Well so this happened last week:
Like just about everyone else that's a fan of the Minnesota Wild, my level of excitement when this news broke was just indescribable. Certainly the highest since beating Vancouver in the 2003 Western Conference Semi-finals. October (or whatever month the season actually starts, sorry for the cold water folks) can't come soon enough.
I gave some of my thoughts to Jeff Ponder on the Storm the Crease podcast last week. (Jeff told me there were some audio difficulties, sorry if my gushing is garbled, but seriously check out his site.)
I'm glad I've waited a bit to write this piece, if I wrote this right after the signings, I'd probably predict the Wild would win the Stanley Cup. The last few days have tempered those expectations a bit, but not all that much. What should people really expect going forward?
1) Fletcher has the assets.
Look at the depth chart that Star Tribune Wild Beat Writer Michael Russo put out this week. (note nothing should be taken as gospel until camp, but some remarks at today's presser confirm some of these potential lines.)
Parise-Koivu-Heatley, is an excellent top line. I'll entertain the notion that there may be a few other top lines in the NHL that are better, but not many. Then second and third lines are almost a 2A and 2B. Setoguchi-Granlud-Bouchard, Cullen-Brodziak-Clutterbuck. These lines will be tough to defend. Obviously it appears Grandlund's line has more talent, but Brodizak's line drawing more favorable defensive matchups, could kick in serious production. Yeo won't feel the need to shorten his bench often. As for the rest of the forwards, everyone else, even most of the scratches are NHL ready. Even if the injury bug hits again, it won't be nearly as devistating.
On defense, I think Suter being that crazy-minute against top player guy is huge and makes everyone else better. This lineup is tough without a top guy (and frankly, they could probably use one more #2-#4 type guy, but not a need I would consider urgent post-Suter).
The point is the lineup is the deepest it's ever been and if Fletcher needs to make a deal (not that I necessarily think he should) he will be doing so from a position of strength. He's in the enviable position of waiting for the price he wants, or sticking with the lineup. As long as he deals (or passes) smart, this is a can't lose situation. This team will be strong for the next few years, and able to rebuild itself.
2) Pressure's on Yeo
I'm firmly in the camp that Yeo certainly gets a pass from responsibility for the 12th place finish last season. However, with this lineup and reasonable health, I can't imagine a scenario in which the Wild miss the playoffs and he remains head coach. (Don't worry, I think it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Wild miss the playoffs.) Richards only got two years, and though I believe Yeo is making the more of this opportunity than his predecessor, it's hard to imagine his leash is much longer. I hope Yeo is the coach for years to come, but a good season this year seems very important.
All right fine, let's talk about what you REALLY want to talk about.
3) Playoffs, you wanna talk about playoffs?
Yes, yes I do, and I'm going to be a little bolder about it than former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora. It's probably too much for me to say the Wild are the best team in the West, though I admit it's tempting. I look at the way the Blues, and Kings are built, it's pretty similar, and they probably are still the two sides to beat. Vancouver will be a little more tested in divisional play this year, so I imagine their point total will be down with fewer easy points against the Wild. (Not to mention other Northwest teams that are on the rise, namely everyone except Calgary.) But really, the top seeds in both conferences combined for a hilarious level of disappointment during last years playoffs. There are no guarantees, but seeing how wide open and tight the Conference was last year, the Wild most certainly belong in the conversation with the Blues, Kings, and Canucks.
I think a top 5 finish in the West for the Wild is a reasonable expectation. Given good health, anything less I would find disappointing. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but this team is in the best position to win a round since the upsets in 2003. Here's to hoping for the first playoff series victory in what would be 10 years. It wouldn't shock me if the Wild finished first in the West, and it wouldn't shock me if it were any of the four teams I named.
One thing is for sure, this will be the most interesting season in Minnesota in a long time. Well, whenever it starts.