As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 27th of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
History was made in Minnesota in 2016-17, when the Wild got unprecedented offensive burst -- seven different players scored at least 18 goals -- under new coach Bruce Boudreau to piece together a flaming-hot winter and post a franchise-best 106-point (49-25-8) season. An astounding 30-6-3 stretch from December through February, aided by big outings from goalie Devan Dubnyk, had Minnesota atop the Western Conference as the league's safest pick for a Stanley Cup run. Even after momentum slowed at the tail end of the year, the Wild finished with a plus-58 goal differential, scoring more than every team except the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Boudreau's bunch couldn't pair historic regular-season results with historic playoff success, however, stumbling badly in March (4-10-2) and on the road before a 4-1 first-round defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in the postseason.
Baffled at the start of the playoffs in part due to top-tier goaltending from the Blues' Jake Allen, the Wild were not strangers to an early postseason exit, having lost back-to-back second-round series starting in 2013-14 and bowing out from the get-go in 2015-16. That is perhaps partly why general manager Chuck Fletcher didn't hold back in uprooting some of the team's core entering a new campaign in the loaded Central Division.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with Pominville and Haula out the door thanks to both June's expansion draft and a big swap with the Sabres: Minnesota only lost one of its nine 40-point scorers from a season ago. Scandella is a notable subtraction from the blue line, but the compensation package for his services, including solid and now locked-up winger depth in Foligno, was fair. And even if Cullen's contributions are few and far between off the bench, his return to the Midwestfor both sides -- he gives the team low-risk, bargain-bin depth.
Quincey is another decent, albeit low-key, addition on the blue line as a 12-year veteran. But the biggest moves could come from inside the organization, as Fletcher secured 25-goal scorers Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter on three- and five-year extensions, respectively.
The Wild have been victims of their own success in some ways, raising the bar of expectations with consecutive playoff appearances, and doing it again in 2016-17 with a record-breaking regular season, then floundering when it matters most. Still, in a tough division that touts lots and lots of talent, they have quality pieces across the board. They looked steady, consistent and, well, successful for longer stretches than any other team over the course of last season.
Then again, back to that division with lots and lots of talent: Can the Wild really repeat their 106-point year when they're squared up against the defending conference champs in the Nashville Predators, perennial playoff contenders in the Chicago Blackhawks, the up-and-coming Winnipeg Jets, bound-to-rebound Dallas Stars and the same team that knocked them out in the Blues? Chicago might be in for a stumble and Winnipeg is probably still a year or so removed from making a real push. But Minnesota still faces a tall task in replicating its results, especially with a defense that'll be in for some transition post-Scandella.
That's not to say the Wild won't be in the thick of the Western race. They have far too many explosive scoring options to ignore, and if any combination of Granlund, Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu come close to their 2016-17 numbers or potential, this team will be right back in the playoffs. Winning there, however, is another question, and it's been one Boudreau has been trying to solve since long before he got to Minnesota.