Conference Call Wednesday-Minnesota Wild

By Keith Schultz

May 5, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Towels rest on the seats before game three of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild

Record-26-19-3 (2nd Place Northwest Division)




Goals Against-127

Goals-18 (Zach Parise)

Assists-28 (Ryan Suter)

Penalty Minutes-117 (Zenon Konopka)

Goalie- Niklas Backstrom 21-15-3 .909 Save Percentage

Head To Head (Chicago 2-0-1 Minnesota 1-2)

1. January 30- Minnesota 3 Chicago 2 OT at Xcel Energy Center

2. March 5- Chicago 5 Minnesota 3 at United Center

3. April 9- Chicago 1 Minnesota 0 at Xcel Energy Center

Summary- The Wild reached deep into their pockets to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter right before the lockout was announced. The investment paid off nicely for the Wild with a playoff appearance.  Sadly, for the Wild, even though they were only 4 points behind first place Vancouver Canucks, their record won them the #8 seed and the chance to face the President’s trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks.

Bad things happened to the Wild before the series even started with goalie Niklas Backstrom leaving the ice before Game #1 even started.  Josh Harding took over and after only playing in one regular season game played pretty fantastic for the first 4 games of the series.  The Wild tried to play defense and a slow pace game, but playoff hero Bryan Bickell scored the OT winner in Game #1 and the Wild though playing very tough were not able to build enough momentum in the series to get the Hawks attention.  This series was good and bad. It was good because it ended in 5 games and the Hawks didn’t have to over extend themeselves early in the playoffs, but it was bad because the series was never really played a playoff pitch which lulled the Hawks to sleep in which they didn’t wake up from until they were down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings.

With the new realigned divisions the Hawks and Minnesota are back in the same division again just like they should be.  The division is guaranteed 3 playoff teams and most experts are counting the Hawks, Wild, and Blues as the three from the Central Division.  The question for the Wild is will they continue to improve or will they backslide after one playoff appearance. With talents Parise and Suter on the roster one would think backslide isn’t an option.

We caught up with Dakota Case from the Minnesota Wild Fansided site Gone Puck Wild with a 10 pack of questions for the upcoming season. Here is how our Q & A went this week.

BU-1) Will losing Matt Cullen's depth hurt next season?

GPW-There's no question Cully brought much needed skill and experience to Minnesota's suddenly quite youthful lineup. His big skates will need to be filled on the second line, but hopefully left winger Jason Zucker soaked up as much as he could while playing with Matt. If so, there's no question Cullen's hard work and love for the game will live on in the play of Zucker and the other youngsters influenced by his play. 

BU-2) How much improvement can be expected from Parise and Suttor in a full season after having some time to develop chemistry

GPW-There isn't a single doubt in my mind that Parise and Suter will be much more comfortable this season. After a half season was lost to the lockout last year, training camp was short and sweet, and there was very little time to develop chemistry. You could almost say last season was a training camp in itself.

This year, Zach and Ryan will have a full training camp and preseason to get reacquainted with Minnesota and Mike Yeo's system. Parise already has great chemistry with Koivu, and even promising youngster Charlie Coyle, and will no doubt look to develop some chemistry with Jason Pominville, another candidate for the top line right wing. Suter, on the other hand, looks set for the rest of his career with NHL All-Rookie Swedish sensation Jonas Brodin skating right next to him on the top pairing. The Wild's dynamic defensive duo may already be one of the top-three best defensive pairings in the league.

BU-3) Will we see Brodin get the attention he deserves by having a strong season or will we see some regression?

GPW-Brodin will certainly get more attention because of a number of factors, including more exposure to eastern conference markets, a greater exposure to tough teams like Chicago and more pressure from fans waiting with baited breath to see what he'll do next. There is a lot of pressure on the kid compared to the likes of Alexander Edler, Ryan  Suter (his defensive partner) and even Nicklas Lidstrom. 

The beautiful thing about Brodin is that he takes nothing for granted. As long as he keeps playing like he has something to prove, he'll be fine. And he does have something to prove--that one of the best rookie seasons ever by a defenseman wasn't a fluke. There is something special about this kid, the way he skates and handles the puck has made more than one fan want to sit down under a tree on a nice, quiet sunny day and write poetry. This is just the beginning of what will likely be a long and prosperous NHL career filled with All-Star games, maybe a Norris or two, and hopefully a Stanley Cup. 

BU-4. Are the wild concerned over Ryan Suters minutes last season? 

GPW-Yes and no. There's a reason why they cut him a $98 million check--it's what an elite defenseman does. However, with Minnesota's top two pairings missing a legitimate No. 4 defenseman, it is a cause for concern. Brodin, as incredible as he was last season, will be called upon to relieve some of the stress from Suter's shoulders, and Jared Spurgeon is a rock solid No. 3 defenseman. The question is whether one of Marco Scandella, Keith Ballard, Jonathon Blum or Mathew Dumba will claim the No. 4 spot. 

Marco is the obvious choice in the eyes of many for a few reasons: he already has great chemistry with Spurgeon, and played a key role in shutting down Patrick Kane in the playoffs while also notching a goal and an assist to lead all Wild defensemen in postseason scoring. Ballard could also play on the second pairing, but it's been said he'll play right side, and that's occupied by Spurgeon on the second pairing, meaning he'll likely play to the right of Clayton Stoner on the third pair. It's to be hoped Ballard can regain his form as a good two-way defender, as he is a legitimate top-4 defenseman when on his game. 

Blum could be anywhere from 4th-7th defenseman, but Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has done a good job of shoring up the defense this offseason. A former first round pick from 2007, Blum is a guy that could really develop into a very good NHL defenseman if he takes advantage of this second chance Minnesota has given him. 

BU-5. Do you see a rivalry brewing between the Wild and Blackhawks after last season's playoff series?

GPW-Absolutely. There has always been bad blood between Minnesota and Chicago, no matter whether it was the North Stars or the Wild. In fact, if there's any team in this division that can give Chicago a big run for their money, it's Minnesota. We have the talent and skill to win now, the forward corps could be really scary with a few tweaks, we're deep in goal and we have one of the best defensive pairings in the league. Oh, and we just so happen to hate the 'Hawks. Yeah, there's a rivalry brewing. 

BU-6. Do you see this new division as a bigger or smaller challenge than the former Northwest Division? 

GPW-Due to travel, it is easier in a sense, but there's no question the competition will be much stiffer and more intense. It's a division made up of tough teams. Chicago's elite skill, St. Louis' grit, Nashville's defensive system, Colorado's brimming potential, Winnipeg's passion and will to live and a Dallas squad that looks to make a big impact. Nearly every team in this division, aside from Chicago, is looking for something to prove. It's going to be a huge challenge and will be very fun to watch from a fan's perspective.

BU-7. Did Wild fans get what they expected with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise's performance in 2013 after the big twin signings? 

GPW-Hmm. Parise led the team in scoring and Suter was a Norris finalist. Yep! 

Bu-8. How important is Josh Harding's health to the Wild's success? 

GPW-It's certainly important, to be sure, but Niklas  Backstrom is one of the best starters in the league and Darcy Kuemper is more than capable of stepping in as backup. Minnesota isn't going to rush Hards, and don't want him doing anything he isn't comfortable with. They're handling this situation delicately and will always do what's in the best interest of Josh. 

However, like he said in his exit interview at the end of the season, he's coming in ready to play all 82 games. Ever since he was drafted 38th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, he's been advertised as the franchise goaltender of the future. He may have MS, but his goal hasn't changed--he's still planning on being No. 1 in Minnesota. There isn't a Wild fan out there who isn't rooting for him.

BU-9. Who is going to be the breakout newcomer this season?

GPW-That remains to be seen, as it could very well be either a defenseman, forward or goaltender, depending on the injury situation. For the past three years now, Minnesota's goalie prospects have been seeing some good action. Last year, it was Darcy  Kuemper. The year before that, it was Matt Hackett and itwas Anton Khudobin the year before that. Could this be the year Johan Gustafsson makes his NHL debut? Other candidates for promotion are defenseman Mathew Dumba (7th overall, 2012) and forward Zack Phillips (28th overall, 2011). 

Bu-10. What will be defined as a successful season and what is your expectations for the 2013-2014 season?

GPW-Minnesota has to improve on last season. To keep fans and the owner happy, expect nothing short of a playoff berth, and one secured by not just squeaking in. Fans want a series win, and if Parise and Suter improve, and young guns like Mikael Granlund, Zucker, Coyle and Niederreiter step up, that    shouldn't be too unrealistic.

Thanks again to Dakota for taking time out to answer our questions. Please look up Gone Puck Wild if your in the mood for some Minnesota Wild coverage! What do you think? Are the Wild a solid playoff team?