The Minnesota Wild
underwent a significant roster makeover this offseason in hope of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after sitting out the last two seasons, and they have the San Jose Sharks
to thank for a good portion of it.
The biggest headline grabber was Minnesota's acquisition of four-time All-Star forward Dany Heatley
. While Heatley is coming off the least-productive full season of his career, he still brings a scorer's touch and 689 points in 669 NHL games. The move cost the Wild dynamic winger Martin Havlat
, but for a team that finished 26th in the League in goals per game last season, dramatic upgrades were needed.
Joining Heatley in Minnesota is his San Jose teammate, forward Devin Setoguchi
, who arrived in St. Paul along with highly-touted prospect Charlie Coyle
and a 2011 first-round draft pick, which was used on high-scoring center Zack Phillips
. All-Star defenseman Brent Burns
was the price, but the trio of Setoguchi, Coyle and Phillips could prove to be a massive haul for the Wild as they push through their rebuilding effort.
Getting all of these new pieces to gel with the holdovers from last season may be difficult, and it almost certainly will be the most immediate responsibility for new coach Mike Yeo
, who was promoted from the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros. Yeo just might be the biggest change Minnesota experiences this season. Last season in Houston was his first as a professional head coach, and he took the Aeros to the Calder Cup Final 12 months after the team missed the postseason.
The hope is Yeo can engineer a similar turnaround with the Wild. It's something he does have experience in -- he was an assistant coach with the Penguins for four seasons before leaving for Houston, and helped the Pens rise from out of the playoffs to a Stanley Cup champion in 2009.
The dramatic changes of the offseason will give the Wild's offense a whole new look. Heatley and Setoguchi will be expected to light the lamp with regularity, but three of Minnesota's top four scorers from last season (Havlat, Andrew Brunette
and Burns) all are elsewhere this season. The highest scoring holdover from 2010-11 is center Mikko Koivu
, whose 62 points tied for the team lead. After him, it's Matt Cullen
, who as the second-line center last season had just 12 goals and 27 assists in 78 games.
Koivu likely will have Minnesota's biggest acquisitions, Heatley and Setoguchi on his wings. If those two can bring some chemistry with them from their days playing together with the Sharks, all three should benefit and give Minnesota a potent top line.
Cullen or Pierre-Marc Bouchard
, who had 38 points last season, seems likely to center the Wild's second line, but who plays wing on that line is unknown. Cal Clutterbuck
, who had a career-best 19 goals last season, would seem a strong candidate for one spot.
and Guillaume Latendresse
also figure to factor into the mix at center and left wing. Latendresse had 25 goals in 55 games after arriving in a trade early in the 2009-10 season, but injuries limited him to just 11 games last season.
IN: Charlie Coyle
, C (trade, Sharks); Dany Heatley
, RW (trade, Sharks); Mike Lundin
, D (free agent, Lightning); Darroll Powe
, C (trade, Flyers); Devin Setoguchi
, RW (trade, Sharks)
OUT: Cam Barker
, D (buyout, Oilers); Andrew Brunette
, LW (free agent, Blackhawks); Brent Burns
, D (trade, Sharks); Martin Havlat
, RW (trade, Sharks); Chuck Kobasew
, RW (free agent, Avalanche); John Madden
, C (free agent); Antti Miettinen
, RW (free agent, Ak Bars Kazan, Russia); Patrick O'Sullivan
, C (free agent, Coyotes); James Sheppard
, C (trade, Sharks); Jose Theodore
, G (free agent, Panthers)
Minnesota should be one of the more physical teams in the West, as well. Center Darroll Powe
, acquired from Philadelphia this summer and signed to a three-year, $3.2 million deal, was a major hitter for the Flyers and his checking style could be a valuable tool for shutting down opposing scorers. Colton Gillies
, Eric Nystrom
and Brad Staubitz
also should add plenty of grit to the mix.
The Burns trade leaves a significant hole on Minnesota's blue line that is unlikely to be filled by any one player. Burns had career highs with 17 goals and 46 points last season, so losing his shot will be a challenge.
If any member of the defensive corps can come close to replacing him, it's likely to be Marek Zidlicky
. He only played 46 games last season, but had 7 goals and 17 assists.
Zidlicky might be joined on the top pair by offseason signing Mike Lundin
, a Minnesota native who was a plus-4 for Tampa Bay during its run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Veterans Nick Schultz
and Greg Zanon
figure to make up the Wild's second pair, while 26-year-old Clayton Stoner
could get plenty of playing time in what could be his first full NHL season.
WILD 30 IN 15 RELATED STORIES
The last two seasons have featured inconsistent play from top goalie Niklas Backstrom
. He went just 22-23-5 last season, but his .916 save percentage was solid.
With an offense giving him more support, Backstrom could find himself back on the right side of a .500 record, but he'll also have to lower his goals-against average (2.66 and 2.72 in the last two seasons) back to the 2.30 range, when he won 70 games in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
Expected to backup Backstrom up is Josh Harding
, who had filled that role for three seasons until he missed all of 2010-11 after tearing his ACL and MCL in a preseason game. Despite his injuries, Harding was re-signed this summer and should be a solid No. 2 once again.