It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Minnesota Wild
How they did last season: 38-33-11 (87 points) 5th in the Central, 8th in the Western Conference. Made the playoffs as the second wild card team, lost in the first round to the Dallas Stars in six games.
Notable acquisitions: C Eric Staal, RW Chris Stewart, head coach Bruce Boudreau
Notable departures: LW Thomas Vanek
When they will play the Caps: March 14 in Washington; March 28 in Minnesota
Analysis: The biggest problem the Minnesota Wild have faced in recent years is the unrealistic expectations that came with the 2012 offseason when the team signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both players are great additions, but have not brought the Wild to the heights management seems to have expected. Minnesota did manage to reach the second round of the playoffs in 2015 thanks to the heroics of goalie Devan Dubnyk, but the roster clearly lacks the talent to compete among the top teams in the Western Conference.
The Wild made few offseason changes to the roster electing instead to shakeup the coaching staff. This year, Minnesota will be lead by Bruce Boudreau who is taking over his third NHL team. Boudreau’s time in Anaheim played out in much the same way as it did in Washington. After strong showings in the regular season, the Ducks were unable to live up to expectations in the playoffs. Boudreau changed to a more defensive oriented system in 2015-16, but the postseason results were the same.
Minnesota will be an interesting task for Boudreau as it is the weakest of the three rosters he has taken over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a Toronto or a Vancouver, but compared to the rosters he inherited in Washington and Anaheim, this will be a much more difficult task.
Eric Staal will go from the scrap heap in New York to playing center on the top line for Minnesota. And he is also the team’s biggest acquisition this offseason. So you can see, Boudreau isn't exactly dealing with an all-star roster here.
For the first time, however, Boudreau will have a clear No. 1 goalie in Dubnyk. After buying out the contract of Thomas Vanek, Minnesota also has over $2 million in cap space so there is some flexibility there. This is also a team that reached the playoffs last season.
The Wild are not starting from scratch, but a roster built around Parise, Suter and Dubnyk doesn't stack up in the deep Central Division.
Season prediction: If you’re going to make a coaching change, you could do a lot worse than Boudreau. But if the Wild are hoping to find more postseason success, that’s something that needed to be addressed on the roster and not with a coach who has consistently struggled in the playoffs.
Let’s face it, as good as Parise and Suter are, they are not enough to make this team major postseason contenders. That’s a truth the Wild have been unwilling to acknowledge for four years. Boudreau is a great coach and perhaps could reignite Staal’s offensive numbers, but to what end? Are Boudreau and Staal enough to put Minnesota on the same level as Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville or Dallas? I seriously doubt it.
The Wild look like a clear playoff team, but not a contender.
MORE HOCKEY: CAPS REFUTE OVECHKIN INJURY RUMOR
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)