A Wild Ride: The Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild are on fire right now.
In an NHL season characterized by streaks, the Minnesota Wild quietly put together a quality 12-game win streak of their own in the month of December. Second longest streak of the 2016/17 season behind the Columbus Blue Jackets’ history making 16-game streak.
The Wild have won 17 of their last 20 contests and are about to settle in for a four game home stand. Which bodes well for the Wild. They are 12-3-1 at home this season.
For many years the Wild have been a team that has failed to live up to expectations. Mediocre playoff performances have kept the club from making a run for the cup in the past but this year appears to be different.
So what is it about the 2016/17 Minnesota Wild that make them so dangerous to play against right now?
The truth is that there is no simple answer. Instead, it is a combination of factors. So let’s start from the top, shall we?
After an anti-climactic tenure with the team, head coach Mike Yeo was relieved of his duties during last year’s 2015/16 season. Interim coach John Torchetti took over Yeo’s duties but was not offered the position at season’s end.
Instead, the Wild went looking for something more.
And it is unlikely they could have found a coach with a higher pedigree than that of Bruce ‘Gabby’ Boudreau. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Gabby’ for his talkative nature, Boudreau has turned the underperforming club into a force to be reckoned with.
The 2008 Jack Adam’s Award winner sported an impressive 409-192-80 record before the season began. A record which includes eight division titles and a President’s Trophy.
He’s gone 28-9-5 with his new club and as a result the Minnesota Wild now sit atop the Central Division with sole possession of first place. With 61 points, they are behind only the Washington Capitals (64) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (61) for points in the League.
Bringing Boudreau on board has paid dividends for the Wild franchise.
The quiet offseason acquisition of veteran NHLer Eric Staal has been a boon to the offensive output of the Minnesota Wild. But the Wild are not the only ones winning in this equation, Staal’s career is enjoying a late renaissance with the new club.
Staal was drafted in the first round (second overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. In his rookie year he won the Stanley Cup while contributing an astonishing 45 goals and 55 assists in regular season play and another nine goals and 19 assists in the playoffs.
Though his NHL career began with a bang, neither Staal nor the Hurricanes were able to replicate that success. Staal has failed matched his rookie point production since.
However, with 15 goals and 24 assists through 42 games thus far, Staal has matched his last year’s point production with half the season still remaining.
But Staal brings more to the team than just point production. Wild captain Mikko Koivu said of Stall,
“It’s not just on the ice. Off the ice, it’s huge the way he handles himself. It’s not just the game. For me, he helps in a lot of ways. In the room, on the bench, you have to believe whatever he says. You know he’s been there and you know he’s at almost 1,000 games, so he knows what he talks about. He’s played with great players, he’s won [a Stanley Cup]. In my situation, it helps a lot on and off the ice.”
The Minnesota Wild have the second fewest goals against in the NHL. And it’s not hard to figure out why.
Devan Dubnyk has been leading the league in goaltending stats all year. The 2015 Bill Masterson Trophy winner, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey, is having the best season of his career
When it comes to goaltending, Dubnyk is first in goals against average (1.78), first in save percentage (.940), second in wins (23), and second in shutouts (5). He has lost only four of his last 20 starts and currently sports a four game win streak.
With numbers like that, Dubnyk is surely a front runner for the Vezina this season.
Ultimately, when a team like the Minnesota Wild finds success on the ice it is rarely due to just one guy. The Wild have managed to make things work this year because they finally have all the pieces in place.
The Wild have one of the best NHL coaches behind the bench. Bruce Boudreau has turned his team into an offensive powerhouse (fourth in league in goals for) while also managing a shut-down defense (second fewest in goals against).
They sport one of the League’s best goaltenders. Devan Dubnyk ought to be considered for the Vezina Trophy this year, given his dominance in net.
Their veteran presence is strong, scoring, and dangerous. Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter are showing no signs of slowing down.
What’s more is that their young talent has finally blossomed. Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund are having career years in their own right.
In short, the Minnesota Wild are firing on all cylinders, turning heads, and making an honest case for the cup.