There is not much to separate the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. The Blues have had better regular season success, but that’s about it.
Well, we’ve done it. We have finally reached the playoffs in terms of St. Louis Blues opponents.
Of course, that does not mean literally. I’m talking about teams that made the playoffs last season. Now, we focus on budding rival, the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild somewhat backed into the playoffs in 2015-16. They went 5-5 in their last ten games and lost five in a row.
Mainly, they made the playoffs because the Colorado Avalanche were even worse down the stretch. The Avs lost six in a row and were 2-8 in their last ten.
Not exactly a glowing review of the Wild. Still, they did not go quietly into the night in the postseason.
They put up a decent fight against the Dallas Stars. The Wild took the team with the best record in the Western Conference to six games.
Though their exit came in the first round, it was something to build off. The question now will be which direction they go in.
After firing current Blues assistant coach Mike Yeo, the Wild made John Torchetti the head man. Making the playoffs was not enough to get him the full-time gig and then Bruce Boudreau was swooped up after being let go by the Anaheim Ducks.
Boudreau is a fantastic regular season coach. He’s led his teams to several division championships and even some top regular season records. His postseason record leaves some things to be desired.
As touched upon, Boudreau may be the most important addition. What kind of style is he going to want to play?
Staal is still capable of putting points on the board, but it depends on what the Wild are expecting from him.
He is 31 and coming off his worst season since his rookie year. He has not put up 30 goals since 2010-11 and his point totals have been in decline the last four full seasons.
That is not to say he can’t have a decent season. The Wild need to temper expectations with him though as he is no longer a franchise type guy.
Blues fans know all about Stewart. The guy is an enigma.
He has the talent to score 20-30 goals per season and average close to 50 points per season. We’ve seen it happen.
He also likes to disappear. He won’t play with any consistent fire, doesn’t like to work game-in, game-out and is also known for being out of shape.
It’s curious the Wild would bring him back. They let him walk in the summer of 2015 because they knew all of this about him and then brought him back because…?
The contract they brought Stewart in on is a good one because it’s reasonably cheap. Outside of that, they better hope they get production from other people and pray Stewart comes in motivated.
If I was a Wild fan, the reason the Staal deal would scare me is because of what they just witnessed with Thomas Vanek. Vanek is gone now, but he came to Minnesota as a slightly diminishing player and could not live up to expectations.
Vanek was not a complete bust. He put up 52 and 41 points. The Wild brought him in for much more than that though and his 18 goals in 2015-16 kind of sealed the deal.
Don’t feel sorry for him though. Vanek signed a reasonable $2.6 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings, so he is not exactly hurting.
Minnesota fans will feel a little cheated if he comes up with a big year, but right now it is mainly met with a shoulder shrug.
Minnesota is in an interesting position. They have the talent still there to compete for the playoffs, but playing in the Central Division makes it tough to imagine them being any more than a wild card contender.
What makes their position interesting is their current roster makeup. They aren’t exactly old, but they are definitely in win now mode with the contracts they have given out.
Their current roster, not including goaltenders, averages about 28 for the age. However, their top five contracts all belong to players 31 or older and most of them are for significant length after this season.
They are also in a similar predicament to the Blues in that they are fairly close to the salary cap ceiling. They do have a little under $3 million in space, which allows them the freedom to make changes, but they won’t be massive ones without giving something up.
The Wild are hoping for a lot to go right in 2016-17. They need Staal to return to form, they need Stewart to be more than just a lump, hoping to get a repeat performance in goal and hoping their older guys keep up the pace they set last year.
If all that happens, you can pencil Minnesota in for a Wild Card spot. If any of it doesn’t, the Wild are going to be in a fight with teams like Colorado, Arizona and Calgary (maybe even Edmonton?) for the wild card spot.
The Blues and Wild have been separated by a razor thin margin over the course of their history. The overall record is currently 31-31-5.
The Blues have the edge this decade, but it was harder to find the wins consistently in the early 2000’s. To add insult to injury, one of the Blues biggest playoff letdowns ever came at the hands of a visually underwhelming Minnesota team.
The Blues barely edged out the Wild during the regular season of last year. They took the series 3-2, going 2-1 at home and 1-1 on the road.
It won’t be long for these two to renew their rivalry. The two teams face each other in the Blues’ home opener on October 13.
The two will next play at the Blues’ home on Saturday, November 26 and then it’s nothing but going north from there. The rest of the games are on the road on Sunday, December 11, Thursday, January 26 and Tuesday, March 7.
This year there will be a little extra spice between the Wild and Blues. The Blues current assistant and coach-in-waiting is Mike Yeo.
Yeo won’t be on the ice, but players usually know the score so to speak. Look for the Blues to try and win some for their future head man.