After a year unlike any other, the season has come to a close. The season may not have ended as many wanted, but there were so many special memories from this group this season.
There was Kirill Kaprizov's first goal in overtime on opening night against Los Angeles.
There was the franchise record 11-game winning streak at Xcel Energy Center. Matt Dumba's buzzer-beating game-winner in the Reverse Retros on Hockey Day. And many more.
After a seven-game playoff series loss against the Vegas Golden Knights, Minnesota will have an extremely busy offseason. Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad, Marcus Johansson and Ian Cole are unrestricted free agents. Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek are restricted free agents.
The NHL Expansion Draft is in July. Prospects Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi are expected to make their NHL debuts. Minnesota also owns two first-round picks in the NHL Entry Draft, its own and the Pittsburgh Penguins' pick. There will be changes this summer. And for the last time of the 2020-21 NHL season, Minnesota's players spoke to the media before beginning to go their separate ways for the offseason.
Here are the highlights from some of the players who spoke to the media on Tuesday:
On what is next for him:
"I actually fly out later today (Tuesday). The plans are, first and foremost, to get home, see my family, see my friends, get some rest. And then of course start training and getting ready for next season."
On his excitement level for more of a return to normalcy next season:
"Yeah of course I'm really looking forward to it. I think any normal season you get out there and you get to explore the city. It's much better for the fans. It's much better for the players. I'm definitely anxiously awaiting next season."
On next season:
"You never sign a deal and not fully intend on seeing it through. I understand things change but from my standpoint, I've always enjoyed playing here. We're invested in the community here. So the last thing you want to do is up your family and move and get out of here. So, no, I don't see myself. I don't want to play anywhere else."
On learning anything about team from a different perspective this season:
"I always say I'll never be critical. When you're watching a team from up top, the game is a lot easier. But I've always known how good our defensemen are, how good that group is back there. I don't know if they still are under-appreciated. I don't think they should be. I think just watching from up top and I think I got even more of an appreciation for how good those guys are back there and how they can make life so much easier for the forwards with the way they can skate and retrieve the puck, break us out. That's a good D core that we have."
On having to get better from this year:
"There's a lot to take from a season like this. Obviously a bit different times with what we had to go through. But I think at the same time we became a very close group as there was only a limited number of people we could be around. I think with the season I thought this year we really built on just going day to day for the team and especially the year that we had with the quick turnaround with the games, it was big to have. Just the consistency I thought we had night in night out, we knew where our game was going to be and everything like that. I think it was a lot of positives and even with the playoffs just the emotions of playoffs, the high and lows. You can have one high in Game 1 and then lose Game 2 but you can't really let that snowball in a playoff series. Even though we were in that hole, I thought there was no quit with the guys. There's also never a waver in our belief that we could come back or win the series. It didn't work out the way we wanted to in Game 7, obviously. We wish we were still playing today, but I thought the belief in the room the entire year and throughout the playoffs was awesome."
On looking back on this season:
It's a tough way to go out, Game 7 on the first round. It's a little early, ya know. But I feel like as a whole, from Day 1, it's been a great season for us, as far as regulation season goes. I feel that our team is like a family. There's something special in this team, I feel like. Everybody wants to win, wants to do everything for each other to win. We had some up and dowsn all season, but we always stuck together. That's why I love this team. We never quit. It was like Game 1 or Game 2 when we came back, answered late, and just throughout the whole year, always stuck together and it was something special.
Joel Eriksson Ek
On contract status and staying with Minnesota:
"Yeah of course I want to be here. I think it's pretty clear I like it. I've been here for four years now, four and a half almost, and it's been nothing but great. The fans, the city, and everybody on the team is amazing."
On performance this season in contract year:
"I think starting last year I felt more confident. You feel like you get to play a little bit extra. You believe a little bit more in yourself. Just building up to this season I really felt I had a good summer and came here and played as good as I can. I've been playing with Moose and Greener mostly this year and it's been really good. We liked playing with each other. Just thinking the same way. They helped me a lot. Just being around those guys has been good for me."
On offseason chatter:
"I emphasized to [Bill Guerin] that this is home for me, this is where I want to be. I love it here. It's felt different this year, this season. I'm super excited to be a part of this new Minnesota wild team. I know from a fan's perspective, it does feel like that. This isn't your old Minnesota Wild team. It's not boring hockey. We've got high-octane offense. We play this gritty style, different than in years past. I feel like I fit into that kind of group. Like I said, I want to be here."
On fitting in after being traded to Minnesota:
"Umm. You never know how you're going to fit in until it happens right? I think it did go very, very well. I played with Soucy for most of the year and that was great. Loved playing with him. I played with Spurgeon a little bit there and that was great. Even played with Addie and that was great there for the last couple of games of the playoffs. There's some great young players on this team and great players overall on the his team. I think that makes the transition and assimilation much easier. That speaks to the culture of this team and where this team is headed. It's certainly something I would love to be a part of."
On looking back on why Minnesota was a good fit:
"Just personally, I approach every new opportunity or adventure as positive as I can. Coming in I think it was a great of guys, they were accepting. I love the relationships I built with them and yeah just a lot of fun with these guys."
On status of UFAs signing after NHL Expansion Draft:
"We've only had one expansion draft in my lifetime, so I would think so. To be honest, it's interesting because as a UFA you want to extend, have security and get a deal. But the closer you get to free agency, you always want to see what is out there too. You're that close to 31 other teams having the option to sign you, so I think the longer it goes, the more UFA's might see that as an opportunity to test the market. But then again, you built relationships with your players and I know Billy pretty well, and my agent does too. I'm sure there will be some discussion before the Expansion Draft."