Wild training camp opens Friday, when players hit the ice for the first time to signal the start of what should be an interesting season. Three days after that, because the NHL is awesome and has figured out you don't need to skate around for three weeks to get ready, Minnesota plays at Winnipeg in its first preseason tune-up.
Coming off a season in which the Wild registered a franchise-best 106 points, and following an offseason that didn't produce too much roster drama, the assumption might be that there aren't a lot of questions heading into this year.
But that's not exactly true.
While there is certainly some stability within the core of the roster and this season feels more settled than last year did at this time, there are still plenty of things to sort out. Chief among them: What can we expect from the Wild's aging veterans?
The Wild went into last season leaning heavily on five veterans in particular: Zach Parise (who was coming off a back injury), Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Ryan Suter.
Parise, who had averaged 29 goals the previous three seasons, dipped to 19. Pominville, who was traded this offseason, scored just 13.
The other three players, though, produced at a level either at or above expectations. Staal had a team-high 28 goals in his first season here, Koivu had 58 points and was a strong two-way player and Suter was an All-Star defenseman while logging the most minutes on the team.
The temptation might be to pencil in similar performances from those last three guys while hoping for more from Parise, but that might not be wise.
Forwards are expected to start a sharp decline at age 32, per a study a couple of years back in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. Parise turned 33 in July. Staal is 32 now and turns 33 in a couple of months. Koivu is 34. If they start to show their age, the Wild could be in trouble.
The good news is that forwards start to ascend toward their prime starting at age 24 per that same study. Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are that exact age, while Jason Zucker is 25. They all produced last year and could do more this year to offset any declines from their older peers.
Still, if the Wild is going to do more than tread water, it will likely need big-time production again from those veterans. So they are fundamental to the One Big Question: Can the Wild not only sustain a place as one of the better teams in the Western Conference but also have that translate into playoff success?
Wild fans are painfully familiar with this line: Minnesota has reached the playoffs five years in a row but has never made it further than the second round in any of those five years. Last year felt like it could be different, but it ended with familiar — or even particularly painful — disappointment after such a strong regular season.
The NHL season is an 82-game grind, and the Wild will have to work just to get back in position to get in the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. If that task is accomplished, it will still be fair to wonder if this group — particularly offensively — has what it takes to go on a deep playoff run.
We'll start to unpack the answers soon.