With the blockbuster offseason that the Minnesota Wild had, fans are looking forward to this year more than any other in recent memory. Here are my five burning questions for the upcoming season:
1. Will there even be a season?
This is the first question that fans of every team want to see answered…will we even have a season? The current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, less than a month from now. The owners and players have been negotiating, but have not made significant progress and it is anyone’s guess at this point whether the season will start on time. Wild fans in particular are hoping there are no missed games so they can see the team’s newest members, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
2. How big of an impact will the offseason moves have this year?
In case you hadn’t heard, the Wild signed a couple of free agents who are pretty good. Parise and Suter have brought their talents to Minneapolis/St. Paul and will be expected to continue their top-level play that they showed in recent years with the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators. The Wild were dead last in goals and shots per game in 2011-12 and it remains to be seen just how much two players can turn around a whole team. However, Parise and Suter are just entering their prime and let’s be honest, there is nowhere to go but up for the Wild this year.
3. What will the Wild’s blue line look like?
Marek Zidlicky: gone. Greg Zanon: gone. Nick Schultz: gone. The Wild turned over a huge chunk of their defensemen last year and have some new faces in Suter and Tom Gilbert. Plus, the team has a number of young talented defensemen on the roster, such as Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Mike Lundin. Throw in 2012 first round pick Mathew Dumba and the Wild suddenly have a pretty crowded blue line. You know Suter will get his minutes, and the tandem of Spurgeon and Scandella showed promise last year, but it will be interesting to see how head coach Mike Yeo deploys his numerous defenders this season.
4. Which of the Wild’s prospects will step up to contribute this year?
The Wild have one of the best prospects in the league in Mikael Granlund and there is a pretty good chance that he will make it to the big show sometime this year. He has been lighting up the SM-liiga in Finland for the last three years and fans are waiting eagerly to see just what he can do in the NHL. Besides Granlund, the Wild have other top prospects in Dumba and Charlie Coyle, so the next few years will be very exciting for fans to watch the young players come up through the system.
5. Which Dany Heatley will we see in 2012-13?
It’s no secret that Dany Heatley’s production has been dropping off in recent years. Though he led the Wild in goals and points last year, fans are wondering if we will ever see him score 30 goals again, let alone 40 or more. In 2011-12, Heatley posted his lowest output in seven years, though with all the injuries, there wasn’t much of a supporting cast around him. Another year with the likes of Mikko Koivu plus the additions of Parise and Suter may mean Heatley can restore some of his old goal-scoring ways, but the team will need him to deposit the puck in the back of the net if they hope to be playoff contenders in 2013.