The Minnesota Wild earned the first Wild Card seed in the competitive Western Conference, placing 7th overall in the conference and were 9 points back of Chicago for an automatic birth from the elite Central Division. Their 43-27-12 record and 98 points was good for 11th overall- sandwiched between the eventual Stanley Cup finalists in the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers.
The playoffs were successful for this Wild team. In a first round series against the Colorado Avalanche, no team won a road game until Minnesota scored in overtime of game 7 in the Mile High city to knock off the favored Avs. As the biggest underdogs of round 2, the Wild played up to the level of the defending-champion Chicago Blackhawks and lost in overtime on home ice of a hard-fought six-game series.
In year two of the Parise-Suter era, the Wild were looking to make a jump after being outclassed by the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. The Wild had a great combination of youth and experience on its roster heading into the season with Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, and Nino Niederreiter insulated by a talented veteran group of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville. If the goaltending tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding could be reliable between the pipes and young players could do their part, Minnesota could compete in the Central Division and improve on their postseason performance from last year.
- On July 1st, Danny Heatley became a UFA, meaning his $7.5 million cap hit and $5 million salary are now off the books!
- After being acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline last season, Jason Pominville proved that he was more than just a rental. With 30 goals and 30 assists, Pominville led the team in goals and points.
- With both Parise and Suter signed until 2024-25, the Wild have certainly invested a lot in the star duo. But for this season at least, the investment certainly paid dividends. Although he missed 15 games, Parise still managed to put up 29 goals and 27 assists for 56 points. He also had 14 points in 13 games during the playoffs. As for Suter, he certainly looked like the defensive stalwart Minnesota thought they were getting when they signed him. He has turned into one of the best two-way defensemen in the game and was second on the team in assists with 35.
- Some may attribute it to the players that surround him, but Mikko Koivu showed why he’s one of the best playmakers in the game. In just 65 games played, the captain’s 43 assists were most on the team by 8.
- Minnesota was hit hard by the injury bug this season and no position was hit harder than the netminders. With 5 different goalies starting this year, the Wild’s goaltening depth was put to the test and passed with flying colours. Despite the fact that the Wild had to go to so many goalies, Minnesota managed to crack the top 10 in goals against, ranking 7th in the league. It also looks like they really have something in Darcy Kuemper.
- Going into the season, Mikael Granlund was Minnesota’s top prospect and by the end of the season, the hockey world knew why. After putting up just 8 points in 27 games played during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the young Finn exploded for 41 points and 33 assists in just 65 games played. At 22 years of age, it looks like the Wild hit a home run when they selected Granlund 9th overall in the 2010 Entry Draft.
- In what was a largely successful season in the State of Hockey, the main thing that held back the Wild was the injury bug. So many difference-makers missed significant time due to injury including Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. When Josh Harding came in relief of an injured Niklas Backstrom- who started just 19 games- he was the early story of the season. Harding boasted a 18-7-3 record, 1.65 GAA, and .933 SV% before succumbing to injury related to his MS condition himself.
- Although it looks like the Wild have viable options in Harding and Kuemper, it also seems as though they are stuck with an aging goalie who’s play is rapidly declining. Minnesota will have to pay Niklas Backstrom $3.75 and $4 million for each of the next two seasons- albeit, with a cap hit of $3.5 million.
PROGNOSIS FOR NEXT SEASON
The additions of Parise and Suter were meant to be building blocks of a perennial contending team. With the pair signed until 2024-25, the Wild have a window to really do some damage, even in the incredibly competitive Central Division. In terms of making another step deeper in next year’s playoffs, that remains up in the air. The Wild could certainly improve on last year’s regular season finish of 7th in the West but it would seem as though their young group of prospects need a few more years of seasoning to be serious cup threats. That being said, if the group of Granlund, Brodin, Niederreiter, Coyle, and Dumba could take a collective step forward, postseason home ice in Minnesota is definitely a possibility.