NHL: Minnesota Wild Offseason Checklist

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NHL: An Offseason Checklist for the Minnesota Wild

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The Minnesota Wild saw their season come to an end Thursday night with a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. They were not dominated for long stretches for the most part during the five-game series, but failure to cash in on scoring opportunities early in games led to the Wild failing to keep pace with the much more-talented Blackhawks.

Expectations were surely raised for Minnesota last summer with the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in free agency, but a lockout-shortened campaign with a lot of new faces led to an up-and-down season and the team limping into the postseason on the heels of a poor April.

The Wild will head into the offseason facing some big questions, from the status of coach Mike Yeo to some key pending free agents like goaltender Niklas Backstrom and winger Matt Cullen. Time will tell in terms of how the roster takes shape for the 2013-2014 season and beyond, but with plenty of young talent in the pipeline the future looks bright despite this season’s disappointing finish.

Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher has proven to be fairly aggressive, including trading two young players to the Buffalo Sabres for Jason Pominville at the trade deadline this year, so a big move or two is not out of the question again this summer. This time last year it was thought the Wild would hone in on either Parise or Suter when free agency opened, and of course both wound up coming aboard with matching 13-year contracts.

Here are five items I think the Wild need to address this offseason.

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5. Make a Decision on Coach Mike Yeo

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Wild owner Craig Leipold surely would like to win sooner as opposed to later, so a change behind the bench could be mandated from the top fairly quickly. That said, Yeo may get another year based on the difficult circumstances that occurred this season.

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4. Add a Defenseman Who is a Proven, Physical Presence

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Suter led the NHL in ice time during the regular season with over 27 minutes per game, and he also averaged over 31 minutes per game during Minnesota’s five postseason games. The young talent the Wild have on the blue line is intriguing (Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon), but the lack of a significant physical presence was exposed by Chicago.

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3. Make Zach Parise Team Captain

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Captaincy is often nothing more than symbolic, but Parise has the acumen to be the clear-cut team leader and putting the “C” on his jersey is virtually mandatory. Mikko Koivu, the team’s current captain, can still serve as a veteran leader from more of a background role.

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2. Look to Add a Proven Scorer

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A healthy Pominville for a full season could fill the void here, since he has at least 20 goals in each of his last six non-lockout shortened seasons, along with at least 50 points in all six of those campaigns. Still, adding a forward who can help ignite a power play (and overall offense) that too often gets stagnant should be a top priority for Fletcher this summer.

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1. Find a Future Goaltender

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Backstrom is 35 years old and slated to be an unrestricted free agent, so he has likely played his final game in a Wild sweater. Josh Harding performed admirably early in the series against the Blackhawks before being hampered by a leg injury, but his future contribution can’t be counted on as he deals with multiple sclerosis. Darcy Kuemper may be in the mix after seeing some action this season, and 2010 draft pick Johan Gustafsson may become an option next season as well. For the first time virtually in franchise history, the Wild face some real instability between the pipes heading toward next season.

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