This season, under any circumstances, was going to have a unique feel for the Wild.
A roster shake-up that shuffled veteran leadership and added a prized prospect — maybe two — to the lineup would have been the major topic.
But the temporary overhaul the NHL appears headed for during the coronavirus pandemic would double down on the changes facing the new-look team, setting the Wild up for a season unlike any other.
"This is a strange year," General Manager Bill Guerin said recently on a video call with reporters. "The good thing is that when we get back and when we get out on the rink and drop the puck, the game hasn't changed. It's the game of hockey, and that's the biggest thing.
"I don't think anybody is going to forget how to play. It's just a different schedule and a different time of the year. So, we'll deal with it."
Details on the 2020-21 NHL season are quite uncertain.
The league is reportedly aiming for a start date in mid-January after previously striving for Jan. 1, although that target continues to move depending on how COVID-19 cases trend and when other logistics get resolved.
And those issues could be tricky.
Travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada can be addressed through realignment and the creation of an all-Canadian division. There are seven NHL teams north of the border, and with quarantine requirements, teams would not be able to travel back and forth from the U.S. Having the Canadian teams in a new division is a solution, but divvying up the remaining teams into three regional sections may not be as easy.
For example, the Wild could be shifted west to compete against the likes of Vegas, Arizona and the three California squads. The team could also remain closer to home and fill out a division with others from the Midwest and/or east.
How clubs will compete is probably the tougher question; the NHL could implement hub cities with teams playing for a set amount of time before going home for a break. Traveling among each arena in the division is another option.
Either way, an abbreviated schedule would be necessary to finish the season in the summer and potentially pave the way for a regular, 82-game slate in 2021-22.
Perhaps the most contentious discussion between the NHL and its players will be the financial fallout of a season that presumably will start without fans in attendance.
Although the two sides did agree to a collective bargaining agreement extension in the summer that took the pandemic into consideration, Commissioner Gary Bettman recently has mentioned players likely having to make up the league's projected lost revenue.
Out with the old
Despite all this uncertainty, preparations are underway for the season.
Some players have started training at Tria Rink in St. Paul, and among the participants are forwards Nick Bonino and Nick Bjugstad, two acquisitions from the Wild's extensive offseason makeover.
Cam Talbot has taken over the No. 1 goaltending duties from Devan Dubnyk, who was moved to San Jose along with Ryan Donato. Eric Staal was also traded, getting flipped to Buffalo for Marcus Johansson, and Luke Kunin was sent to Nashville to land Bonino.
The Wild decided not to re-sign captain Mikko Koivu, who signed with Columbus.
Kirill Kaprizov is already in the Twin Cities as he readies for his long-awaited Wild debut, and he might not be the only rookie to start his NHL career next season if first-rounder Marco Rossi makes the team. The ninth overall pick in this year's draft was given the green light to represent Austria at the IIHF World Junior Championship later this month.
Other draft picks such as Adam Beckman and Matt Boldy have a chance to compete in the tournament, and Boldy is one of a handful of Wild prospects already playing. He, Nikita Nesterenko, Marshall Warren and Jack McBain are all at Boston College, and on Monday Boldy was named the Hockey East Co-Player of the Week. The team's 2019 first-round pick has three goals and five assists in eight games.
"That's a progression we want to see," Guerin said. "Matt had a great second half last year. He struggled the first half, but then he got acclimated. He got confident and a good second half, and then he picks up where he left off. That steady climb is exactly what you want to see."
'All in the same boat'
While team brass can get a read on the development of some youngsters, the staff will have to wait to see how the NHLers settle in after all the comings and goings.
Players might not get as much time as they usually would to jell since a shorter training camp is expected, yet another difference that could challenge the Wild when the NHL returns.
But Guerin isn't worried.
"We're all in the same boat," he said. "All the teams are going to be dealing with the same situations. It's really, 'Let's get back together for however long they give us, and we'll be ready to go.' If we start to overthink things like that, we're just going to be getting in our own head.
"Let's just get to training camp. We'll do what we have to do and be ready for the season."