The Minnesota Wild should have opened their season this week, but instead the players are scattered to the four winds, playing in Russia or Europe or Houston. For a team that has turned over its roster so much in the last three years and has a lot of young players, these are critical weeks and months that the team could be building chemistry, figuring out line combinations, and developing a team identity. To a certain extent, the younger skaters are doing a little bit of that playing in the AHL together, but in a broader sense, this lockout will be seen as a big missed opportunity for the team to gel and develop team chemistry.
If and when we get an NHL season this year, what will be the Wild’s team identity? For as much as the Wild were dissected last year and scrutinized (rightly so I should add) for their lack of scoring, they still played a pretty good defensive game. Sure, in February and March when the wheels completely fell off the bus, that statement didn’t hold particularly true. But considering the number of different players the Wild used–most in the NHL last year and most in franchise history–they did a half-decent job of maintaining their reputation as a defensively-responsible team with quality goaltending. With the new additions signed this offseason, you may have heard something about that, and the exciting prospects coming through the system, I am wondering what the team’s identity will be going forward.
Last year’s St. Louis Blues might be a good comparison: two great goaltenders, some youth on the blue line, and a solid roster with several lines of two-way players. I wrote previously about what kind of strategy might best suit the Wild’s new roster, and I still think that a well-rounded approach will be best suited. The team has a wide variety of skill sets, from pure snipers (Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi) to 200-foot players (Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Kyle Brodziak) to playmakers (Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, and Mikael Granlund) to defensive specialists (Darroll Powe and Cal Clutterbuck).
Ultimately, I think head coach Mike Yeo will be best served to try to formulate an overall strategy and team identity that incorporates that diversity of roles instead of making the players alter their approach to fit a certain style of play. It’s just a shame that because of the lockout, that might not happen until December, January, or even October of 2013.