Five Story Lines For The Minnesota Wild in March


The month of February couldn’t have gone any better for the Minnesota Wild. Although February is the shortest month of the year, the Wild still played in 14 games playing every-other-day for most of the month. The Wild ended the month of February with a statement win in Colorado last night and finishing out the month with an 11-2-1 record. Earning all but five possible points in those 14 games, the Wild currently sit 1 point behind the Jets in the wild card and 3 points above the Calgary Flames, the next team behind the Wild.

As we reflect on how successful the month of February was, the month of March will be a much bigger test for the Wild as they continue to earn points and climb themselves up in the playoff standings. Here are my five story lines for the month of March.

5. The trade deadline. Tomorrow’s trade deadline will be a frenzy like last year was. So far this year, many trades have already been made for teams trying to improve their rosters to make the playoffs, and for teams with strong rosters trying to set themselves up for a long playoff run. The Minnesota Wild have already made two trades up to this point. Acquiring Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes will end up being the trade of the year, hands down. Dubnyk was honored as the NHL’s Number 1 Star of the Month for the month of February, not back for the third-round pick the Wild traded for him.

Feb 10, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien (33) crashes the net as Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) watches the puck during the first period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

On February 24th, the Wild traded a 2016 3rd round pick to the Florida Panthers for forward Sean Bergenheim. Bergenheim has already had a strong presence in the two games he has played for the Wild. He has created opportunities for himself and has created opportunities for his line-mates. Will the Wild make another move before tomorrow’s 4 PM EST deadline?

It appears that with Marco Scandella‘s undisclosed injury and Jared Spurgeon still out, the Wild will be looking to add a defensemen. Columbus Blue Jackets’ defensemen Jordan Leopold is the player that has been swirling around the Wild for the last couple days. Last week there were a handful of defensemen that were available, but many were traded during the week to contending teams leaving few defensemen available for the Wild. Don’t worry, the Wild will NOT be reacquiring Marek Zidlicky.

Should the Wild make a third or a fourth trade, I hope that the Wild plan on keeping that player after this year. In my opinion, if you are going to keep trading away picks and prospects, at least keep what you traded for. When the Wild traded for Jason Pominville in the 2013 trade deadline, they gave up prospects Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, and a second-round pick in last year’s draft. The Wild ended up signing Pominville to a new contract and is still paying dividends for the Wild. Last year, the Wild went back to the Buffalo Sabres. This time, the Wild acquired forward Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick for Torrey Mitchell and two second round draft picks. The Sabres ended up resigning Moulson in the offseason and the Wild declined to resign McCormick. That was an expensive risk for the Wild to take, and in my opinion, the risk ended up being much greater than the reward.

Will the Wild trade for Leopold? Another defensemen? A depth forward? Those questions will be answered soon.

4. Devan Dubnyk. I can’t write this blog without giving a huge Wild shout-out to Devan Dubnyk. This guy has saved the Wild’s season and has even been in the conversation of being up for the Vezina Trophy. Dubnyk has started all 20 games since being traded to the Wild and has gone 15-3-1 with a 1.64 GAA and a .934 save perentage with 5 shutouts.

Prior to the Wild trading for Dubnyk, the Wild had gone 2-8-4 in their previos 14 games and were considered a long shot to make the playoffs. The Wild now hold their own fate in making the playoffs and continue to play their best hockey of the season.

3. The defense. The Wild’s defense has been hit with illness, injuries, and small suspensions all year. First the mumps effected the defense all at different times causing the Wild to be without one of their key players for a long stretch earlier this year. After the mumps made it’s way out of the locker room, the flu entered and effected the Wild’s defense again.

Feb 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) checks on Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella (6) in the first period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild are again down two defensemen, Marco Scandella left last night’s game in the middle of the second period with an undisclosed injury and Jared Spurgeon is now practicing with the team as he is recovering from an upper-body injury. Who will the Wild roll with in the upcoming weeks? Will Spurgeon and Scandella make quick comebacks? Will there be a new defensemen wearing a Wild sweater? Stay tuned!

2. Back-to-backs. The month of March will include the same number of games that February did at 14. The tough part, however, is that the Wild will have to face four back-to-backs (March 5, 6, March 13, 14, March 23, 24, and March 27, 28). The first back-to-back will feature road games against the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes, a short trip mileage wise and the Wild should be able to stay fresh against the Hurricanes.

The next back-to-back will be the toughest. The Wild will host Anaheim on March 13 then head to St. Louis to play the Blues on the 14th. March 23 and 24 will show the Wild in Toronto then in New York to face Cal Clutterbuck and the New York Islanders. The final back-to-back will be home games for the Wild as the host the Calgary Flames and the Los Angeles Kings. Two games that could be crucial for the Wild in the playoff standings.

1. The climb. We have seen the Wild fly up the standings in recent weeks taking over the second wild-card spot and creating a little bit of breathing room between them and the Calgary Flames. How high up will the Wild go? The Winnipeg Jets have gone 5-6-4 in their last 16 games and are only one point ahead of the Wild and, after today, would have played two more games than the Wild.

The Chicago Blackhawks are without All-Star forward Patrick Kane for up to 10 weeks with a shoulder injury suffered against the Florida Panthers. Currently, the Blackhawks are 6 points ahead of the Wild and are 3rd in the Central Division. The Blackhawks recently traded for Philadelphia Flyers’ defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Arizona Coyotes forward Antoine Vermette. The Blackhawks gave up their first and second round picks in the 2015 draft and a conditional 4th round pick in the 2016 draft to get these players. My opinion is that they gave up too much for these players, especially Timonen who hasn’t played since April 30th.

The St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators appear to be locks to finish first and second in the Central. The Predators currently have 89 points and are five points ahead of the Blues. I don’t see the Blackhawks catching the Blues, especially with the Wild and Jets nipping at their heels. Will the Blackhawks make any more moves to try and replace Kane’s absensce? Will the give up any of their players to do so?

Not only do I think the Wild will overtake the Jets in the wild-card standings, I think the Wild will get neck-and-neck with the Blackhawks in the standings before the season is over. The Blackhawks were trending downward prior to Kane’s injury and now they are trying to find players to fill in for him. The Blackhawks have a brutal stretch in March where they will play 6 out of 7 games on the road.

Wouldn’t it be something if the Wild ended the season 3rd in the Central Division? That would be quite a stretch, but certainly not out of reach for the Wild as they continue to be the NHL’s hottest team since the all-star break.

Stay tuned, Wild fans, the excitement continues!