As the Minnesota Wild officially get underway in their offseason following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday evening, they have one problem looming large to address on their roster.
The lack of scoring.
Between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, Minnesota combined to have the sixth most goals scored in the NHL only trailing Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Winnipeg and Washington. That’s pretty elite company to be a part of in terms of goal scoring.
|2||Tampa Bay Lightning||2017||2018||164||96||53||0||15||207||365||.567||530||128||13||5132||1628|
|3||Toronto Maple Leafs||2017||2018||164||89||53||0||22||200||369||.542||528||114||10||5257||1369|
However, following Minnesota’s first-round exit in 2018, general manager Chuck Fletcher was not retained for that position and Nashville assistant general manager Paul Fenton was hired to fix the roster.
Through the first two months of Fenton’s tenure in charge of the Wild, Minnesota was just 15th in the goal-scoring category as he watched key players like Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker struggle to find old forms of production.
Once Matt Dumba went out of the lineup with injury on Dec. 15, the bottom really fell out for the Wild offensively. Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund would be traded between then and the trade deadline for Victor Rask, Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala. The Wild offense really evaporated as players struggled to find their place in the now shuffling Wild lineup.
From that Dec. 15 game through the end of the season, Minnesota’s offense ranked last in the National Hockey League with just 109 goals scored. With the lineup shuffling, injuries to key players, and extended droughts of players like Zucker and Eric Staal nothing really ever clicked for the Wild offensively to end the season.
The offensive woes contributed to Minnesota missing the postseason for the first time in seven years.
Now, the task is on Fenton to fix his ailing offense. Something that is a lot easier said than done.
Fenton has been active in trade talks already this offseason, with his focus appearing to be moving Zucker — who is just a season removed from scoring 33 goals. A deal fell through with Pittsburgh last month when Phil Kessel, who was included in the potential deal, vetoed the trade due to his no-trade clause. The Wild and Penguins will not be able to resurrect the deal, as Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford came out and said Kessel is now staying.
This was the third reported attempt the Wild have tried to trade Zucker. One with Arizona last summer, a deal with Calgary involving Michael Frolik fell apart at the trade deadline, and the reported May deal with Pittsburgh.
It is not a matter of if but when Zucker is moved, as Fenton appears to be set on moving the speedy winger elsewhere to make room on the roster. Even though Fenton is selling low — emphasis on low — on Zucker, it is a move he is still seemingly set on making despite the winger’s wish to remain in Minnesota.
Fenton clearly wants to make space on the roster for his young players like Fiala, Donato, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek. The general manager has outlined several times that he wants to make this team younger and faster, which he has done for the most part with his trades.
It is good in theory to hand the reins over to the young players, however they have to perform far better than what they showed in 2018-19.
The only player who provided a spark to the offense consistently was Donato, who scored 16 points — four goals and 12 assists — in 22 games after being acquired from Boston in the Coyle trade. Fiala — the other trade deadline acquisition — provided brief sparks of offensive brilliance but mainly struggled to find any type of consistency.
Both will seemingly go into the next season with elevated roles given the trust Fenton has with them, and both will need to provide offense for this team to contend.
Same can be said for Greenway, Eriksson Ek, and Kunin who all combined for 55 points — 25 goals and 30 assists — in 188 games. The trio will have to step up their game in a big way offensively as well. If they cannot, the Wild will have a serious lack of depth offensively and will no doubt be at the bottom of the league in goal scoring once again.
Then what happens if the Wild’s kids cannot take the next step offensively?
It will be a rough couple of seasons for the Wild. Unless a trade is made to bring in a bonafide scorer — which is doubtful given Fenton’s trade record and the lack of trade chips on the roster — or they can actually get Kirill Kaprizov to make the move across the pond, the Wild will have to try and find scorers through the draft as Fenton is set on hanging on to his draft picks to rebuild an empty prospect cupboard.
The prospects would take a few years to reach the NHL, which would further prolong their scoring woes. And even once they reach the NHL, there is no guarantee they will light it up right away. It takes time.
With his midseason trades of Niederreiter, Granlund and Coyle, Fenton used up his most of his tradeable assets early on and now is set with his young core headed into next season. Meaning if you are hoping the Wild can find a scorer via trade, you are out of luck on that.
There is no easy way to come by scorers quickly in the NHL. Fletcher learned that in his time in Minnesota, and now Fenton is learning that in his first general manager job.
So if the Wild’s offensive woes continue into next season, don’t be entirely surprised. There is no easy fix for it.