Four months of hiatus, three weeks of training camp and a week of playoff games boiled down to a fateful 11 seconds for the Wild on Friday night. When Chris Tanev’s shot from the point found its way past a screened goalie Alex Stalock, the Vancouver Canucks had a qualifying series-clinching 5-4 victory in the Edmonton bubble.
Quick as a hiccup, the Wild’s postseason stay was over, a four-game ouster that started so promisingly with a Game 1 shutout but finished like every other, beginning with the second round in 2015. Since beating the St. Louis Blues in six games that year, the Wild has posted a 5-19 postseason mark with one non-playoff season.
This postseason outcome shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone following this team. The Wild was the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference, and that status was earned by an inconsistent regular season. Any playoff success would have been a bonus.
The positive to take away is that General Manager Bill Guerin had the chance to see this team in a tournament situation in which he can judge what’s working and what must be improved. Since Guerin took over last summer, his biggest moves have been trading Jason Zucker and replacing coach Bruce Boudreau with Dean Evason. Expect the GM to be active in trying to improve the Wild into a team with staying power in the playoffs. Here are some areas that need his attention:
The goalie situation
A changing of the guard during the regular season saw Alex Stalock take over as starter in place of Devan Dubnyk, who missed time to deal with his wife Jenn’s serious medical issue. Stalock, 33, finished 20-11-4 with a 2.67 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. Against the Canucks, he opened the series with a 28-save shutout before allowing 12 goals over the final three games. Dubnyk, 34, didn’t play in the postseason and was 12-15-2 with a 3.35 GAA and .890 save percentage in the regular season.
The Wild wants to improve in goal, and an in-house option could be Kaapo Kahkonen, who had a league-best 25 wins and seven shutouts for Iowa of the AHL this season. Might Guerin buy out Dubnyk and his $4.3 million salary cap hit to make room for Kahkonen? That’s an option, as is free agency. Washington’s Braden Holtby and Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom are among the top starters who have the chance to hit the market, though they would drive a high price.
Seeking a center
Veteran captain Mikko Koivu hasn’t announced if he’ll retire or keep playing, but the season certainly had a farewell tour feel for the 37-year-old. “When you think of the Minnesota Wild,’’ Dubnyk said Sunday, “you think of No. 9.’’ Koivu ended up as the fourth-line center down the stretch and in the postseason, and Nico Sturm is a candidate to take that role if Koivu leaves. Still, Guerin could use an upgrade in the middle for many reasons, including faceoffs. Vancouver was plus-26 on draws in the series, exposing a Wild weakness.
What about Parise?
Guerin nearly shipped Zach Parise to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline, but the deal fell through and the popular Minnesota native finished his eighth season with the Wild by leading the team with 25 goals. Parise, who had no goals and three assists in the qualifying round, wants to win a Stanley Cup and waived his no-trade clause to pave the way for an Islanders deal. It’ll be interesting to see if Guerin circles back to a Parise trade, with the chance to get relief from the five years of a $7.5 million salary cap hit remaining for a player who’s productive yet recently turned 36.