The following is a guest post from Emilie who currently covers the Minnesota Wild for hockeywilderness.com.
The Minnesota Wild made a huge splash during the offseason of 2012 when they landed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Wild fans expected that General Manager Chuck Fletcher would lay low and not sign anyone during this offseason.
The Wild decided not to extend offers to Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and used one of their two buyouts on defenseman Tom Gilbert. They also traded forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Devin Setoguchi. In return, they added defenseman Keith Ballard and forwards Nino Niederrieter and Matt Cooke.
To people unfamiliar with the team, it would seem that the Wild have taken a few steps back this offseason. Many of the players that the team will be depending on this season are barely old enough to drink (in some cases, they actually aren’t).
Wild fans have reason to hope that the team going to be a good one this season however. The top line appears to already be set, and will feature team captain Mikko Koivu at center, with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville as his winger. Pomiville is looking to make a splash this season, and is already in close to signing a long-term contract extension with the Wild.
Youngsters Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Niederrieter, Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine will be fighting for what appears to be two, maybe three roster spots. Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell seem to be a lock for the checking line, so unless the Wild feel like getting rid of a traditional 4th line, the team will be looking for one winger and one center to play alongside veteran Dany Heatley.
Norris trophy nominee Ryan Suter will have his young, but extremely talented defensive partner Jonas Brodin for an entire season. While Brodin just turned 20 a few months ago, he managed to spend all of last season on the top pair with Suter, logging 30+ minutes multiple times, and actually improving Suter’s stats throughout the season.
The rest of the blue seems to be up for grabs. Mathew Dumba has been making quiet a case to make the team out of camp by having solid games and practices throughout training camp. Jared Spurgeon will be back after signing a contract extension over the summer, and mostly likely paired with Marco Scandella, who is fighting to make the team. Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner seem to be the most probably players to round out the Wild’s defensive line up.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom will be back for another 3 seasons after signing his own contract extension this summer. Backstrom, who stated many times during the last season that he wasn’t interested in playing for any team other than the Wild, actually took a bit of a pay cut despite being tied for most wins of the season for a goalie.
The coaching staff is still debating how they plan to split the goaltending duties this season. Josh Harding has worked hard and managed to keep his MS under control, and is looking to play more than a few games here and there. Most likely the Wild will stick with a somewhat even tandem, although Backstrom will start more games overall.
Last season was the first step in a long journey for the Wild. After being written off for many years, they jumped back into the playoffs and will be looking to do the same this season. If they fail to make the playoffs, coach Mike Yeo will most likely be out of a job once his contract expires at the end of this season. The most likely scenario is that the Wild make it into the playoffs as a wild card with a first round exit again.