Minnesota Wild Offseason Outlook
Okay, I have been sulking for too long. It has nearly been two weeks since the Minnesota Wild lost in overtime to the defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks; and since then I have been in a funk, staring hopelessly at my wall; muttering a phrase that consists of Patrick Kane, and a few profanity words that do not need to be repeated.
Now two weeks later I am being very optimistic, I am excited for the Minnesota Wild to hit the ice come this fall, but there will be a few things they (Chuck Fletcher) need to address this off-season in order to get back to the playoffs, and make a legitimate run at the Cup.
First thing first, address the goalie situation. It was a game of Russian roulette last season in net, either Josh Harding, Nikalas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, Ilya Bryzgalov; and heck, even John Curry got some action, and all but Backstrom showed some level of competency in net. It might be time to just tell Harding "Hey you were a great story but it is time for you to hang up your pads", that might be a tough thing to do, given that Harding is still under contract for next season; however it is difficult for a team to plan for next season when they do not know whether a player will be able to get on the ice at all because of medical issues. Also Backstrom, even with all the praise Fletcher gets for making this franchise into a contender, he should be ashamed for handing out that three-year $10 million contract to Backstrom last off season, and to repay Fletcher for that contract, Backstrom went 5-and-11 with a .899 save-percentage which is a career low. Backstrom who is now a 36-years-old goalie is on the downside of his career, and cannot be expected to start over 60-games in a season, so this issue needs to be solved by trading Backstrom for a bucket of pucks.
So with Illya Bryzgalov leaving via free agency, but before saying goodbye to Illya, lets thank him for stepping up big when Kuemper got injured late in game seven of the first round against Colorado Avalanche. Howeve,r Illya is not in the future plans for the Wild, and he to is on the downside of his career. It is time for Fletcher to find a suitable option in net. Darcy has shown flashes that he can become exactly what the Wild need in net, however he also has shown signs that he can become a sieve in a matter of seconds. What the Wild need to do is get Harding to retire, somehow find a dumb enough partner to take on the $7.5 million that is left on Backstrom contract. (See later section where I fix the Wild goalie situation).
Next the Wild need to get another scorer; another skater that can actually skate (sorry Danny Heatley), Jason Zucker has at times shown the shoot-first mentality that lacks throughout this roster, however Zucker has not been able to maintain a certain level of skill to warrant a full-time spot on this roster. Nino Niederreiter has stepped up this last season/postseason; and Nino has that scorers mentality that the Wild desperately needs; however the Wild need more Nino's and less Mikko Koivu's (I will get to Mikko later). It seems that Wild fans will be once again on free agency watch this summer when ex-Gopher Thomas Vanek hits the open market, and all signs point to Vanek returning to the Twin Cities, however I would pump-the-breaks on the Vanek train just for a moment
Take these two players, Player A, Player B: (Stats through their first nine NHL seasons)
Player A: 325 goals, 364 assists, 689 points, in nine seasons had a +/- of 69.
Player B: 277 goals, 279 assists, 536 points, in nine seasons had a +/- of 51.
Player A is Danny Heatley, and Player B is Thomas Vanek. Vanek is just finishing his ninth season, while Heatley just finished his 12th season. Here is the thing to keep in mind is, after Heatley finished his ninth season, he came to Minnesota and piled up 47-goals and 55-assists in 194-games in Minnesota. If you take away Heatly's three seasons in Minnesota then Heatly would have an average of 30-goals a season, but in Minnesota he had an average of 15-goals-per-season. So after Heatley turned 30 his numbers dropped off the map, Vanek just turned 30, so dishing out millions for Vanek should be thoroughly thought thru, because when you put these two players statistic together you can see that Heatley's numbers were a lot better up to the age of 30. I understand these two players are not similar but age catches up to everyone, and after the age of 30 it can happen in a matter of seconds, so buyers-beware. This summer when Vanek hits the open market I would be very hesitant on handing out a big contract, but instead I would give a smart deal that won't handcuff this franchise.
Mikko Koivu, where to begin? How about this, where has he gone? in 48-games last season (2013) Koivu lit the lamp 11 times, this season (2013-2014) in 65-games he lit the lamp only 11 times. Okay, I know injuries might have slowed him down, but at age 31, you have to ask "how much is left in the tank?" It is time to either make a change internally, or cut bait. First I would do this take away the captaincy, I know that might be tough; however this team is Zach Parise's now; it has taken on Zach's persona. Put the A that Zach has on Mikko's sweater and move on. But if Mikko has a problem with it then cut bait with him, which is trade him. By the time next season is over Mikko will be 32, with still four years $27.19 million left on his deal, also when Mikko is 34/35 years of age he will be making over $9 million, which is ludicrous. Here is what I would do, kill two birds with one stone. Trade Koivu for Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is a champion that has faltered under the eminence pressure in Pittsburgh and a change of scenery might just be what Fleury needs in order to turn around his career. This probably won't happen unless the Wild throw in a prospect or two, but if they want to address the goalie situation and get rid of some dead weight I would do this trade. Mikko is a third line center now, but is playing a top-six forward minutes. Fleury will be a free agent after next season, but by shedding Mikko contract the Wild can easily afford a big contract extension to Marc-Andre. This trade will help both teams, by giving the Wild a top end goalie while the Penguins can move on and rebuild their roster after five years of mediocre play in the playoffs. If this trade comes to fruition, I would hold off on a contract extension to Fleury until he shows the state of hockey that he can play at a high level when the playoffs start.
If I was Fletcher and coach Yeo, and could wave a magical wand and have my ideal lineup it will be like this
1st-line LW-Zach Parise C-Mikael Granlund RW-Jason Pominville
2nd-line LW Nino Niedereiter C-Charlie Coyle RW Thomas Vanek (On a team-friendly contract)
3rd-line LW Matt Cooke C-Matt Haula RW-Jason Zucker
4th-line LW-Brett Bulmer C-Zach Phillips RW-Justin Fontaine
This lineups gets ride of Mikko, and Kyle Brodziak, but becomes younger and more explosive lineup
1st-line D D-Ryan Suter D-Jonas Brodin
2nd-line D D-Jared Spurgeon D-Marco Scandella
3rd-line D D-Clayton Stoner D-Mathew Dumba
Dumba needs to be on the Wild roster next season, while Marco and Jared improved a lot this season while Stoner became a completely different player this season.
The Wild are ready to make a run at the Cup, but first they need to address a few areas of concern like goalie. Besides Ryan Miller, there is not a plethora of top-notch net-minders, which is why I say trade for Fleury. That would give the Wild the goalie they have been craving for since, well ever. Another thing is resign Mike Yeo; he deserves it, even tho just five months ago it seemed as if he was on the way out; but Yeo has grown into a quality coach over the past few months. Also the Wild need to get a scorer (maybe Vanek) and another decent defense-men, which Dumba can provide if given the chance to grow into the player he is projected to become. Next season will be very entertaining, and hopefully ending with a parade in downtown Saint Paul next June.