As NHL teams are eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 18th edition focuses on the Minnesota Wild.
The resurgence of Eric Staal. Staal paced the Wild with 42 goals, the second-highest total of his career and his best since 2005-06. He became the second player in NHL history to record 40-goal seasons nine years apart. At 33, Staal is two years removed from his least productive season and one year into his three-year, $10.5-million deal.
Devan Dubnyk. After the Wild were knocked out of the playoffs in five games by the Winnipeg Jets, coach Bruce Boudreau didn't blame goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was pulled within the first 12 minutes of Game 5 for allowing four goals. Dubnyk had a good regular season by all accounts, with a 35-16-7 record, 2.52 goals-against average, and .918 save percentage.
Jordan Greenway's taste of the playoffs. Greenway scored his first postseason point in his first NHL playoff game and scored his first playoff goal a few days later in Game 3. Signed to an entry-level contract by the Wild soon after his NCAA season ended, the 20-year-old Boston University product - who also represented the USA at PyeongChang - played in the last six games of the regular season. These experiences can only help his confidence grow, and that’s a good thing for the Wild.
No Zach Parise or Ryan Suter. Suter fractured his ankle a few weeks before playoffs, and in what might have been the fatal blow to the team, Parise fractured his sternum in Game 3 and was out for the rest of the series. He'd scored in each of the first three games.
Scoring struggles. The Wild were shut out in their last two games against the Jets. After losing Parise, it seemed like their offense just dried up. They were overmatched in many areas, but their inability to generate any kind of offense after their 6-2 win was truly their undoing.
Matchup problems. Though the Jets outscored the Wild 16-9 in their first-round meeting, there were problems long before that. In the regular season, Minnesota went 1-3-0 against Winnipeg. Top scorers Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine gave the Wild fits all year and Minnesota's depleted blue line struggled to contain them in the playoffs.
Who will be the new GM? The Wild parted with general manager Chuck Fletcher shortly after their elimination from the playoffs. Fletcher had been GM of the Wild since 2009, and was responsible for signing Parise and Suter and hiring Boudreau. Brent Flahr, the senior vice president of hockey operations, will serve as acting interim general manager.
Where do they go from here? For the third consecutive year, the Wild failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Owner Craig Leipold said there won't be a rebuild, but it's hard to know what he does have planned since a new GM hasn’t been hired yet. That hire might determine their direction. The Wild should certainly focus more on drafting and development, since Minnesota hasn’t selected higher than 46th overall in six consecutive drafts and Fletcher decided to fill gaps in the lineup through free agency and trades.
Will everyone be healthy? One blessing in disguise from the Wild’s early playoff exit is the fact it gives injured players more time to recover. Aside from Parise and Suter, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter were plagued by lower-body injuries most of the year, and Jared Spurgeon tore his hamstring a month before the playoffs. The Wild didn't even play 10 games during the season with a full, healthy roster.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)