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Long offseason leaves Wild in an unusual position

Minnesota will be absent from the postseason for the first time in seven years

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe / Wild.com

DALLAS -- It was a little strange watching the Wild pack up its gear and head to the exit at American Airlines Center on Saturday night.

That gear won't be unpacked again for five or six months, and when it does, there's a good chance the group putting it on will look much different, even than the team that ended the season wearing Iron Range Red and Forest Green.

"We have to change something because what we have is not working," said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. "We do have guys out, some guys that have scored a lot of goals in the League, that's a bright spot. We've got a lot of young guys with a lot of potential and a good summer of training and knowing that they're going to be on the team I think will help. We can't keep going the way we've been going."

It's been a season filled with change for Minnesota. Gone are franchise staples once believed to be the young core. In is the next wave of talent General Manager Paul Fenton forms the base of the Wild's next playoff team.

This is the first time in seven years Minnesota won't depart from a season finale and return home ready to prep for a First Round playoff opponent. 

For six consecutive seasons, the Wild has played meaningful games into April and May.

That hasn't been the case the past week since a loss in Arizona, when the dye was essentially cast on Minnesota's postseason dreams. 

This franchise isn't used to meaningless games, but it has offered time to reflect on the season that was.

Video: Locker room postgame at Dallas

"These last couple of games, when you're out of it, they're tough games," Suter said after the Wild's 3-0 loss Saturday at Dallas. "The last couple of games, it's just frustrating. You can't believe that the year's over already. You think back to February, I think we won one game the whole month, so if we would have found ways to pull some out early on -- we had some leads and we blew some leads. 

"You start thinking back to the games that you blew that you should have won and it might have been a different story."

For Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, it's the first time in his stellar NHL coaching career that a season he began behind a team's bench won't result in a trip to the playoffs. 

"It's a long time until next year, and you never want it to be over," Boudreau said. "It's a disappointing moment in your season when you put in eight months and then it comes to an end, especially like it did the last two games not scoring a goal. It's pretty depressing."

Minnesota hasn't missed the postseason much over the years. This year will be the first time since 2012 the Wild will not participate in the playoffs. That six-year streak was tied with Anaheim for the second-longest in the NHL behind Pittsburgh's 12-year streak, which was extended to 13 a few nights ago. 

"Very disappointing. I thought even at the deadline there, we made a lot of moves. We brought on a lot of new faces. I still thought we had a chance to work our way into a playoff spot," said Wild forward Eric Staal. "We weren't able to get enough guys going to be able to push for that last spot. That's disappointing, obviously, with two left to play for nothing. We looked like that tonight, and that's not very good."

Wild forward Marcus Foligno got his first taste of postseason hockey last spring after six seasons in Buffalo where he never reached the playoffs. 

After a while, the reality of not getting past the regular season can wear on a team. It was one of the reasons Foligno was so excited about a fresh start with the Wild. That's why it's important that Minnesota makes its one-year absence a mirage, not the beginning of a trend.

"We should have an energized team next year," Foligno said. "The best thing to do is to come into training camp next year and demand to be a playoff team right from the get-go. You've gotta right the ship and come back stronger than we did this year."

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame at Dallas

The hope is that a healthy Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu, as well as some big additions this summer, can help drive the Wild back to the postseason. 

It wasn't an easy season, even from the very beginning. It was a trend Boudreau spotted months ago and one that never changed. 

"It was a grind from Day 1. I thought we lost our first game and when we won, we won by one or two goals," Boudreau said. "So every game we won we were grinding it out type thing, and we'd get really good goaltending. Nothing's come easy to this team this year."

Even so, Boudreau's advocacy of his young core remains undeterred, as they will be counted on to take another step next year in helping to limit the Wild's postseason drought to a single campaign.

"I don't think any organization wants [non-playoff seasons] to stack up. Nobody feels safe when that happens," Boudreau said. "But I think there's enough skill in that room and going to be getting with free agency and whatever it takes, to make this team more than competitive next year.

"I don't think anybody in the organization doesn't want to make the playoffs anymore. So whatever the decision is to, the thought of what you have to do to make the playoffs is going to be done."


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