The toughest division continues to build more elite teams while the Chicago Blackhawks struggle to regain their footing. Headed into the 2018-2019 season, the Blackhawks could be in trouble.
Heading into the third part of this series, we’ve glanced at the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche. The Colorado Avalanche are in a great position to finish as one of the top teams in the Central Division this coming season. The Avs showcase high-octane offense with double-threats, a productive blue line while high-caliber goalies occupy the crease.
The Avalanche made the playoffs in 2017-2018 after 17 analysts failed to even mention them once when predicting the division’s results. I mentioned in the previous article the Avalanche should not be overlooked in the division. I believe they will be a tough test for even Winnipeg and Nashville.
This post will take a look at our friends in the State of Hockey. Assuming their top players can stay healthy, the Wild could see the playoffs once again.
The Minnesota Wild (Blackhawks 2-3 against in 2017-18)
There is no mystery the Minnesota Wild have always seemed to fall short when it comes to success in the playoffs. The Wild have had first-round exits in three consecutive appearances.
Their top line ranks 25th in the NHL headed into 2018-19. Consisting of Nino Niederreiter (32 points), Eric Staal (76 points) and Jason Zucker (64 points), the Wild will need to look to their 11th-ranked second line.
Zach Parise (24 points), Mikko Koivu (45) and Mikael Granlund (67) to help with the scoring. The Wild’s biggest concern should be keeping Parise healthy. Without him on the ice, the Wild struggled to outscore opponents.
Da Windy City
While missing both Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild were outscored 123-122 in 43 games with a record of 22-17-4. Now, you might think that isn’t so bad. But this is compared to a record of 23-9-7 in 39 games and outscoring opponents 128-106 with Suter and Parise on the ice.
Suter led the Minnesota blue liners with 51 points total in 2017-18. Followed narrowly by Matthew Dumba (50 points), the Minnesota Wild have defensive depth that seems to trend with point-producing defensive players in the Central Division.
Two other defenders on the roster were north of 20 points after the regular season. Jared Spurgeon finished with 37 points, Jonas Brodin with 21 points. All this production in offensive zone came while keeping their goaltender well protected and cleaning up their own zone. The defense in Minnesota may be the most solid piece of the roster headed into the 2018-19 season.
Devan Dubnyk started 59 games in 2017-18 and won 35. On top of an impressive record, Dubnyk finished 10th in saves, sixth in wins and fourth in shutouts (five). Locking in a .918 save percentage, Dubnyk got the job done for the Wild last season and handled most of the workload. Can Dubnyk keep up the same numbers when starting almost 60 games? Alex Stalock is going to have to be stellar when he gets the call.
Since taking over in 2016, Bruce Boudreau has seen two consecutive 40-plus win seasons as well as two consecutive exits from the playoffs in the first round. Wherever Boudreau ends up, he seems to bring a winning record with him. However, none of those winning records or playoff trips have paid off.
The Minnesota Wild seem to be trending in the wrong direction. Much like the Blackhawks, they are hovering around “ifs.” If the offense can stay healthy? If the defense can continue to produce offense and clean up in their own zone? If Stalock stands strong when Dubnyk can’t start 50-plus games?
Now, if all of those line up, the Minnesota Wild can be another difficult team among the Central Division residents. However, Parise and Suter need to stay healthy and the backup goaltending must give Dubnyk a break.
If the stars do not align in Minnesota this year, the Central Division could see a new basement team.
The teams only get more difficult as we continue through the Central Division. The ascent gets more difficult from here. Stay with me now. You’ve come this far.