The Wild snapped a four-year playoff drought last spring when it pulled out a must-win game at Colorado to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Minnesota looks to build on that this season, albeit with a very different looking team. Following an offseason that was a far cry from 2012 when the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year deals, general manager Chuck Fletcher had to work to get cap compliant.
That led to the subtraction of four key forwards — Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard — and defenseman Tom Gilbert. The Wild signed veteran forward Matt Cooke and former Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard.
The Wild will be relying on the continued growth of youngsters Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Jonas Brodin and a solid base of veterans — Parise, Suter, captain Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville and goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
On Wednesday, the Wild begins a three-week training camp, which includes six exhibition games and a two-day getaway to Duluth, before opening the season Oct. 3 against the Los Angeles Kings.
As Mike Yeo heads into his third season, the Wild coach sat down with the Star Tribune for a Q and A:
Q: Will there be any system tweaks this season?
Yeo: Our fans will really enjoy this. We’re going to be more aggressive off the rush. We want to be more of a puck possession team, so it’s as simple as asking, ‘Who gets the puck after you have it?’ We’re going to have to execute better on the wall coming out of the defensive zone, execute better on our entries, but at the same time, with that, you’ve also got to make sure that you’re not just turning into a high-risk team and turning pucks over. So if you turn a puck over at the offensive blue line and they go down and score, then that’s not helping us. That’s not making us a better team. But we want to keep the puck. We don’t want to just give it up.
Q: That sounds like you’re saying you’ll be less “dump and chase?”
Yeo: I hate that people think that we’re a dump-and-chase team. It’s completely false. I count it as a turnover. If we dump the puck in and the goalie touches the puck, that’s a turnover for me. If it’s a pass into space where we can get the puck, then that’s a good play. It’s a bad play if we put the puck into a place where the other team gets it and we’re backchecking. But there’s going to be a focus for us to try to create more offensively off the rush. So our entries, we have to find ways to attack the zone with more speed, make more plays with support on our entries so we’re carrying the puck inside the blue line with the puck still on our stick. It’ll give us a chance to score more goals, but we’re going to have to be patient early in the year. It’s going to lead to mistakes and mistakes lead to scoring chances and goals.
Q: What’s your biggest question mark going into camp?
Yeo: Who’s on our team? (laughs) Who plays with who? Honestly, I’ve got about 1,000 different combinations right now. Every day I go in the office, my board changes about three times. Last year, with one week of camp, the purpose of our camp was to get guys together, to keep them together, to build chemistry. This time, it’s going to be very different. You’re going to see a lot of different guys playing with different people, guys playing in different positions, as well. Day 1 of camp is going to be one thing and Day 2 of camp is going to be something different — with some exceptions. Say, if Mikko, Zach and Pominville are a line Day 1 and have a really good day, then I’m probably not going to switch them up. But we have to figure out where we want guys and who’s clicking with who.
Q: Fair to say Coyle and Mikael Granlund are going head-to-head for the second-line center spot?
Yeo: I would say, yeah.
Q: What do you expect from Granlund after a disappointing rookie year?
A: He’s flying right under the radar this year, which is perfect. That’s fine. With young kids, with that kind of skill, you have to have some patience. Some of them find it right away, some of them, it takes them a little bit longer. And he’s got bigger adjustments to make than most because he’s been playing on the bigger ice surface, the type of game that he plays, the way that he’s been able to use the extra space, and with that extra time, it’s different here. We saw last year that it was an adjustment for him, it wasn’t exactly the easiest of situation for him to step into, but he’s a very talented kid. I’m hoping he comes in and is at his best right away, but if it’s not, I’m also at the point we have to give this kid a real good chance to see what he can get to.
Q: Fair to say Coyle and Zucker are on the team?