General Manager Chuck Fletcher and his group of advisers and scouts have done a great job of collecting talent over the last four years. Except for incumbent veterans Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella, this roster has been largely overhauled since 2009. The team has drafted well which has resulted in rostered youngsters Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Darcy Kuemper and up and comers Brett Bulmer, Tyler Cuma, Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Brian Connelly. They've also made some good trades and signings since 2009 adding solid depth in Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine and Torrey Mitchell and added scoring punch in trades for Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter. And of course I have to mention Charlie Coyle. He's still a bit inconsistent, but he finds a way to make a difference in the game. He's averaging over 17 minutes a game which is fourth among forwards for the Wild. All of these positives and yet, this years Wild team sits in the eighth and final playoff spot and is flirting with missing out on the postseason yet again. So where has it gone wrong this year?
A look at some very crucial stats points us in a couple of directions. First: the stats. There are some good numbers here. The Wild are 8th in the league in goals against per game with 2.38. They have the 13th ranked powerplay this year, clicking along at 18.7%. They have great discipline, averaging just 9.5 penalty minutes a game, putting them 6th in the league in that category. Now the telling numbers. While Minnesota doesn't sit in the penalty box very often, when they do they pay for it. They rank 29th in the NHL with a penalty kill rate of 79.8%. For a team who goes to the penalty kill so rarely, they must improve their kill percentage so the occasional call doesn't sink them. And although they do a great job of keeping the puck out of their net, they struggle to put it in their opponent's as they sit in 26th position in league scoring with 2.32 goals per game. In short, they have to improve their penalty kill and find a way to put more pucks in the net. It doesn't help that Captain Mikko Koivu has already missed six games and will miss more while he's on injured reserve due to ankle surgery. Zach Parise is also out with a foot injury, the amount of games he's missed is at 13 and counting. It is nearly impossible to overcome losing your top two offensive threats. It forces other players to take on different roles and responsibilities and play above their skill sets. Yet, Minnesota has found a way to stay competitive in a very tough Western Conference.
This Wild squad needs to catch a break and if Koivu and Parise aren't available for their respective countries in the Olympics it will be a shame, but may provide a much needed boost for their NHL team. Don't let this years downward swing fool you, this Minnesota team is good and when they get healthy and some of their young talent becomes a little more seasoned they are going to be a team to contend with for years to come. Hopefully Koivu and Parise make full recoveries quickly and this energetic lineup can keep pace long enough to keep them in playoff contention.