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Wild stumble to finish line after fast start

Monday, 04.09.2012 / 12:32 PM / Season in Review

By Dan Myers - Correspondent

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Wild stumble to finish line after fast start
The Minnesota Wild stumbled to the finish line after a fast start in 2011-12.
What happened?


LW Dany Heatley
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 53
SOG: 238 | +/-: 2
G Niklas Backstrom
RECORD: 19-18-7
GAA: 2.4 | SVP: 0.914
RW Nick Johnson
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 26
SOG: 146 | +/-: -6
Kyle Brodziak (22 goals, 44 points)
The Wild managed to miss the postseason despite a 20-7-3 start to the 2011-12 campaign.

The Wild are probably not too far from where many thought they'd be heading into the season. A hot start quickly raised expectations and Minnesota was the best team in the NHL as recently as Dec. 17. But a rash of injuries to a number of top forwards caught up with the Wild and slowly but surely, Minnesota tumbled down the standings. The Wild will become the first team in league history to lead their conference in December and then miss the playoffs entirely.

How to fix it?

Minnesota needs two things: Added offense and better health. The Wild are the lowest scoring team in the NHL, a fact that hasn't been helped by injuries to top-6 guys like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse, who have missed much of the season because of lingering concussion issues. Captain Mikko Koivu, forward Devin Setoguchi and goaltender Niklas Backstrom have missed large chunks of the season due to various injuries. Minnesota has also gotten very little production from the back-end: One of the main reasons why the Wild traded for defenseman Tom Gilbert at the trade deadline. This is something the team is also likely to put a major premium on this offseason (Nashville's Ryan Suter is a likely target if he reaches free agency).

Three reasons for hope:

1. According to The Hockey News' Future Watch 2012' list, Minnesota boasts more top-75 prospects (6) than any other organization in the NHL, including Mikael Granlund, arguably the best player in the world not currently in the NHL. Other top prospects, including defenseman Jonas Brodin and forwards Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, Johan Larsson as well as goaltender Matt Hackett, should all have a chance to make the team this fall. Not all will, but it wouldn't be shocking to see at least 2 or 3 as soon as this fall.

2. After years of limited cap space, the Wild will have an opportunity to sign, perhaps, two big-time free agents this summer (Suter and Zach Parise are both pending free agents and both have connections to the organization/area) as Minnesota will have upwards of $18 million to spend. Barring trades/re-signings, the Wild will also have an additional $10-12 million more coming off the books in 2013.

3. Minnesota's surprising stumble down the stretch will yield a top-5 pick -- and with some luck, perhaps even the top pick -- which will allow GM Chuck Fletcher an opportunity to add even more young talent to the Wild's prospect cupboard. Depending on whom Fletcher tabs with that first selection, it could pay dividends as soon as next season.

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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