Ready for a change to help it compete deep into the playoffs, the Wild did get different results from an in-season transformation.
It failed to advance to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Such is the first impression of this new-look Wild roster, a lineup that, while marred by injury, was exposed as deficient. And that indictment only became clearer in the final weeks of the season, after management started its makeover by trading longtime NHLers Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter for potential up-and-comers Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato and Victor Rask.
“I think we would’ve been in the same position whether we would’ve made the moves that we made or not,” General Manager Paul Fenton said Tuesday.
So rather than scrap the plan to get younger, faster and more skilled, the Wild will continue to embrace it as it retools on the fly, a process Fenton believes can lead it back to the playoffs as soon as next season despite a glaring need for improvement.
“Let’s see what additions I make,” said Fenton. “But with the team that we have right now, getting healthy, yes, I do see us becoming a playoff team.”
Instead of making last-minute preparations for their first-round matchup as they did the past six seasons, Wild players descended on Xcel Energy Center to clean out their lockers while management pored over a 37-36-9 finish that was seven points shy of the playoff pace in the Western Conference.
Already, the front office has been reshuffled and Fenton is exploring replacements. He hasn’t discussed the coaching staff with owner Craig Leipold, but Fenton announced Bruce Boudreau will be back as head coach next season and said he’s sure the two will talk about an extension.
What seems unlikely to stay the same, though, is the roster after the team didn’t have enough depth to recover from injuries to defenseman Matt Dumba, captain Mikko Koivu and winger Zach Parise — absences that highlighted a scoring shortage.
Fenton didn’t specify what he’d target this offseason but acknowledged the Wild needs to bolster an offense that ranked 27th with 2.56 goals per game. And with approximately $18 million in cap space to maneuver, Fenton wants to smartly deploy that flexibility to bring in more youthful speed and skill.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Parise, who played despite a broken right foot and knee injury. “You can’t sugarcoat it right now. You look at how many times we got shut out in the year , the lack of scoring that we had at the end of the season. To just think that a switch is going to flip and we’re going to come back and start putting four or five in a game, I don’t know how realistic that is. We have some work.
“As individuals, we need a lot of improvement. And as a group, there’s just a lot of work to be done.”
While the impact from Rask, Donato and Fiala didn’t help the Wild extend its season, Fenton said he’s happy with the newcomers and sees the potential for growth in a player like Fiala after he had three goals in 19 games.
“I know that Kevin can be much better,” Fenton said. “I talked about him being a game-breaker. I think that got blown out of proportion. I’m talking about a guy that can make the game very hard for the opposition to play against in the offensive capacity, and I know that he will come back and be that player.”
Dumba (shoulder surgery) should be ready by training camp, and Koivu (knee surgery) hopes he will be, too. Their returns should boost the beleaguered offense.
But it’s how the team complements the holdovers that could decide whether it’s back in the playoffs next year or continuing its exile.
“Why did we get shut out 11 times?” Parise said. “Why did we feel like we got outplayed? Why did we spend what feels like the majority of our own game in our own zone and not get any time in the [offensive] zone? There’s a lot of things that really come into play — things that you can control as an individual but there’s also things teamwise that wasn’t working. All that stuff’s gotta be addressed. All that has to be figured out before you come into next year because you don’t want to come in thinking ‘Here we go again.’ ”