The Wild faces an offseason of uncertainty after its streak of six consecutive years making the playoffs came to an end. General Manager Paul Fenton figures to be busy, and one of the biggest questions he must answer is this: What went wrong with the offense, and how can it be fixed?
First take: Michael Rand
The good news for the Wild — at least in the context of fixing a problem — is that it was extremely unlucky last season on offense. Hockey Reference shows the Wild, based on possession and shot quality, was expected to score 173 even-strength goals last season. Instead, Minnesota scored just 141.
Some of that has to do with personnel. But some is just bad luck that never evened out over 82 games.
Fenton seems to be banking a lot on the comfort level of some of the newer players leading to better production next year. He’d better be right. The Wild scored 2.85 goals a game in the first 46 games this season — right before Fenton’s first big move, dealing Nino Niederreiter to Carolina — and just 2.22 goals per game after that.
Sarah McLellan, Wild beat writer: No doubt there’s room for improvement from the current roster. Perhaps the newcomers do settle in and contribute more often.
Winger Ryan Donato made the most impact during his abbreviated time with the team, totaling 16 points in 22 games. But center Victor Rask had just two goals in 23 games, and winger Kevin Fiala had three in 19.
Such veterans as center Eric Staal and winger Jason Zucker could rebound after their production sagged. And the return of defenseman Matt Dumba and captain Mikko Koivu from injuries should also help. Still, it may take more than that to reignite the offense. Fortunately for the Wild, it has plenty of salary-cap space to maneuver with this summer.
Rand: Good points about Staal and Zucker. It’s easy to forget that those two guys combined for 75 goals two seasons ago but just 43 last year. That’s a huge drop-off.
Staal got the same percentage of shots through to the net last year as he did two years ago, but his goals were almost sliced in half. Maybe he was just snake-bitten?
Zucker, on the other hand, sure seemed like he was pressing during a year of constant trade rumors. Per Hockey Reference, a whopping 184 of his shot attempts were either blocked or missed the net. He actually fired 60 more shots last year than the previous year, but fewer of them were on goal. If he rebounds, though, will it be in a Wild sweater?
McLellan: That’s tough to predict. It’d make sense if the team wanted to hang on to a perennial 20-goal scorer who’s eclipsed 30, but Zucker was almost moved before the trade deadline.
Maybe management executes a deal in the offseason, and Zucker continues the departure of former core pieces — after Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund were shipped out in-season.
And since the team is targeting younger players with speed and skill, the trade market seems like the quickest way to add those characteristics to the lineup.
But maybe the Wild also explores free agency to acquire a proven scorer or two. Even though this team wants to embrace youth, experience also looks like a valuable commodity since it can help weather the growing pains.
Rand: At the very least, the Wild found an interesting solution to their playoff scoring woes this year!
Final word: McLellan
The offense is a major reason the Wild is idle right now. It’ll probably influence its fate next year, too.
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