July 9, 2012; St. Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise (left) and defenseman Ryan Suter (right) laugh during a press conference at the Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Did The Wild Address Teams Biggest Problem?

The 2011-2012 Minnesota Wild finished the season out of the playoffs at 81 points and finished fourth in the Northwest Division.  The Wild started very fast last season and around week 12 of the season the team was 20-8-5.  The Wild appeared to be on their way to the playoffs and were considered one of the top teams in the NHL, but they ended the season with only 35 wins. Minnesota had 98 points during the 2007-2008 season, but have not had more than 89 points since.

What happened to the Wild last year and with their big offseason moves this year, did they manage to plug the necessary holes?

Mar 27, 2012; St. Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Dany Heatley (15) carries the puck during the first period against the New York Rangers at the Xcel Energy Center. The Rangers deafeated the Wild 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Last season the Wild ranked last in the NHL (30th) in goals per game, averaging exactly 2.0.  One very big disappointment for the Wild last season would be right winger Dany Heatley.  Heatley did lead the team in points, but only had 24 goals on the season.  Heatley at one point with Ottawa had back to back 100+ point seasons.  Heatley, however, has decreased in point totals since his high of 105 in the 2006-2007 season with Ottawa.  The Wild traded Martin Havlat to acquire Heatley from San Jose on July 3, 2011, but prior to the trade Heatley’s point total had gone down to 64 during the 2010-2011 season.  The epic failure of the Wild offense can not be blamed on Heatley alone, but the Wild were expecting more offensive production from him especially on the power play, which ended up ranked 27th in the league.

While goaltending was not horrible for the Wild last season, who ranked 13th overall in goals against at 2.6, I am not sure what to make of the Wild’s goaltenders.  Matt Hackett, in his first year in the league, lead the Minnesota goaltenders at 2.38 GAA and had a team leading .922 save percentage, but he also only played in 12 games.  Goaltenders Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding split the majority of the time between the pipes.  Although older, Backstrom has the same amount of NHL experience as Harding at 6 years.

FEB 28, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) makes a save in the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-US PRESSWIRE

Both Backstrom and Harding basically hit their exact career numbers for save percentage and goals against average, which you would think would lead the Wild to believe they would receive the same production in 2012-2013 from each.

The Wild signed Harding to a three-year extension and with Backstrom in the last year of his contract it would lead you to believe Harding may be the goaltender of the future unless Hackett is able to impress, and end up winning the job in the future.  Either way I do not see all three getting significant playing time and could see Hackett getting experience in the minor leagues for at least one more year.

With very poor offensive numbers and mediocre goal tending the defense should be expected to struggle also for a team not making the playoffs.  The penalty kill was middle of the pack ranking 15th at 82.1%.  Plus/Minus is not a full story of a defenseman, but it is one of the big stats defensemen are judged by and the Wild had several defensemen with poor plus/minus ratings who also saw considerable ice time including:

Jared Spurgeon

Played in 70 games and averaged 21:36 on ice per game and ended with a -4 rating

Marco Scandella

Played in 63 games and averaged 21:47 on ice per game and ended with a -22 rating

Nick Schultz

Played in 62 games and averaged 19:36 on ice per game and ended with a -10 rating

These were just a few of the defensmen, but their ice time ranked at the top for the Wild.

Going into the 2012-2013 season it seemed obvious the Wild needed scoring and defensive help.  On one day the Wild may have taken care of both when signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to 13-year contracts.  Parise’s 69 points for the New Jersey Devils would have led the Wild last season.  Outside of the unbelievably long contract, Parise should help the Wild’s offense and add more punch to their power play if he can return to 2008-2009 form when he had 30 points on the power play for the Devils.

Ryan Suter should help shore up the Wild’s defense, which does have a number of defenders under 25 years old.  Suter played in 79 games for the Nashville Predators and ended the season with a +15 rating.  Suter was also able to add 46 points for Nashville and may be someone who can also help the Wild on both special teams.

While the additions of Parise and Suter are going to help, are they really enough to get the Wild in the playoffs?  Parise had very good years in New Jersey from 2008-2010 scoring a total of 176 points in the two seasons, but Parise only played in 13 games during the 2010-2011 season due to injuries before bouncing back with 69 points during the 2011-2012 season.  You have to wonder how much of Parise’s success revolved around being with the New Jersey Devils, who consistently make the playoffs and made it to the Stanley Cup finals last season, and where he was the captain.  Can Parise produce on a team where he is not the outright leader, and one where he has no chemistry with his line mates?  Similarly how much of Suter’s success can be linked to playing with fellow defender Shea Weber while in Nashville.  Will Suter have the same success when he will be considered the veteran and top defender for the Wild?

I think getting the two players was great for Minnesota, but the contracts seemed to be out of desperation due to the length and dollar amounts.  Even with the additions I still do not see Minnesota having a #1 goaltender at this time.  I can see improvement for the Wild this season with the possible jump to 90 or 95 points, but it may not be enough to make them a significant threat in the playoffs.






Tags: Dany Heatley Minnesota WIld Niklas Backstrom Ryan Suter Zach Parise

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