2008-09: 40-33-9 (9th in the West – Missed Playoffs)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 14th
General Manager: Chuck Fletcher (1st Season)
Head Coach: Todd Richards (1st Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
The Wild concluded their lengthy search for a general manager in May by hiring Chuck Fletcher away from the Pittsburgh Penguins. And Fletcher wasted no time putting his stamp on the organization by hiring former San Jose Sharks assistant Todd Richards as the team's new bench boss, replacing Jacques Lemaire.
Prior to the draft, Minnesota acquired Kyle Brodziak from the Oilers for a pair of picks. Brodziak later signed a three-year deal with the team. The Wild cut ties with sniper Marian Gaborik, as well as defencemen Martin Skoula, Kurtis Foster and Marc-Andre Bergeron. They were replaced with Martin Havlat, Shane Hnidy and Greg Zanon. Wade Dubielewicz was added for goaltending depth, while Josh Harding was re-signed.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
It should be a real changing of the guard this season in the Land of 1,000 Lakes, with the departure of the only coach and general manager the franchise has ever known.
With both Lemaire and Doug Risebrough gone, there will be a real change in mentality this season in Minnesota. Richards has vowed to free the Wild of their defensive shackles, preferring a more attacking style. Ironically, this is exactly what departing superstar Marian Gaborik wanted over the past few seasons.
The Wild missed the playoffs by a mere two points last season, but long-term injuries to Gaborik and power play quarterback Brent Burns certainly played a role in that. While a change in on-ice mentality should make Minnesota more entertaining to their fans, where it translates in the standings is a tough call.
Far from the most talented team in the league, a great deal of what made the Wild so effective over the past few seasons was a team-wide decision to buy into Lemaire's style of play. The Wild would wear teams down with an unrelenting forecheck and by clogging up the neutral zone. When all else failed, they had all-World netminder Niklas Backstrom to bail them out. While newly-signed Martin Havlat should compensate for the loss of Gaborik, the Wild do not have a great deal of secondary scoring, depending largely on a top line that could feature Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen. Minnesota will need a lot more from former lottery picks Pierre-Marc Bouchard, James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot if they hope to return to the post-season.
Player to watch:
Mikko Koivu has been a breakout candidate for the past few seasons, and with Richard's commitment to more offence in the game, this could be the season that it all comes together for the Finn.
Often overshadowed by his brother Saku, Mikko possesses all the tools (size, speed, vision and play-making ability) to be a star, and sacrificed his own stats to buy into the Wild's team-first concept under Lemaire. Already an excellent two-way player, Koivu will likely be asked to become a little more selfish, looking for his own offence under the new braintrust. A career year statistically is expected and should Koivu build some chemistry with the newly acquired Havlat, the pair could form one of the most dynamic duos in the league.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
The Minnesota Wild promise to play a more up-tempo style now that head coach Jacques Lemaire has moved on, which may present an opportunity for players to provide more fantasy value than they have in recent seasons.
Newcomer Martin Havlat is coming off the best season of his career, tallying 77 points in 81 games with Chicago, but it was the first time since 2001-2002 that he played more than 70 games in a season. Havlat is a productive player, one that can challenge a point-per-game pace, but it's all a matter of how many games he plays.