Three NHL teams have made it to the postseason each of the past six seasons: the Wild, Ducks and Penguins. That’s a badge of honor in some respects for the Wild, but it also speaks to opportunities missed (particularly when considering the Penguins have hoisted two Stanley Cups in that time).
On the eve of the preseason, how can the Wild — with two trips to the second round and four first-round eliminations to show for its postseason streak — change the narrative?
First take: Michael Rand
Going into the offseason I thought a major roster shake-up was the only way things would turn out differently, and I had expectations new GM Paul Fenton would make major deals.
In the surprising absence of any major move (for now, at least) the Wild’s best hope is a familiar one: Achieve improvement from within.
This team has not had a bona fide homegrown star emerge since Marian Gaborik. The Wild needs someone like Matt Dumba, Mikael Granlund and/or Jason Zucker — preferably all three — to make a major leap.
Wild beat writer Sarah McLellan: Staying healthy will be key, too. Clearly, this is an unpredictable factor and no team is immune from injury.
But it’d sure be interesting to see what the Wild’s potential is if it’s consistently at full strength — especially after it willed itself to 45 wins and more than 100 points last season while being regularly shorthanded.
No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter is nearing a return after suffering a severe ankle injury in March, and top-six winger Zach Parise is healed up after he was knocked out of the playoffs with a fractured sternum.
How those two players re-establish themselves in the lineup could help set the tone for the Wild.
Rand: This all sounds like a lot of if, if, if. Hoping for breakout performances and/or improved health are straight out of the past Wild playbook and didn’t necessitate firing Chuck Fletcher in favor of Paul Fenton.
It’s concerning that some advanced stats suggest the Wild overachieved last year even in the context of its injuries. So I still think Fenton will need to pull off some major in-season moves to convince this fan base — and more important some of the key players in the Wild locker room — that this year can be different.
McLellan: That possibility certainly still exists.
Fenton feels he needs to watch the lineup in action before making a reasonable evaluation, so if the Wild struggles, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started to retool the roster.
Significant trades usually go down in the offseason, but shake-ups during the schedule can happen.
Maybe, though, the Wild gets a spark from someone already in the mix but still relatively new — like rookie Jordan Greenway.
Rand: I can see a path to success, and it helps that so many of their indefinitely “young” players are finally in their prime years — a key identifier for success in the NHL.
But you’ve only had to cover one of those six playoff defeats. Wait until you get jaded like the rest of us!
Final word: McLellan
Optimism still seems fair, though.
Either this version finally figures out how to translate its regular-season success to the playoffs, or change probably hatches a different approach. After all, that expectation was put in place once Fenton was hired.
So one way or another, answers should arrive this season. And that, ultimately, is vital in moving this team closer to a Stanley Cup.