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NHL Burning Questions: Minnesota Wild

Adam Proteau looks at a few of the top questions for the Wild entering 2022-23, including their goatlending, the young core and much more.
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Welcome to the latest file in THN.com’s continuing “Three Burning Questions” series. Here, we ask three major questions for every NHL team before the beginning of the 2022-23 regular season. We have Three Burning Questions about the Minnesota Wild in today's file.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THN WILD IN 2022-23:

1. Will the Wild’s new goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson pan out? Despite a franchise-record 53 wins and 113 standings points, the air went out of the Wild in Round One of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the St. Louis Blues beat them in six games. GM Bill Guerin’s big salary cap gamble centered around the buyout of aged veterans Ryan Suter and Zach Parise did not pay off, and Minnesota once again failed to win even a single playoff game for the first time since the 2014 post-season. But while the Wild were outscored 19-5 in their four losses to the Blues, there was no sense Minnesota needed a different tandem in net.

Unfortunately, veteran Cam Talbot did not want to share or cede the bulk of the load in net once it was clear that 37-year-old star Marc-Andre Fleury was returning to Minnesota on a two-year contract, and he was shipped off to Ottawa in exchange for their No. 2 netminder, Filip Gustavsson. The trade helped the cap-challenged Wild – the difference in salary between Gustavsson and Talbot is approximately $2.9 million – but Gustavsson’s individual numbers (namely, his 3.55 GAA and .892 SP) do not inspire confidence he could or should be asked to play 30 or more games in support of Fleury. Indeed, Gustavsson has only 27 games (including 18 last year) of career NHL experience, and the big Swede is still only 24 years old. That means he’s got room to rebound, but he’ll be under intense pressure to help Minnesota keep pace with the Blues, Colorado and other Central Division playoff contenders in Dallas and Nashville.

If Fleury goes down to injury for any significant period, Gustavsson may become crucial to the Wild’s survival this season. He could be a great story, or a cautionary tale.

2. Can Minnesota’s many youngsters up front provide the energy and support on offense for the veterans on the back end? In part because of their cap constraints, the Wild were forced to part ways with star winger Kevin Fiala this off-season, and to replace what he brought to the table, they have to turn to youngsters up front. Of their top 12 forwards, eight are 25 years old or younger. Contrast that with a defense corps that leans heavily on veterans – four of their top six D-men are 28 or older – and you see what needs to happen for Minnesota to thrive: youngsters, including 21-year-old winger Matt Boldy and 20-year-old center Marco Rossi, have to do some of the heavy lifting and take some of the harsh spotlight off of the Wild’s top two forward lines.

Minnesota head coach Dean Evason cannot and will not win on mostly offense or defense this year. They must have a solid balance of the two, and the harder element may be maintaining their potent offense from last season. As they say, you can’t teach offense, and this season could be a harsh underscoring of that fact for the Wild.

3. Does good health mean a lot to this Wild team? While some franchises have sufficient depth to withstand a bite from the injury bug, the Wild are not one of them. They managed to make the most out of the lineup they had in 2021-22, but another similar season of many injuries could be the difference between them making and missing the playoffs this year.

None of Minnesota’s top-six defensemen played more than 73 games last season, and four played 66 or fewer games. Similarly, four of the Wild’s top 12 forwards played 70 or fewer games, and six missed at least eight games in the regular season. It’s difficult for any team to gel when there’s regular roster tumult, so good fortune on the health front is unquestionably one of the keys for the Wild this year.

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