Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pool Outlook for Minnesota

The Minnesota Wild backed their way into the Western Conference playoffs, losing each of their last five games, but made it through with 5 points to spare in the standings.  They ended up being a very difficult test for the Dallas Stars in the opening round of the playoffs, before being ousted in six games

In the 2016 season, the Wild were able to hold their own through the better part of the year, which was much to their credit, as they had a very difficult division to play in and their highest paid players may not have been playing to the best of their ability all year.  With that being said, they battled their way through, took advantage of some struggling Western Conference teams, when they had their chance and were one of five Central Division teams to make the playoffs in the end.

The core group of this team is fairly solid and the team is taking advantage of some very good scouting, when it comes to both the draft and through trades, so they have just as good of a chance to keep this momentum going forward, as they do any of the other burgeoning teams in the West.  Now, with the addition of Bruce Boudreau as head coach, there should be a better work ethic associated with this team and maybe that's what they need to add, so they can be in a better spot at this time next season.

The Minnesota Wild were one of the more popular teams in this year's hockey pool draft, as 14 players were taken, some of which appear to be taken as potential sleeper picks.  The Wild did have one player taken in the 1st round, goalie Devan Dubnyk was taken just after halfway, as another one of those big minute eaters.  The Wild saw one drop and no picks in Week Nine, while it was two drops and one pick in Week Eighteen.  In the end, the Wild finished with 12 players on active rosters, as they did not add or delete any active pool players at the trade deadline.

Dubnyk was going to get minutes and that meant that he was going to get points and that he did.  He appeared in 67 games for the Wild, notching 32 wins and 5 shutouts for 74 points, which was good for 23rd overall, 10th among goalies and still worthy of a 1st round pick at the end of the year.  The now 30-year old keeper will likely be looked upon again next season to do much of the same.

There were 13 pool worthy players on the Wild this season, including Dubnyk, but their number one was the only worthy goalie.  At forward, they had a number of options like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Erik Haula, but Haula wasn't on any active roster at the end of the season.

On the blueline, this team finished with four worthy defenders, as Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella were all notable.  Scandella didn't finish the year on a roster either.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Having already covered Colorado, Dallas and Winnipeg from the Central, there is little doubt that the division will get even harder in the 2016 season.  There's no way that the Avalanche or the Stars could be that bad again, while the Jets are continuing to evolve in the right direction.  Out of these four teams, at least two of them will miss the playoffs in 2016.  As much improvement as the Wild has made in the last few years, the fate of this team rests in goal and we'll see how much better Dubnyk has become in the end.  The Wild should be able to grind wins from the Avalanche and Stars and then compete with the rest of the division, assuming all goes well, but if it doesn't, they'll be the first team to fall out.

Things went well enough for the Wild, so they didn't fall out.  There was a lot being banked on the Jets this year, but when they failed to put it together, they were the first to drop.  The Wild were improving their core and they were able to grind out some wins within the division, so they made the playoffs, as short of a run as it was.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Zach Parise 7.538 Ryan Suter 7.538 Devan Dubnyk 4.333
Mikko Koivu 6.750 Jared Spurgeon 5.188
Thomas Vanek 6.500 Marco Scandella 4.000
Jason Pominville 5.600
Charlie Coyle 3.200
Mikael Granlund 3.000
Nino Niederreiter 2.667
Erik Haula 1.000
Joel Eriksson Ek 0.925 Jonas Brodin 4.167 Stephen Michalek 0.688
Alex Tuch 0.925 Mike Reilly 0.925
Brady Brassart 0.837 Gustav Olofsson 0.795
Mario Lucia 0.793 Christian Folin 0.725
Sam Anas 0.793 Nick Seeler 0.718
Christoph Bertschy 0.776 Dylan Labbe 0.693
Adam Gilmour 0.718 Nate Prosser 0.625
Grayson Downing 0.693 Alex Gudbranson 0.610
Pavel Jenys 0.688 Hunter Warner 0.598
Kurtis Gabriel 0.667 Guillaume Gelinas 0.597
Zack Mitchell 0.615
Marc Hagel 0.605

Much of what carried the Wild to the last wild card spot in the West is already signed on for next season and those guys are pool worthy, so adjust your lists accordingly.  It will be interesting to see what kind of effect Boudreau will have on players like Parise, Koivu and Suter and it will also be interesting to see if Vanek is still in the team's plans going forward.  Nevertheless, the Wild will quietly continue to be a fairly popular team to pick from, as they are solid among those pool worthy players.

The Wild are very high on Joel Eriksson-Ek, their 2015 1st round pick, but there's no rush to bring him up to the NHL, unless he has been deemed ready.  Their 2014 1st round pick, Alex Tuch, has now left the NCAA ranks, signed his entry-level deal and he'll get a nice long look at training camp, with the idea that he could very well make the jump.  Tuch has size and skill and could be a nice shot in the arm, playing with a Parise or Pominville.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

One of these hometown mock draft picks will have to work and this one is one that fits the bill a bit.  Kiefer Bellows of the US Development System, has good size, a scoring winger and has some home state ties to Minnesota, not to mention his Dad used to play for the North Stars.  He's still fairly young, but there doesn't need to be any rush to have him up quite yet.  It will be a matter of what direction he'll want to go in, whether he goes into the NCAA route or heads up North to play in the CHL.  Either way, he's got the genes and that's the kind of player that has a Wild mentality.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Matt Dumba is the only player on the free agency list that is pool worthy for the Wild in this off-season and he falls into the restricted free agent category.  Jason Zucker wasn't too far away from being worthy and he's another player that needs a new deal this Summer.

The Wild have a couple of rentals heading to unrestricted free agency and a few players who have been around for a while, so there are a few questions on whether to re-sign or let them go to market, come July.

The Wild have 35 players under contract already and they're all coming in at around $77.5 million and their signed pool players are coming in at $57.3 million, so they'll be working those budget numbers carefully this Summer, which again, makes them an interesting team to watch.

The foundation is certainly there for the Minnesota Wild: a good goalie, a core group of defensemen that are still relatively young and a veteran laced forward group that are able to guide some talented youth.  To me, this has the makings of another playoff spot next season, but that position has a lot to do with the way the rest of the Western Conference teams either improve or regress.  The Wild, at best, are going to tinker with this lineup, they likely won't do anything too drastic, so if the coach makes positive strides on this lineup, they will be in good shape at this time next year.
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