It was the most unlikely of Cinderella stories. The Minnesota Wild were 18-19-5 on Jan. 13 and seemed to be in a truly hopeless position on the season. Then they added goalie Devan Dubnyk, a player who had done nothing remarkable since his junior days and seemed like he was quite likely making his last NHL stop before heading off to Europe to extend his career. Impossibly, Dubnyk played all but one game the rest of the way, and the team was 27-9-3 after he started.
After starting the year in Arizona he wound up as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Very odd. The fun didn't stop there, either. Dubnyk and the Wild upset the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs before the clock struck 12, and then they were swept by eventual Stanley Cup champs Chicago. That all leaves us with one of the toughest and most fascinating handicapping challenges of this season. Was what Dubnyk did, given that the form of his NHL career up to that point gave us no clues of it, a total fluke? Or did he rediscover his form and truly morph into an elite goaltender? Whatever your opinion is on that question will have a huge impact on how you expect this team to turn out this year.
Minnesota Wild Offseason Moves
The Wild didn't do too much in the offseason. The reason for that is simple - they couldn't really afford to. They already had huge contracts for Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Thomas Vanek, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. They had to pay Dubnyk and gave top center Mikael Granlund a new deal despite two straight dismal offensive years, too. When all that was said and done their cap reality was pretty bleak. The team they are icing this year is, aside from some shuffling on the fringes, the team they iced last year. I'm not sure that that is a good thing - other teams have certainly got more bang for their payroll buck than the Wild.
One new addition that is worth noting is Mike Reilly. Originally a Columbus draft pick in 2011, the defenseman attended the University of Minnesota, where
he was the Big Ten defensive Player of the Year his last two years. His draft rights expired without a deal this summer, so he was a free agent, and the
Wild signed him on a two-year, entry-level deal. He's 22, and he didn't look out of place playing significant minutes for the Americans at the World
Championship last spring, so he could be ready to contribute right away.
Minnesota Wild NHL Outlook
I find it really hard to trust this team. Ryan Suter is a total beast, but he is 31 now and he plays way too many minutes. It's quite possible his play will drop off. The top two lines have too many guys that just aren't consistent enough. Dubnyk was incredible, but until he proves he can keep it up, he's a major wild card - and there isn't a good solution if he falters. The upside for the team is certainly there, but a whole lot needs to go right for this team to be more than just ordinary. The West is so tough this year - tougher even than last year - so the margin for error is very slim. Too slim?
Minnesota Wild Schedule
We'll be able to get a good sense of where this team is at early on. Their second game is a rematch with the Blues. Within their first seven games they also travel to L.A. and play the Ducks twice. That could be an opportunity to make an early statement - or a sobering reminder that they aren't ready for primetime.
Minnesota Wild NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Wild are the eighth choice to win the Stanley Cup at +1600. They are tied for the fifth choice, along with Nashville, to win the Western Conference at +900. They are currently the second choice behind only Chicago to win the Central Division.
2015-16 Minnesota Wild Predictions
I am not nearly as optimistic about this team as the oddsmakers are. The offense is fine but not inspiring. The power play was just awful last year, and there is no reason to expect it to be dramatically better. Dubnyk could be fine, but it's not a sound bet that he will be immortal like he was last year. Suter might not be quite as sharp. In the tough West I wouldn't at all be surprised to see them land outside of the playoffs. At the very least, there is no way I would consider betting them at the odds available.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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