After an average regular season and an offseason with significant roster turnover, how far away are the Minnesota Wild from the Stanley Cup?
When the Minnesota Wild fired former GM Paul Fenton, the biggest facet of the interview process for Wild owner Craig Leipold was determining which candidate was the best fit for the job. Bill Guerin was deemed the best candidate to be the architect of the Minnesota Wild.
After the brief chaos of the Paul Fenton stint, Guerin has the task of reviewing the current roster and assessing how far the Minnesota Wild are from winning the Stanley Cup.
He then will have to figure out what necessary moves make him closer to achieving the goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Minnesota.
The question is simple, how far are the Wild from winning the Stanley Cup?
It is no easy assignment to measure how the Wild suit up against the best teams in the league and the past Stanley Cup winners.
Dom Luszczyszyn from The Athletic came up with a Stanley Cup checklist after reviewing the past ten Stanley Cup champions. He notes the checklist isn’t perfect and no team has been able to check off all ten components of the list.
On average, Stanley Cup champions have been able to check off just over seven of the ten requirements. It is still a valuable asset to gauge a team’s overall roster and how far a roster is from being a Stanley Cup caliber roster.
I found this checklist very interesting and decided to assess the Wild’s roster and how many checkmarks the Wild can obtain.
It is very important to note that I am using two comprehensive metrics including Dom Luszczyszyn’s GSVA and Evolving-Hockey’s WAR to compile the lists and using those metrics as the criteria in measuring their overall impact. These metrics take into account all aspects of the game and are the best way to measure a player’s overall value and impact on their respective team.
1. An Elite First-Line Center
Minnesota Wild: None
It is crystal clear that the Wild lack depth down the middle. The Wild currently don’t have a first-line center, let alone an elite one. This is exactly why the Minnesota Wild need to find one either by trading Matt Dumba or by drafting one.
More often than not, you have to draft one. It’s rare for an elite first-line center to be traded or to be available in free agency. It doesn’t appear the Wild have a prospect that will be an elite first-line center in the pipeline either. The Wild potentially found that solution in 9th Overall Draft Pick, Marco Rossi. An elite first-line center is the single biggest need for a Stanley Cup-winning roster.
2. An Elite First-Line Winger To Assist The Elite Center
Minnesota Wild: None
As much as I wanted to put Kevin Fiala on here as an elite-first line winger, he just isn’t there yet. He has solidified himself as a dangerous top-six winger no doubt but he has to continue this stellar play into next season to get the elite tag.
In the span of the last five seasons, the Wild have only had three wingers achieve the elite price tag. Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter all qualified for this tier.
All three had this tag temporarily but were unable to maintain it over time. It is no secret the Wild have lacked an elite winger, the Wild tend to have a lot of good players rather than elite players. The Wild currently don’t have an elite winger, but there is a reason to be optimistic because next season the Wild could have both Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov reach this level.
3. Two Other Top Line Wingers In The Top-Six
Minnesota Wild: Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov
Kevin Fiala had a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the season. He displayed his skill, flashiness, skating, and unbelievable shot among other qualities. He offered the Wild 1.7 wins despite a poor first half of the season. He was easily the Wild’s best forward, but the biggest question mark is whether he can carry it into next season.
It’s simply a pure bet that Kirill Kaprizov will become an immediate top-six forward. From the scouting reports to the videos, the question has been how long it will take him to get accustomed to this new lifestyle and system of hockey. I do think he becomes an immediate top-six forward and is a safe option here.
4. A Top-Line Center To Play Behind The Elite Center
Minnesota Wild: None
This was incredibly difficult because I wanted to put Joel Eriksson Ek here but he just misses. Eriksson Ek is a quality number two center but just isn’t a number one quite yet. It remains a possibility he could become a number one center, but as of now, I think he is a safe number two.
The Wild have an incredible lack of depth down the middle and are amongst few in the league without an elite or top-line center. The holes down the middle are evident and must be addressed sooner than later.
5. Two More Top-Six Forwards In The Middle Six For Depth
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello
More from Gone Puck Wild
Who is Zach Parise? Parise is a player the Wild should absolutely not trade to the Islanders, or anywhere for the matter of fact. He still provides a ton of value and is one of the Wild’s most productive goal-scorers. There is no doubt he still is a top-six winger by the numbers.
Where do I start with Mats Zuccarello? Now that I have had time in the offseason to cool down and take a look back at the numbers, his play this season was not as bad as it appeared.
He was not a good acquisition for the Wild in terms of getting value out of him before his regression hits due to age, but he still wasn’t awful by any means.
The Mats Zuccarello signing is still perplexing to this day. The team was trying to get younger and faster, and Zuccarello wasn’t really either. He was extremely underwhelming but was still a productive middle-six forward.
He accumulated 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points in 65 games. He was worth 1.3 wins according to Evolving Hockey and 1.4 GSVA according to Dom Luszczyszyn’s model, which is pretty good for a player that appeared to struggled and never fit with the Wild.
6. Elite Number-One Defenseman
Minnesota Wild: Jared Spurgeon
Analytics are evolving at a steady pace in the hockey community and points are finally beginning to diminish in value. While points are still important, there is way more to the game than just points alone. Spurgeon is an elite first-pairing defenseman and has emerged as one of the best in the league due to his elite two-way play.
Spurgeon was worth 2.5 Wins Above Replacement, which ranks 11th among all defensemen in the NHL. He recorded 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points in 62 games. He was stellar on both ends of the ice and is a perfect example of someone who flies under the radar and does all the minor things excellently.
7. A Second Number One Defenseman
Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter
The top-pairing of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon are among the best in the league. Suter is a minute-munching, stay-at-home defenseman. He may not be an elite caliber defenseman like Spurgeon but is still a safe top-pairing option. The power-play specialist averaged just above 24 minutes on average per game this season and accumulated 8 goals and 40 assists for 48 points in 69 games.
8. A Top-Pairing Defenseman To Help Lead The Second Pair
Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin
Jonas Brodin has emerged as the best defensive defenseman in NHL over the past couple of seasons. While he doesn’t provide any offensive value, he is a defensive threat and helps anchor a strong second pair. He just signed a seven-year extension, which solidifies him as a top-four defenseman for the Wild for the future.
Matt Dumba still hasn’t returned to his pre-injury form. The right-handed dynamic offensive defenseman is being shopped right now in hopes of obtaining a top-six center. He is still a top-four defenseman on most teams and has the potential in the future to be a top-pairing defenseman.
9. Another Top-Pairing Defenseman On The Third Pair
Minnesota Wild: None
The Wild’s third-pair consists of Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt. Both third-pair defensemen are serviceable but neither hold the value of a top-pairing defenseman.
Carson Soucy was a reliable option this season after surprisingly making the roster out of training camp. He was actually more than reliable, he was a strong capable defenseman and earned a healthy contract this offseason. He was a pleasant surprise for Wild fans and is a safe bet as a capable top-four defenseman in the future.
Brad Hunt is a decent depth defenseman who can hold his own on the third-pair. Still, it was evident in the Return to Play Series that Hunt is nothing more than a third-pairing defenseman. He struggled heavily and was exposed throughout the series against the Canucks.
10. A Top 10 Goaltender
Minnesota Wild: None
Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock were the worst goalie tandem in the NHL this season. Will the Cam Talbot signing finally improve the net? Is Kaapo Kahkonen the solution of the future? Hunter Jones or Filip Lindberg?
The Bottom Line
The Minnesota Wild have some work to do, but they are closer than most people think. The Wild might just be a first-line center, top-ten caliber starting goaltender, and a middle-six forward away from having a roster capable of winning the Stanley Cup. With the Cap Space that will soon be available and the draft capital management has accrued, the Wild can address these issues.
The Wild finished with five checkmarks out of ten which is a fairly nice tally. I did bet on Kaprizov and was generous to Zuccarello, so depending on next season, it could be closer to four or four and a half checkmarks. On the contrary, maybe the Wild acquire a center or find a goaltender that brings them additional checkmarks?
For now, the quest for the Stanley Cup still remains a dream.