Don’t know what to expect when thinking about the Minnesota Wild’s upcoming season? Good news! Most people are in that same boat.
With the season starting on the road against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, Zone Coverage will take a look at some previous starts in Wild history to better evaluate the team as this weird, pandemic-influenced season starts.
Predicting the start
Thanks to the Wild’s position in the newly-formed NHL Honda West Division, they will begin the season against teams with poorer finishes than Minnesota last season. The Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks are in rebuilding mode, so the Wild should have an advantage, even if it is slight, considering their young talent mixed with established veterans, especially the defensive corps.
The team’s first eight games come against these three teams, with four games against L.A. and two against San Jose and Anaheim in the NHL’s temporary college-like scheduling pattern where they rotate playing two games consecutively against the same opponent in the one location for the entire season.
|1||2021-01-14||@||Los Angeles Kings|
|2||2021-01-16||@||Los Angeles Kings|
|5||2021-01-22||San Jose Sharks|
|6||2021-01-24||San Jose Sharks|
|7||2021-01-26||Los Angeles Kings|
|8||2021-01-28||Los Angeles Kings|
While the Ducks and Kings have some raw young talent on their respective rosters, the Wild’s stout defense should be up for the task while the opponent figures out their chemistry with each other after significant time off and a short training camp. The Sharks are a different animal recently, with older, established stars but a lack of success on defense and in goal. With the way they struggled mightily last season, though, the Wild should have the upper hand in their first home series on Jan. 22.
Minnesota had trouble keeping up with younger, faster teams at the beginning of last season and hadn’t yet seen a surge from Kevin Fiala. The Wild floundered against teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs. Even in the team’s first win against the Ottawa Senators, one of the worst teams in the NHL last season, their skating looked sluggish.
The Wild got out to a 1-6 start through the first seven games last season. It wasn’t ideal, but they rebounded and played well after the All-Star break to receive a berth in the play-in round in the adjusted return to play that began in August. The team underperformed out of the gates but won enough to remedy that down the stretch to ascend to their true form: an average team. They ended up in the playoff bubble but only won one game against the Vancouver Canucks and were sent home.
What about the Wild’s best regular season in franchise history? The 2016-17 team started its first nine games 6-3, won 49 games and ended up with 106 points. Three of those victories were shutouts, but the season began the way it would end, with a loss to the St. Louis Blues. Seven of the games saw Minnesota score three goals or more per game, fit for a team featuring a 40-plus goal scorer that should have gone on a long playoff run.
Instead, Bruce Boudreau‘s first season with Minnesota ended with St. Louis upsetting them in the first round, 4-1. The Wild won five of its last six games but hit a tough stretch in March. That month, they won just four games and had one losing streak of four games and another of five games.
Is anyone realistically predicting the Wild could have a franchise-best season like in 2016-17? No. But that start shows that, like last season, how the season starts does not indicate the way it will finish.
While it may seem like the team will end up winning 1-2 playoff games and losing in the first round, securing a mid-teens first-round draft pick in 2021 like years past, the end to this season is less about just this single year. It looks to be the groundwork for a franchise overhaul, with young players beginning to find their place on the roster and in the NHL. Their development this season could be key to any true potential success going further into the 2020s.