Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Minnesota Wild. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
The Wild have obviously seen something in the San Jose Sharks' play over the past couple seasons that they think they can use. There's really no other way to explain the two teams linking up so frequently this off-season.
A lot of Minnesota's success in 2011-12 will depend on the success of their pair of blockbuster trades that they swung with the Sharks this off-season. The result of the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi (among others) should make the Wild a more dangerous team offensively.
If they can add that to a traditionally strong team defence and stingy goaltending, the team could break its three-year string of missing the playoffs.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: You may not know Mikael Granlund's name, but you've probably seen his work. His full-speed lacrosse-style move in the World Championship will likely hold up as the goal of 2011. His skill and vision will certainly help a Minnesota team that has traditionally relied on home-grown talent to carry the load.
But apart from that, the team had a stellar first round of the 2011 Draft by adding defender Jonas Brodin, Saint John alum Zack Phillips and trading for Charlie Coyle from the Sharks. Add that to a healthy stable of top prospects including defenders Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella, goaltender Matt Hackett and bruising winger Colton Gillies and the future in Minny looks bright.
Breakout Player to Watch: Devin Setoguchi was long the forgotten man in San Jose. Battling for top minutes with Dany Heatley and Logan Couture last season seriously hurt his point totals and he may want to prove to his new team that in addition to getting a bounty of prospects for Brent Burns, they got a top talent as well.
Setoguchi hasn't come close to the 30 goals and 65 points he scored in 2008-09, but at just 24, it would be foolish to think he can't return to form. Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes and with top minutes and added power-play time, he could really take off in Minnesota.
Marquee Match-Up: Jan. 10 vs. San Jose - Alumni Night. Though January will mark the third meeting of the season between the Wild and Sharks, it does mark the first time Brent Burns, Martin Havlat and James Sheppard return to Minny since they were all shipped out in separate deals. Burns should especially get a nice reception from the only fans he's ever known.
Other Dates to Watch: Feb. 16 vs. Winnipeg - The mid-1990s weren't kind to either of these markets. For the first time since 1993, Minnesota fans get to welcome the Jets to town for a good old fashioned Midwestern dust-up.
Reason to Get Excited: Apart from Niklas Backstrom in net and Mikko Koivu wearing the C, the Wild could look like a whole new squad this season. There's no guarantee that the great off-season shuffle will work, but between the new faces on the roster and the young breakout stars ready to emerge, it's difficult to not be excited by the endless possibilities this season presents.
There's a lot of room for healthy competition, and with the cupboards being as stocked as they are, the storylines for the entire season could start writing themselves as early as the first day of training camp.
Home Hardware: The Todd Richards era was not kind to the Minnesota Wild. So, naturally, the Wild's 'new look' extended behind the bench.
The Wild made a safe move by looking within their own system for new coach Mike Yeo. The Wild are hoping that Yeo can repeat the 'worst-to-first' trick he pulled with the Houston Aeros in the AHL last season. If he can improve the team to the point where the playoffs are within reach, he might be a Jack Adams contender, especially given the track record of first-year coaches in the award's history.
On The Hot Seat: It's not often that a back-up goaltender has to live up to lofty expectations, but Josh Harding has been primed to break out for a few years now. He drew the short straw in getting stuck behind Niklas Backstrom all these years, but the thought was that with outstanding work, he'd eventually play his way into a trade or a starting job.
Last season he tore up his right knee in training camp, missing the whole season. The Wild will hope to use Harding as much as they can to ease Backstrom's workload, but if he wants to one day roam the crease full-time, he'll have to stay healthy this year and do a lot better than the .900 save percentage he posted in 2009-10.
It's Your! Call: Which Dany Heatley will show up in Minnesota?
When he's on his game, Heatley is one of the most explosive scorers in the NHL.
But that depends equally on who he lines up against and his own mood. The Wild get a similar point total in return to the points they lost in dealing away Martin Havlat, but without Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the like to give-and-go with, will Heatley's numbers take a tumble?
Ottawa fans have a very defined image of Heatley because of the way he left town, but his lowest single-season goals total in the nation's capital was still an amazing 39 in 2008-09. While there he was one of the league's purest goal scorers, and he only left Ottawa two years ago.
But in two years with San Jose, he went from a point-per-game player to his lowest single-season goal total since he won the Calder in 2002. And then the Sharks simply cut bait.
So are the Wild buying low? Or is this just the latest in Dany Heatley's North American tour of burnt bridges?