The Minnesota Wild, who finished only one spot out of the playoffs last season, looks to take the ice with a drasticly different team this year.
Head coach Jacques Lemaire announced he will not return to coach the Wild on April, 13 2009 and will be replaced by Todd Richards. Richards was once a professional hockey player, and since retiring from playing, has been the assistant coach of the Milwaukee Admirals and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL, as well as an assistant coach of the San Jose Sharks last NHL season. Richards looks to invigorate the team by transitioning from Lemaire’s defensive minded play style to a more aggressive, up-tempo style of play.
To carry out the transition, the team has decided not to resign wingers Stephane Veilleux and injury prone Marian Gaborik, but to replace them with veteran Petr Sykora and Martin Havlat. Sykora won the Stanley Cup last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, contributing 46 points in 76 games played in the regular season, as well as 1 assist in the 7 games he played in the playoffs. The high flying Havlat is coming off of a career high 78 points with the Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 29 goals in 81 games played during the regular season, with 48 assists and a very good +29 rating. In the playoffs he averaged just under a point per game with 5 goals, 10 assists for a total of 15 points in 16 games played.
The team has a solid core of players, with veterans Owen Nolan and Marek Zidlicky, young talented Brent Burns, and hard hitting Cal Clutterbuck. Just in case any rough stuff happens, the Wild also have heavyweight enforcer Derek “The Boogeyman” Boogard. The Wild were lead last season by center Mikko Koivu with 67 points; 20 goals and 47 assists in 79 games played.
Lastly, the team has goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom, who surprisingly only became the Wild’s starter in the ’07-’08 season after Manny Fernandez was traded to Boston. Backstrom has won the William M. Jennings (lowest goals against) and Roger Crozier Saving Grace (best save percentage) awards. Last season he went 37 wins and 24 losses in 71 games played. He was in the top 3 amongst goaltenders in all three categories of save percentage (.923%), goals against average (2.33) and shut outs (8).
The Minnesota Wild are a competitive team, who have seen the playoffs in 3 of their 8 seasons in the NHL. With a new coach, a new strategy as well as a few new stars among the team, this year they look to make it year 4. Look for the Wild to be fighting hard for the first place within the Northwest Division against the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.