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PALISADE HEAD… The National Hockey League begins it’s 2018-19 regular season and I must say I am still having a tough time determining how this club might perform this year. As I have stated before this team is in possession of a quality veteran core group that is capable of leading this team to another 100-point season. But in what most analysts are saying will be the toughest Central Division in a few years, would that even earn them a playoff spot at the end of this campaign? As I have also stated previously, this is a team with several “if’s” attached to it. If those are successfully addressed this is a team that could make some forward movement, get into the playoffs and perhaps even make something happen once they begin. If you are a Wild fan licking the wounds of six consecutive seasons ending in playoff failure, that would be refreshing for a change. But that’s easier said than done.
In their final preseason tilt last Friday eve in the Mile High City, the Wild dropped an OT contest to the Av’s by a 4-3 score. It was mostly an unremarkable game, but the boys came back late to tie the game on a Jason Zucker goal to force the extra frame. But Charlie Coyle took a penalty 25 seconds into the OT and Mikko Rantanen scored 1:04 later for the win. Where do the Wild kickoff this new season? Yup, right back to Denver for the opener against the Av’s. Is that good or bad? It used to be good when the Av’s franchise was struggling. But last year, after their first meeting of the season the Av’s owned the Wild. In fact, they made the Wild look downright bad in a couple of their victories over them. So, what to expect from the Wild early on? Let’s check the roster first and then I’ll look at the schedule for October.
On Saturday the team put five players on waivers; Matt Read, Mike Liambas, Matt Bartkowski, Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond and Kyle Rau. The rest of the league had until 11AM on Sunday morning to claim any of them and no one did. On Monday morning the team reassigned all of them to the Iowa Wild. Additionally, on Monday the team waived D-man Ryan Murphy. As of this writing I believe he too will clear waivers, but I think he might still be destined for the 23-man roster. This means that, as many fans have been hoping, that journeyman and team player extraordinaire D-man Nate Prosser will make the 23 man. “Pross” is not a star by any stretch, just a very hard-working heart and soul guy. I’m very happy to hear this news.
This is the current 23-man starting at Forward; Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Nino Neidereitter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks and former UMD Bulldog JT Brown. And on the Blueline; Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Greg Pateryn, Nick Seeler, Nate Prosser, presumably Murphy clears waiver and stays, and Gustav Olofsson who stays on the big roster due to injury. Your goalkeepers are once again Devan Dubnyk and former Bulldog Alex Stalock. Considering the roster from last seasons last playoff game, the loss to Winnipeg, there are three new forwards, and one new D-man. Fehr and Hendricks are solid fourth liners, but Brown was on two different teams last season and was a free agent pickup by the Wild. Pateryn was a free agent who was originally drafted by Toronto, ended up in Montreal before being traded to Dallas who elected not to re-sign him after last season. Since turning pro in 2012-13 he has appeared in 167 NHL tilts. Do these players elevate the Wild into a contender status? It would be hard for me to say yes with conviction. But that’s where all the “if’s” surrounding this roster come into play.
If you follow the Wild you already know what these are. Can Nino and Coyle reach their long overdue potential? Can Granny and Zucker continue to grow their offensive games? Can the blueline continue to produce offensively? Can Dubnyk continue with consistency in goal? Can Stalock contribute more from the backup position? Can Staal, Koivu and Parise carry on with strong offensive output? And the million-dollar question; does Suter come all the way back from a dreadful injury? If the answers to these are all positive this club will put up another 100-point season. If not….
THE TEAM OPENS in Denver, then hosts the Vegas Golden Knights in their home opener Saturday in St. Paul. The remainder of October sees them host CHI and CAR next week, then @ NASH, back home against ARI, then @ DAL, then the next night versus TB at home in the 1st back to back of the year. The week after that they will host the LAK and then COL before finishing the first month of the campaign @ EDM and @VAN. 12 games for the month, 5 playoff teams from last season including a Stanley Cup runner-up. This is a challenging opening month and my thinking at this time is that the team could end up with a 6-6 record at the end of the month. In observing the team in the preseason, they didn’t come across to me as a club that was going to set the ice on fire from the get-go. Rather, they might be a team that kind of builds their game as they go forth. Perhaps that reflects the number of veterans and the amount of experience on this roster. What they want to avoid is getting behind the eight ball right off the hop in this division. That could be a fatal blow to their playoff chances. You can’t win a playoff spot in October but you sure could lose one.
Without going in-depth, I look for Winnipeg and Nashville to fight it out for the Division title, I think that STL, depending on the play and consistency of G-Jake Allen come in right behind those two and then the battle for the 4th spot comes into play. My process of elimination says that CHI finishes last this year, and that leaves the Wild, COL and DAL to scrap it out. I feel that 5 teams from the Central will get into the playoff. That means one of these three will end up on the outside looking in. We have already addressed the questions surrounding the Wild, so, can youth be served in Denver? Can the Stars score enough goals to get back in? Despite their talent they were 18th in the league in GF and only scored 9 more goals then they gave up all season. COL owned the Wild last year and so did the Stars. Which 2 will emerge from this trifecta and get in? We are about to find out, drop that biscuit! PEACE