The Minnesota Wild are coming off a record-breaking campaign in which the franchise set marks for regular-season wins (53) and points (113).
The question is what will the team do for an encore?
Well, a number of prognosticators feel Minnesota will take a step back this year. A poll of NHL writers for The Athletic earlier had the Wild as the team most likely to have a drop-off from last season, with 20% of the vote.
That includes the thought that Minnesota would not even be a postseason team this season. But it is hard to imagine that a potential Wild decline is a complete free-fall.
In fact, within that same poll, Minnesota is viewed as a near lock for being part of the eight-team Western Conference field again, with 83.3% of the vote. But the Wild were not in the Top 10 for making the Stanley Cup Final.
The Wild didn’t come close to achieving that last season, and the team will have a slightly different look this year.
Forward Kevin Fiala was traded to Los Angeles in late June in a move that was driven by the Wild’s salary cap issue, and goalie Cam Talbot was moved to Ottawa just a few weeks later in what seemed like a reponse to Tabot’s perceived unhappiness.
The lineup changes didn’t stop there as defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who was signed as a free agent last offseason, was shipped to Anaheim just this past week.
The players who are still on the Wild roster are reason for the continuing optimism, none bigger than Kirill Kaprizov, who scored 47 goals and 108 points — both being Wild franchise marks. He also scored seven goals against the St. Louis Blues in a first round matchup to set another team record for goals in a single playoff series.
He is entering his third season and one of the young talent for the Wild. Marco Rossi is another one, and could be a breakthrough rookie for the team this year, following Matt Boldy’s production this past year.
Minnesota also has veteran leadership, especially in net. The Wild extended the contact for Marc-Andre Fleury and his resume of three Stanley Cup championships.
True, the Wild might not match the regular season success of a year ago, both as a team and in terms of individual player point production. And Minnesota fans might be fine with that.
The focus is what the Wild can do in the playoffs.
That is the success the fan base is concerned about at this point.