them, even after their admission that offence exists last year, is plucky … and you’ve gotta be more than plucky these days to capture my interest, and capture real success. Lemaire is still a master tactician, and will win this team games each year. But Doug Risebrough still hasn’t brought together a group of players that can put a lot of wins together when it matters most. This might be a playoff team.

Predicted finish: Fourth.

WILD BLOGS
Weirdly, not a long list here, so feel free to forward any suggestions. I’m going to add the Northwest blogs I’ve found and like to the sidebar in short order.
Wild Puck Banter
Wild Hockey — A Guide for the Casual Fan
MN Wild Freak

NEXT: Edmonton Oilers

UPDATE: walkinvisible points out in comments that somehow I forgot to include the prematurely balding Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who’s no slouch despite his overused spinnerama move in the shootout. (He’s not on their official roster on the Wild website, but I now see he was scheduled for arbitration before agreeing on a one-year, $2.6 million deal a couple of weeks ago.) WI also observed that the Wild managed to contend last season despite being without Gaborik and Demitra for lengthy periods. Put the two together, and I forgot that the Wild were one of those teams last year who benefited greatly from the shootout — they were 17-8 in OT/shootouts, and were often accused late in the game of playing for a tie just to get Nummelin, Koivu and Bouchard out to finish things off. So the 104 points, I’d argue, sounds better than it actually was.

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~ by duncan on July 20, 2007.

8 Responses to “The Competition: Minnesota Wild”

  1. i see you neglected to mention PMB, who’s steady and solid, and is just starting to get the “emerging young guy” minutes he deserves. i agree that backstrom is a step above crazy manny and his smelling salts habit. i think this team has a whole lot of potential, but needs stronger coaching and –like you say– demitra and gaborik need to stay healthy. remember, though, last year they were still contending with gabby out for almost half the season….

  2. Jesus, how did I forget Bouchard? I should stop writing these things after drinking pints of beer.

  3. i think what a lot of people don’t GET is that the extra point in the shootout is as valuable as a straight win. what we’ll find, i’m sure, this year is that teams practice for the shootout, and the shootouts will go longer this year than they did historically. the fact that minnesota was one of the most successful shootout teams is a credit to them, and should be treated as such… 😉

  4. I totally agree that teams should practise the shootout, and four-on-four play, to maximize their regular season potential. It pissed me off to no end that Jimmy clearly didn’t make that happen last year.

    But unless there’s a sudden increase in playoff-series penalty-shot calls, that skill’s still going to be worth nothing come playoff time, and that’s the way it should be.

  5. Oh, don’t make me rant about shootouts again…math makes my head hurt 😛

  6. The problem I have with the Wild is they so obviously play for OT. I think it hurts them in the long run because their team doesn’t learn how to go for the jugular, and it showed in their playoff flame-out vs the Ducks this year.

  7. S/O victories skew things, predictively speaking, because they don’t contribute to goal differential (GD). If a team has a lot of wins, but a small GD, it typically means they have a small margin for error and are relying more on luck than on ability to get by.

    In the long run, that’s not the best strategy for success.

    It’ll be interesting to see how they do this year. They have a keeper in Koivu, who I really like, but not much beyond him, Rolston and the slovaks. And the latter two are made of glass.

    Plus, you’re right, their d-corps lacks a game changer. If Backstrom doesn’t prove to be the next Kipper-like revelation, the Wild likely won’t make it to the dance.

  8. About PMB: He’s prematurely bald, not balding. There’s not a natural hair left on his head. That combined with the fact that he’s 5’2″ makes me think he’s not getting a lot of action. Probably helps to be a professional athlete. Then again, he’s french-canadian. So I guess it’s a wash.

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