Tag Archives: Season Opener

Weekly Wild Whangdoodle: Opening Weekend

Games this week:

Season opener on ESPN+ and Hulu! Actual options to see Wild games without buying NHL.tv!  Huzzah!

If you are out of the BSN market, you should be able to see any non-nationally televised game on ESPN+ throughout the season and watch any blacked out games 24 hours later.

The Wild start the season with a back to back in southern California.  Neither the Ducks or the Kings are expected to be any good this year, so this seems like a pretty favorable way to start the season.

Central Division Preview

The Wild are back in the Central division this year, and Arizona has been added to this division to make room for the Kraken in the Pacific Division. These are the teams Minnesota is competing with for playoff spots, so let's see what we can expect from all of them.

JFresh (@JFreshHockey) does pretty extensive projections for all 32 teams based on the analytics of Top Down Hockey and his own projection system.  Here are how all the Central division teams rank when compared to each other:

  • COLORADO AVALANCHE - The consensus best team in the division by a comfortable margin.  They have the best defensive corps maybe in the entire NHL and they have Nathan Mackinnon as a perennial MVP-caliber forward.  If we really look hard, we can ask some questions about their depth forwards and if Darcy Kuemper gets hurt, the goaltending might get shaky.  But even those things aren't glaring weaknesses.  Finishing ahead of the Avalanche is very unlikely.
  • WINNIPEG JETS - Once you get past Colorado, there is a crowded middle of the division with a lot of good teams but no great ones.  Example #1 of this is Winnipeg.  They have one of the best goalies in the league, and they improved their defense over the offseason (at least on paper). How far does elite goaltending get a team that is average at best in every other facet of the game?  Watch the Jets to find out.  Most predictions have them 2nd-4th in the division.
  • ST. LOUIS BLUES - Another good team that added some good forwards in the offseason. Can they keep the puck out of the net? An uninspiring defense and average at best goaltending are the glaring weakness here. A middle of the road team in a division full of them. I could see them finishing anywhere except first or last in the Central.
  • DALLAS STARS - This is the team that I think will be surprisingly bad. Lots of predictions have them on the playoff bubble with the assumption that they will be healthier this year and get big contributions from a bunch of players that missed time last year. On the other hand they signed Luke Glendenning and Jani Hakanpaa as actual players they plan on playing and they're both not even replacement level players. Ryan Suter is their #1 d-man, and Suter is still good, but he is by no means elite.  They have 3 NHL goalies, but none of them can stay healthy, so ... I just don't see it.
  • CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - An absolute trashfire of an organization that enabled an abuser and continues to try to avoid accountability for it. Kane and Toews are back for another go-around and now they have Marc-Andre Fleury.  Like the Blues, they could be almost anywhere in the standings.
  • NASHVILLE PREDATORS - A playoff team last year, but they spent the summer selling off players. Expectations are low, but like Winnipeg, they have the wildcard of potentially elite goaltending. The problem here is going to be scoring enough to make that matter.  It's the worst forward group in the division except for ...
  • ARIZONA COYOTES - Do not, under any circumstances watch any Arizona games this year if you can help it.  They are bad. They are trying to be bad. It's going to be ugly.

Wild Season Preview

The future is .... coming in a little bit.

The Wild broke camp without any of their highly touted rookies.  Rossi, Beckman, Addison will all start in the AHL in Iowa (note to self - find out when the Iowa Wild come play the Chicago Wolves) and Matt Boldy broke his ankle in the last week of camp and will miss 4-6 weeks.

But last year's team didn't have any of those guys and they had a really good season!  Let's see who is new and who is one year older.

  • OUT
    • Ryan Suter - buyout, now in Dallas
    • Zach Parise - buyout, now on NY Islanders
    • Nick Bonino - Free agency to San Jose
    • Ian Cole - Free agency to Carolina
    • Carson Soucy - expansion draft to Seattle
    • Marcus Johansson - Free agency to Seattle (I think?)
    • Brad Hunt - Free agency to Los Angeles(?)
  • IN
    • Freddy Gaudreau - A center/wing who is probably best suited for third line duty, but will almost certainly get some looks on the second line while we wait for Rossi to be deemed ready.  Not an exciting signing, but a decent player.
    • Rem Pitlick - Winger. Late signing  young player who was put on waivers by Nashville. He's looked ... less than good in pre-season. He's currently lined up with Gaudreau and Fiala on the 2nd/3rd line. I have no thoughts about this person.
    • Alex Goligoski - Defense. Ryan Suter replacement, but with a one year contract. The question here is age. If he maintains last year's level, he'll be fine. If he falls off a cliff, then it will be a rough landing.
    • Dmitry Kulikov - Defense. Carson Soucy replacement, only less offensively minded. Ideally a third-pair player put on the ice to keep the puck out of the net for a while so the other D can get  a breather. Perfectly competent in that role
    • John Merrill - Defense. More all defense, no offense. Is he better than Jordie Benn? Is he better than Calen Addison? These are the questions that STrib commenters will hotly debate.
    • Jordie Benn - Defense. Already not a fan favorite after getting lost a few times and giving up some bad goals. Is he better than John Merrill? Is he better than Calen Addison? Probably not.
    • Joel Eriksson Ek - big contract, big role. He'll start between Kaprizov and Zuccarello
    • Victor Rask - at least initially it looks like he'll be the healthy scratch.
    • Brandon Duhaime - From the AHL last year to fourth line winger with Nico Sturm and Nick Bjugstad.  I like this fourth line, but liking a fourth line is maybe the most pointless statement in hockey analysis.
    • Ryan Hartman - gets to center Foligno and Greenway and continue the shut-down success.

If you spent any time looking at the table at the start of the post, and then you noticed that no mention was made of the goaltending in the "what's new" part of the Wild preview, you might be thinking that we need to spend some time thinking about what effect the Talbot-Kahkonen duo is going to have on the Wild's season.

There's an ongoing discussion in the stats/analytics community whether hockey is a game where it's better to construct your team by improving your worst players or if you are better off finding improvement at the top end of your roster. The arrival of Cam Talbot last year and his  mostly average and sometimes great play was probably the biggest difference maker that took a team that finished 10th in the conference the year before to a team that looked like a dark-horse contender.  JFresh's model doesn't like Talbot much and hates Kahkonen, so predicts some rough going for the goalie position for Minnesota this year. But it seems reasonable to me to think that Talbot will probably continue to be average to slightly better than that. And really that's what the Wild need. They have scoring (wait ... checking my notes ... yes,  it says here the Minnesota Wild have scoring ... huh) and a solid D corps (Spurgeon, Brodin, Dumba are all good to great). A good to great top end of the roster with exciting young players waiting in the wings plus average goaltending is a pretty solid recipe for an entertaining season.

Kahkonen ... he's more of a question.  He's a free agent after this season, and there are some cheap in-house options to replace him.  If he isn't better than replacement level,  I think he's gone. I hope he takes a step this season, but I have to say I'm not a believer.

Ok,  what else is there to say?

Kaprizov Korner

Oh yeah, who wants to watch Kaprizov play keep away from the Blackhawks for a while?  I started to almost feel bad for number 17.

A New NHL Season – Games 1 & 2 – Wild at Kings

My favorite part of the new NHL season is that the NHL is insisting on calling it the 2020-21 season even though all the games will be played in 2021.  Maybe if we keep pretending like things are normal, that will help?

The Wild kick off the 2021 season with two games against the LA Kings in LA, Thursday and Saturday.

Are the Wild any different from previous years?

Yes and no. Staal is gone, Koivu is gone, Dubnyk is gone.  That's a whole bunch of turnover up the middle of the ice.  In their place, the Wild have opted for a bunch of good to OK players (Bjugstad, Bonino, Johannson, Talbot) on short contracts to fill the gaps. They fit with the general idea of a Wild team is top-to-bottom OK, but never very spectacular.

If you're looking for spectacular, I think everyone is pinning their hopes on Kevin Fiala (whose 19-game stretch at the end of last year was that of an honest-to-goodness superstar) and Kirill Kaprizov (he's here! he's here! no longer just a source of Twitter highlight videos with Russian announcers!). Parise will probably still be a solidly productive player (that contract isn't horrible .... yet).

The defense is still the strength.  I've actually seen season previews that tout the 3rd line (Greenway/Eriksson Ek/Foligno) as the best defensive line in hockey (get excited!), and the defensive corps is still just really really good. Even if Dumba doesn't bounce back, the top 6 defensemen are all solidly above average or among the best in the NHL (Brodin/Spurgeon). Suter will probably still be a solidly productive player (that contract isn't horrible .... yet).

All of that is to say the Wild improved their defense/goaltending which was already a strength.  They added Kaprizov and a few solid but unspectacular centers while losing a few solid but unspectacular centers.  So, everything put together, they should be right around the playoff bubble, probably getting in, but not expected to do a whole lot if they get in.

Are the Kings any good?

Probably not. They were almost at the bottom of the league last year, and aren't projected to improve a whole lot this year. They are adding prospects like crazy, but don't have a whole lot to be optimistic about this year.

How will this season be kind of weird?

The Wild are in the Honda West Division, playing these other seven teams over and over for the next 56 games. Ending up in the West was a little bit of a nightmare for travel and reasonable start times, but it's kind of nice for the Wild's playoff chances.

I think everyone pretty much agrees that Minnesota is the fourth-best team in the division and that they aren't particularly close to either third or fifth.  Colorado and Las Vegas are really good, and the Blues are also a good team.  Those will be the top three teams unless somehow hockey turns out to be inherently unpredictable.

Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Arizona all have a lot of improvement to do to make it to playoff-caliber.  There's always a surprise team that clicks and puts it together (I'd guess Anaheim is most likely to do that - but that's just a guess), but most of these teams are still a few years away.

Are the Wild rebuilding?

Kind of? They are accumulating draft picks (they have two first-rounders this year) and have a whole bunch of forwards on short contracts (only Parise, Zuccarello are signed for more than two years - ETA - and now Foligno).  There could be a bunch of wheeling and dealing at the deadline if the season looks unpromising.

Should I watch this team?

It's not going to be a dominant season, but I think if the Wild find a line (or two?) that can score they will be passably good. Given the California teams they will be playing they should get some wins, and if they play Colorado, Vegas, or St. Louis tough it will be fun. Of course, if they end up relying on Cam Talbot to save games for them, it could be a low-scoring, frustrating year.  Realistically, we'll get flashes of both and be working out playoff-clinching scenarios right down to the last day of the season.  So if that sounds like your thing (and if you're a Wild fan, it must be) then yeah, you should watch this team.

GAME 1 – Minnesota Wild v. Nashville Predators

Hey, hockey season starts today!  And the Wild are on national TV, so I might just watch it.

**MLB postseason drowns out all hockey talk**

It's always great to be at the start of a season and have that sense of unbridled optimism that comes with it, right? Just ask the USA Today and their points projection for the upcoming year.

Oh, God.

All is not lost.  The Wild may play in the Group of Death for an entire 82 game season, and they may start the season with 20 of their first 30 games on the road, and they may still be built around an aging core of players, they may still be one of the few teams in the league to rely heavily on a single goalie, and that goalie may be one who has declined each of the last two years .... I forgot where I was going with this.

Matt Dumba is back!  Maybe Greenway and Fiala and Donato will break out this year!

**someone whispers something about Joel Eriksson Ek**

Anyway.  Things are not as bad as all that.  The Wild are a good defensive team, with their #1 D-man back in the lineup.  If they get any kind of decent scoring together, they will be in the playoff mix.  And, in fact, most projections put them right there.  The Athletic's projection system (by Dom Luszczyszyn ) puts the Wild's playoff odds at 59% before the season opener.

I'll take it.

Sean Tierney collected a whole bunch of points projections into one place and it's clear that most people see the Wild as an 85-93 point team (USA Today excepted).

What do I think?  I read Russo's piece about the new culture of positivity in the Wild locker room and came away unconvinced.  Most of the quotes sounded like a team in denial at worst, or putting a brave face on at best.  The schedule is brutal, but if the Wild are around 12-15 wins after that first 30 game stretch, they get a ton of home games over December, January and February (23 home games compared to 9 road games) and they may be able to make some hay there. I'm definitely in wait and see mode with this team, I am certainly not optimistic that they will follow the Twins example and look like world beaters.

But! There is a way forward for the team, and Matt Dumba might just be a reason to watch all by himself if he can replicate last year and stay on the ice the entire season.

I would bet on them topping 90 points before I would bet on them not reaching 70.

**Reminder: find a pithy quote about how useless the USA Today is for the end of this thing**