Down the middle is where questions remain for the Wild
This post is part of Wild Day on PHT...
There’s no exact formula for winning the Stanley Cup, and every team that does win has a perceived roster deficiency that has to be overcome. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins and their much-maligned blue line.
That being said, here are some centers that have won the Stanley Cup in the past decade: Sidney Crosby (twice), Jonathan Toews (three times), Anze Kopitar (twice), Patrice Bergeron, and Pavel Datsyuk. All five of those guys will be in the Hall of Fame one day. And we didn’t even mention Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Henrik Zetterberg, Ryan Getzlaf, and David Krejci. They all won Cups as well. Some of them will be in the Hall of Fame, too.
So while there’s no exact formula, an important element sure seems to be an elite center, or maybe even two.
Which brings us to the Minnesota Wild. According to Sports Illustrated, the Wild’s top center, Mikko Koivu, ranks 28th out of 30 among each NHL team’s top centers. Feel free to disagree with that ranking, but even Thomas Vanek conceded last season that the Wild “maybe don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”
The Wild aren’t alone in that regard. Good teams like the Blues and Rangers have lacked that Hart/Selke-caliber center. It’s not easy to get one. The Toronto Maple Leafs feel they finally have one again, but they had to finish dead last to get him.
Consider the reason Eric Staal signed with the Wild this summer. He was once considered an elite center. Won a Cup in Carolina back in 2006. Won gold with Canada at the 2010 Olympics.
“He wanted the opportunity to be the Eric Staal that he was in the past,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “And I told him he would definitely get that chance here.”
Koivu, 33, and Staal, 31, are expected to start the season as the Wild’s top two centers. Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle are also options, but they’ll likely start on the wing.
“It was funny,” GM Chuck Fletcher told The Star Tribune. “I [asked Granlund], ‘How do you like playing wing?’ He says, ‘God, it’s easy. You don’t have to play defense. All you do is have the puck, you make plays, you get points, everyone thinks you’re great.’ He was laughing.”
Granlund is right; it’s hard to play center. Lots of responsibilities, at both ends of the ice. It’s why Steven Stamkos has at times been moved to the wing in Tampa Bay. Head coach Jon Cooper thinks Stamkos expends too much energy working down low in his own end.
It’s also why Wild fans are excited about prospects Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin. They’re both centers who could one day be in the top six.
And it’s also why there have been trade rumors involving the Wild and Edmonton center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Minnesota has some good, young defenseman that might interest the Oilers, but is Fletcher willing to give up a player like Matt Dumba or Jared Spurgeon? That remains to be seen. Nugent-Hopkins may have been the first overall draft pick in 2011, but he’s had trouble staying healthy and had just 34 points in 55 games last season -- hardly elite numbers.
Unfortunately for Fletcher, elite centers just don’t hit the trade market very often. Tyler Seguin was traded, and the Dallas Stars thank the Boston Bruins for doing so. Ryan Johansen was traded, but the price was Seth Jones.
In the meantime, all the Wild can do is their best with what they’ve got.
“The fact that we didn’t have to sacrifice any of our young defensemen to fill these holes is important,” Fletcher told NHL.com. “I think the strength of our team remains the strength of our defense core.”