New Coach Mike Yeo
GM Chuck Fletcher passed on some bigger names to roll the the dice with the AHL's Houston Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo. The Aeros of course made it all the way to the Calder Cup final, and many players from that team Fletcher expects to be with Minnesota within a year or two. Again Fletcher decides to give a guy his first gig, passing on experience, but again, I think Yeo might have more upside than Richards' had.
Fletcher made San Jose pay dearly for the much loved Brent Burns, sending Minnesota forward Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle, and another first round pick in this past summers' draft. Setoguchi brings a shoot-first mentality and has been part of a top line that has been stellar in the preseason (see below).
Havlat for Heatley trade.
The Wild took a problem contract in exchange for dumping what proved to be a problem contract with Martin Havlat. I'm skiddish about Heatley because he hasn't lived up to his $7.5M contract, and that's kind of a sore number for Wild fans that remember the whole Gaborik saga. But after this initial concern, I have warmed to the deal, and he, Koivu, and Setoguchi have found some chemistry in the preseason so far. Havlat and Koivu seemed to be crossing one another, and agent Allan Walsh certainly wasn't helping matters. The worst case is the Wild took on an extra $2.5M to get out of a contract one year sooner, if Heatley doesn't work out. That said, it really seems Heatley, Setoguchi, and Koivu have a lot of potential if they can carry over their pre-season chemistry.
So what does all of this mean for the Wild's chances this year?
I certainly think the Wild will be better than last year. I think losing Burns is a bigger deal than most homers are making it, unless the other 5 D improve, the back end will struggle to match up well. Though I'm excited about Scandella's chance with the team, it may be a season or two before he adjusts to the NHL game. That said it's not as castostrophic as this Harrison Mooney idiot makes it out to be. That said BRenylods at Hockey Wilderness wrote a good rebuttal.
There is no doubt this first line is certainly the best since the Gaborik era. The second line should be better. Latendresse has reported to camp in better shape than last season and he seems to have his speed which will hopefully result in a good counter-attack. The question is who will center this line. Matt Cullen appears to be slotted in this role for now. Despite his disappointing stat sheet last year, I love Matt Cullen. He plays very hard, he wins pucks in corners, he makes good passes, and he just plays smart. But he's got to find a way to finish. He should benefit from playing with Latendresse and Bouchard, but if he doesn't this team is going to look rather thin offensively beyond the first line.
The goaltending picture is the same as it was two years ago. Harding will return to backup Backstrom, and I'm sure Yeo will be comfortable giving Hards starts when he wants to rest Backstrom or if Backstrom's isn't consistently great. I like them both, I'm glad Harding will be in the lineup tonight despite the injury scare during this week's team-building trip to Duluth.
So where does that leave the Wild. As they sit right now I think they're just slightly more likley to end up on the wrong side of 8th this year. They could still be the second best team in the awful Northwest division, but the defense doesn't match up well against too many Western Conference opponents. That said the Wild have about $9M in cap space, so Fletcher has options. I think he's demonstrated he'll make moves if he believes it'll make the team better. That said there really aren't any appealing free agent D options right now, and Fletcher knows first hand how hard it is to get a top defender, since he basically set the market quite high in the Burns trade.
But there's room to move, and if the Wild are in contention in February, Fletcher might find the deal that could put them in. Fletcher has avoided putting himself in a corner, very much unlike his predecessor (anyone else shocked I got to paragraph number eight before slamming Dough Riseborough?).
But if I had to wager, I'm saying the Wild get better, but again miss the playoffs this year. Then again if I had to wager, I think over 82.5 points for this team would be a good speculation :).
Let's Play Hockey!