With a much clearer picture as to what the Minnesota Wild season will look like, here are three predictions for the year.
With the recent news that the Minnesota Wild will be playing in the reorganized ‘West’ division and some of the key dates like the trade deadline, the playoffs beginning, and the expansion draft being released, we now know what the Wild season could look like. Here are our predictions for the 2021 season.
Prediction 1: Kaprizov will outplay Lafrenière and Win the Calder Trophy
Recently, some betting sites released their odds for NHL Individual Awards and the Stanley Cup, and for the Calder Trophy, Kirill Kaprizov found himself with the third-best odds at 15/4. The rest of the odds go as follows:
Besides Tim Stuetzle having marginally lower odds than Tim Stutzle, it was surprising to see both Rangers rookies Alexis Lafrenière and Igor Shesterkin with the two best odds to win the Calder. I think there are two problems with either player winning the Calder.
First, I believe Alexis Lafrenière is going to struggle to shine with the talent on his new team. With offensive talents like Artemi Panarin and Five Goal Mika Zibanejad, Lafrenière’s star might not shine as bright. If he plays with one or both of those players, it could be a completely different story.
Second, and this pertains to both players, the Rangers are in a murderous division. Take a look.
With the top four teams in the division qualifying for the playoffs, some very quality teams are going to participate in the lottery next season. I struggle to see the Rangers succeeding and qualifying in this division, which could bode poorly for both Ranger Calder Candidates, but certainly Shesterkin more than Lafrenière.
If Shesterkin isn’t able to steal games for the Rangers and get them close to the playoffs, he’s going to struggle to win an award that is already rarely given to goaltenders. The last goalie to win the Calder was Steve Mason in 2009.
Meanwhile, I believe Kirill Kaprizov is in the prime situation to breakout and stake his claim for the Calder. There’s not much star power to outshine Kaprizov outside of Kevin Fiala and Matt Dumba if he has a rebound season. He will be in a situation to succeed.
Further, if Kaprizov can have an exciting first season and make some noise on the national level, the Calder Trophy voters (members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association) may give Kaprizov the nod. How often does a Wild rookie have this much excitement? Maybe Gaborik?
Prediction 2: Cam Talbot will be a Vezina Finalist this Season
Alright here’s my craziest prediction for this season. Cam Talbot, who has 80/1 odds to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best Goaltender, is going to be at least a finalist for the award at the end of the year.
This builds on a prediction that we have later, but I fully believe that Cam Talbot is going to be put in a position to succeed in Minnesota. The Wild consistently are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and as we know, if the Wild could have gotten league-average goaltending last season, the team certainly could have won more games.
Cam Talbot first had his role as a starting goaltender in Edmonton where he was an absolute workhorse. In his second season with Edmonton, he played Seventy-three games, going forty-two and twenty-two in appearances, with a .919 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA, garnering Talbot Hart and Vezina votes.
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After the heavy workload in the 2016-2017 campaign, he played sixty-seven games, winning thirty-one games and losing thirty-one. His save percentage dropped to .908 and allowed 3.02 GAA, certainly a step back.
After Talbot’s marathon season in 2016-2017, his stats struggled, but I can’t attribute all of it to him. Those Oilers teams were flawed and while goalies generally love to play as many games as possible, too heavy of a workload can really impact their future performances.
In the 2018-2019 season, he began the season with the Oilers and won ten of his thirty-one games played, before being traded to the Flyers. Only playing four games in Philadelphia (remember that’s the season when Philadelphia had played eight goalies because they kept getting injured), he won three of his four games.
Last season, Cam Talbot was the backup/1B to “Big Save Dave” Rittich, where he started twenty-two games and won twelve of his starts. Talbot would actually outperform Rittich statistically, with a save percentage of .919 compared to Dave’s .907 and a GAA of 2.63 versus Rittich’s 2.97.
In 2019-2020, the Minnesota Wild led the league in Expected Goals Against but ranked 19th in Save Percentage and 14th in Goals Allowed (all via Natural Stat Trick). What I’m getting at is, despite the strong defensive performances, the goaltending let them down consistently. Without solid goaltending, the best defenses can’t save games.
If the Minnesota Wild can continue playing phenomenal defense in front of their goaltender, it should be easy for Cam Talbot to have a good season and possibly make a run at the Vezina.
Prediction 3: The Minnesota Wild will finish Top Three of the West
Certainly a longshot, but I believe that the Minnesota Wild could mess around and find themselves in the Top Three in the division. Here’s our competition:
Most projections have the Minnesota Wild fourth in the division behind the Avalanche, the Golden Knights, and the Blues. I think the Wild could jump St. Louis. It’s a long shot, but the Wild have made solid improvements from this previous season.
Eric Staal has added another year to his already long career, and it appeared his age was beginning to show with his pace beginning to slow. The only other Top Nine forward that departed this team was Luke Kunin. It’s a disappointing departure, he was loved by the fans, but as Contributor Aaron Heckmann has pointed out, he often struggles to provide positive value on the ice based on the advanced analytics.
Mikko Koivu was relegated to the 4th line by the end of the season, Ryan Donato would struggle to get into the lineup (much to the disappointment of most Wild fans). Alex Galchenyuk didn’t appear to be in the long-term plans of the Wild and was just brought in to balance the cap hit in the Jason Zucker trade.
Outside of the forward group, only Devan Dubnyk was a departure from this team, and it is no secret he struggled immensely last year.
What I’m getting at is, the Wild didn’t get much weaker than last years’ squad. With who they brought in to fill out the roster, Talbot replacing Dubnyk in net, and Kaprizov joining the team, I think the Wild could be a really improved squad.
The Wild were one of the top defensive zone teams in the league, but because of their league worse tandem, they often found the puck in the back of their net. Cam Talbot had a pretty good season last year and in front of one of the NHL’s better defensive groups, the Wild could improve dramatically. Add in an improved Kevin Fiala and the arrival of the Promised One (Kaprizov), maybe the Wild jump the Blues?
This season could be a very fun one. The Minnesota Wild are going to play 56 games in 116 days, which means a game every 2.07 days. With several contracts expiring, the Seattle Expansion draft looming, and the fanbase excited with prospects who could be joining in the next year or two, the Wild may look like a dramatically different team.
It would be shocking to see them significantly add at the Trade Deadline. I believe Bill Guerin and Management is going to let this team go as far as they can while working behind the scenes to bolster the future success of this team.