Anytime a sports season ends without a title, there is bound to be plenty of frustration and second-guessing, but the end to the Wild’s season seemed to have an extra layer of disappointment. To try and sort it all out, let’s take a look at the current roster and heap praise and criticism where appropriate, and see who will likely return for next year.
Forwards I expect to return:
Zach Parise- He became the team and scoring leader that was expected when he first signed last summer. Although Parise didn’t do much in the playoffs, it’s hard to pin much of that futility on him. I’m glad he will be wearing a Wild jersey for years to come and I look forward to him building more chemistry on the top line.
Mikko Koivu- He completely disappeared during the playoffs, but there are rumors he was playing through an injury, which would explain his ineffectiveness. I really like Koivu, but he will need to bring his game to another level next season for fans to forget about his stinky playoff performance.
Charlie Coyle- Once Coyle became firmly entrenched on the top line, he looked like a future impact player. With his size and skill he will be a top 6 player for the Wild for a long time.
Matt Cullen- Cullen had a fantastic year, but late season injuries derailed him heading into the playoffs. As an unrestricted free agent, the Wild will have to decide how much they want to pay a 36 year-old. Given the success Cullen had last season and the fact that he would likely stay for a reasonable salary, I really hope the Wild sign him for another season or two.
Devin Setoguchi- Another reason to root for a Cullen return is the fact that he brought the best out of Setoguchi. He was frustrating to watch last season, but this year Seto brought more effort, grit, and all around energy. He will be in a contract year next season, so I imagine there will be even more incentive for him to excel. Hopefully he plays well enough to earn that contract from the Wild.
Jason Zucker- Zucker did bounce up and down from the minors this season, but he showed flashes of speed and skill that indicated he can be a serious offensive threat. I fully expect Zucker to explode next season and sign a long term deal with the Wild. He will be fun to watch.
Jason Pominville- Yes, the Wild did give up a lot to get Pominville, but he is a point per game player and team leader that is under contract for next season. I doubt he will be on the 3rd line next season, as he is definitely a top 6 type of player.
Kyle Brodziak- While Brodziak will not blow you away with skill, he is a perfect 3rd line type of player. But to justify his $3 million salary he must put up more points and bring up his awful -18 +/- rating.
Cal Clutterbuck- His physical play and grit are big pluses, but his 4 goals in 42 games were atrocious. Being a restricted free agent, I expect the Wild to match offers for Cal given that they will likely be low. He is a better offensive players than he showed last season, and it will be worth it for the Wild to bring him back—at a reasonable price.
Torrey Mitchell- This speedster will continue to anchor the 4th line and give teams problems.
Mike Rupp- He will be going into the final year of his contract, and he gives the Wild some much needed size and physicality. Guys like him are needed to protect the team’s skill guys. An excellent 4th line guy.
Zenon Konopka- Although he didn’t register a single point in 37 games, he did earn a solid 117 penalty minutes for massaging opponents’ faces with his knuckles on many an occasion. He is under contract for next season and I expect more of the same from him.
Mikael Granlund- The little Finlander is undersized and had his struggles last season, but there is no denying he has boatloads of talent. Granlund is still a top rated prospect and once he grows accustomed to the NHL game, he will be a roster mainstay for the Wild. The jury is still out on whether he will become the star many have envisioned he would be, but his ceiling is high.
Forwards I expect to be gone:
Pierre-Marc Bouchard- With his concussion history and decreased production, there is no way the Wild bring him back.
Dany Heatley- Although the lack of finishers on this team was highlighted by the playoff snoozefest, I just don’t see the Wild bringing him back. Heatley was a crappy -12 and is slated to make $5 million next season. GM Chuck Fletcher so far seems to talking as if Heater will return, but when the times comes, I see a contract buyout.
Defensemen I expect to return:
Ryan Suter- Duh, All-Star Norris candidate who logs more ice time than a polar bear. He will anchor this team at the blue line for years.
Jonas Brodin- Another duh. Brodin was one of the top rookies in the NHL last season and will be another fixture for the Wild’s defensive corps for many years. As Brodin continues to mature, the Wild will likely have the best top pair of defensemen in the NHL.
Tom Gilbert- I’m really not that enthused about Gilbert, but I fully expect the team to bring him back for the final year of his contract. After next season however, I don’t see Gilbert being in Minnesota.
Clayton Stoner- He has good size, but he went through a terrible stretch this season where he was a serious liability. He doesn’t make much, which is why I think he will be back.
Jared Spurgeon- He is a restricted free agent and the Wild don’t have a ton of money to throw around, so if some other team makes him a high offer he may be gone, but I like Spurgeon’s offensive skills and hope he returns.
Matt Dumba- Not that he ever played a game for the Wild this season, but Dumba is a top prospect who I expect the Wild to find ice time for. Beyond Suter and Brodin, the Wild have little top talent on defense, and letting Dumba learn on the job like Brodin did this season seems to be the best way to go.
Defensemen I expect to be gone:
Justin Falk- He has size but not much else. Hard to see him coming back.
Marco Scandella- He spent the entire season in the minors only to be added to the team for the playoffs where he played quite a bit. Apparently the team was happy with his postseason play, so it wouldn’t be shocking if the Wild brought this restricted free agent back.
Brett Clark- Not sure what Fletcher saw in Clark to begin with, but he will be gone next season.
Goalies I expect to return:
Josh Harding- Harding, before he got hurt late in the playoffs, looked really good. Even though he is battling MS, his doctors feel that the early detection and treatment he is receiving will allow him to be an effective NHL goalie. Not a long-term solution, but he will do as the Wild’s young goalie talent matures.
Darcy Kuemper- We have been hearing for a while now that the Wild have a deep well of goalie talent, and it’s time to start seeing it. Matt Hackett was traded, so now it’s Kuemper’s time to show what he has. Let him compete with Harding for the top job.
Goalies I expect to be gone:
Nicklas Backstrom- I like Backstrom, but he is 35 and made $6 million last season; it’s time to move on. If he is willing to give the team a discount in order to stay, the Wild will likely keep him, but I really think it’s time to give Kuemper a real shot.
The Wild improved significantly this season, have plenty of young talent either on the team already or about to arrive, and will have a full season to develop chemistry next year, so I am optimistic. Their playoff performance was uninspiring, but don’t forget the Blackhawks were the best team in the league this year; there is no shame in losing to that team.
Fletcher has some decisions to make, but Wild fans should be encouraged that this team is heading in the right direction.