It’s been 10 years since there has been this much enthusiasm regarding the Wild.
Zach Parise has scored 15 goals. Ryan Suter leads the league in ice time and is tied for the league lead in scoring among defensemen. Mikko Koivu has been dominant. No goalie has won more games than Niklas Backstrom’s 19. Linemates Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi continue to run hot and rookies Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle have made significant impacts.
The Wild has the sixth-best record in the NHL (21-11-2) and is tied for the fifth-most victories.
With the trade deadline Wednesday, we recently asked for submissions on Russo’s Rants (www.startribune.com/wild) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/startribunemikerusso) for a Q and A. Here’s a taste:
Caferev: With the organizational depth at wing — and the proof we have that Jason Zucker can aptly fill the second-line role — do you see the Wild trading Pierre-Marc Bouchard?
A: Depends on the return. I can’t see them throwing away Bouchard. At the very least, Bouchard adds offensive depth if injuries occur. At the very most, Bouchard provides a point producer. A good test for Bouchard came in Saturday’s win against Los Angeles. The Kings are a big, physical team, and Bouchard played well and functioned in the dirty areas.
Ackster4: Are they going to get help on the blue line?
A: Depends on the price. A top-4 defenseman would be a nice upgrade, but the Wild’s not trading its top prospects and that’s who every team wants. Maybe experienced Brett Clark turns out to be that addition. He looked great vs. the Kings. I just wouldn’t get your hopes up for significant moves by Wednesday. GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo are very happy with the chemistry on this team and aren’t looking to mess with it too much. If something makes sense, Fletcher will pull the trigger.
Jdegree: Any chance they pick up a backup with some NHL experience?
A: Fletcher says he’s confident with the goalie situation. Josh Harding appears to be getting closer to a return, and if he isn’t ready, the Wild believes Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper can play in a pinch.
jackster4: Do they re-sign Cullen and Backstrom?
A: Fletcher says he will talk to both after the season. Both are important pieces. Cullen’s had an outstanding year, plays so many different roles and provides leadership. With the uncertainty that surrounds Harding’s future, Backstrom, to me, will be a priority. Cullen is 36, Backstrom 35. So term and salary will be key.
Nick Spacer: What’s the latest on Brett Bulmer?
A: Bulmer had a tough start in Houston, then dealt with injuries. He is back playing and clearly has a lot of development to do. The Wild is confident he is an important piece in the future.
Max Cecil: Given the salary cap is slated to go down to $64.3 million next year, what are the odds that Dany Heatley and his $7.5 million cap hit get amnestied during the offseason?
A: The Wild will have a decision to make. His salary next year is actually $5 million, which makes for a cheaper buyout to discard the hefty cap hit. Buying him out could open a roster spot for Zucker, Johan Larsson or Mikael Granlund and improve team speed and 5-on-5 play. But he still scores big goals and is a popular fixture in the room.
Handsomepainter: Why Justin Falk over Nate Prosser most games?
A: Falk is a left-shot D, Prosser a right-shot. Prosser is behind Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Tom Gilbert on the right-shot depth chart.
Markit8: What’s your impression of Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell?
A: The entire fourth line of Rupp, Zenon Konopka and Mitchell gives Yeo quality shifts nightly. They spend time in the offensive zone, they’re physical, Konopka wins draws, and Yeo trusts them defensively. Mitchell is sneaky skilled and fast and can slot up in lines. And it’s no coincidence the Wild’s turnaround coincided with the Rupp trade Feb. 5.
Joelbert: What is the brass’ opinion of draft picks Daniel Gunnarsson and Johan Gustafsson?
A: Both are playing well for Lulea in the playoffs. The Wild will talk to Gunnarsson, a 6-5 defenseman, after the season, but he’s in a good spot developing in Sweden. Gustafsson is planning to come to North America next year, but if Hackett and Kuemper are again in the minors, he may stay in Sweden.
Ctillhockey: Other than Matt Dumba, who is the Wild’s most promising non-pro prospect?
A: They have many but are real high on Tyler Graovac, who may become a 2011 seventh-round steal. He finished 10th in the Ontario Hockey League with 38 goals.
Megami: Who is the team MVP?
A: Suter. He plays half the game, his calming influence is contagious, he gets the puck out of the Wild’s end and he creates offense. He never gets caught running around. He’s a true Norris contender. In fact, the Wild could be contenders for several awards (Koivu and Parise, Selke; Brodin, Calder; Yeo, Jack Adams; Backstrom, Vezina).
Bstrom45: How far do you see them going into the playoffs?
A: I’ll just say, there’s something special about this team right now. They’re deep, getting good goaltending, is immersed with leadership and has established an identity. The chemistry on and off the ice is impressive. That can take you a long, long way.