Chicago, IL — Since we are edging closer to the start of the 2014-2015 NHL regular season, it is time for everyone to get ready. In a six part series this blog will be looking at the opponents the Chicago Blackhawks will have to get past in their own Central Division if they want to win the division which they did not last year.
First on the docket “the state of Hockey” Minnesota the land of 10,000 lakes and hockey rinks, oh Ya you betcha.
The Chicago Blackhawks have faced the Wild in the last two years playoffs and each year the Wild has gotten closer. The Hawks ousted the Wild in 2012-13 in round 1 in 5 games and in 2013-14 in round 2 in 6 games. The Blackhawks lost the regular season series with the Wild winning 3 games out of the five they faced each other.
The Minnesota Wild got a playoff round under their belt last year when they knocked out the Central Division leading Colorado Avalanche that had to be considered a mild upset. Then again the Wild had previous playoff experience in which to draw from.
The Minnesota Wild is a good mix and combination of youth and veteran know how. They are serious playoff contender and will continue to be in 2014-2015 season as well.
The team has its household names and veterans like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Miko Koivu, Jason Pominville but they have added Thomas Vanek from Montreal up front.
The departures were Matt Moulson, Danny Heatley and the physical Clayton Stoner. It remains to be seen if the swap of left wingers Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek is actually an upgrade, I have my reservations.
The loss of the physical Clayton Stoner will surely make Blackhawks fans happy, remember it was Stoner that injured Andrew Shaw in the playoffs that saw him missing some time that carried over to the LA series where the Hawks could have used him. That physical presence that Stoner provided will be missed in Minnesota. They do still have Matt Cooke who is a supposedly reformed goon but Cooke always manages treading the line if not walking over at the wrong times.
So I’m not sure the Wild have actually improved although their intent was to bolster up the offensive fire power with the Vanek acquisition. Don’t get me wrong when Vanek is on and if he can score 30+ goals this will be what Minnesota envisioned. I’m just not sure even with all of that they have enough to get past the Hawks, Kings, Sharks in the west. The determining factor could be their youth.
The young forwards of Erik Houla, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker could be the difference in pushing the Wild over the top. If they develop as projected these forwards could be a real force of speed and skill. Erik Houla, Hawks fans will remember the speed and skill that kid showed in the playoffs. When Patrick Kane is impressed with your skills you know your trending on the right track.
The Wild have some good prospects in the pipeline as well like defenseman Matthew Dumba & Gustav Olofsson and recently drafted Alex Tuch RW who I did manage to catch on stream during the USA junior hockey evaluation camp in Lake Placid, NY this past month. Tuch was on the top line with 2015 1st rd projected draft pick Jack Eichel and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Tyler Motte and this line was on fire. So there is plenty of bright light ahead for Minnesota Wild fans.
The strength of this team is its defense that is anchored by the workman Ryan Suter who it seems is always on the ice. His leadership keeps that blue line pretty tight. Jonas Brodin the young defenseman is up and coming and full of promise to a top notch defenseman in the NHL.
The Wild weakness was definitely the carousel of goaltenders that they used due to injury or sickness and this will be a question mark going forward as well. The Wild are hoping that the injury problems of goaltenders Niklas Backstrom & Darcy Kuemper are in the rear view mirror but hip surgery especially for goalies is a tricky thing and concussion one never knows. Josh Harding as we all know is fighting MS so that is always a uncertain thing.
The Wild surprisingly during the regular season were not very good on the PK which is a bit surprising for a solid defensive team. Then again the Blackhawks had the same problem in the regular season.
Look for the Wild to battle again in the playoffs and give whoever plays them a good fight. I just don’t know that they have enough to get to the next level as everything is dependent on the development of their young players which is always uncertain. The unfortunate thing for the Wild is they are in west where everyone seemed to get better in the off season including the Blackhawks and Blues.
I see the Wild in the playoffs just not sure they can get past the 2nd round to make it to the Western Conference Finals unless they pick up more fire power at the trade deadline. The Wild does not have cap issues right now they are 9.5 mil under the cap, so they could be a player trade at the trade deadline prior to the playoffs. They however have to manage this because next year in 2015-2016 they have a lot of UFA/RFA’s they need to sign.
The Minnesota Wild is definitely a team the Blackhawks need to keep an eye on as they will almost certainly face them again in the playoffs. The Wild are a young improving team. I’m just not sure that they have improved enough to be a real threat but this team works hard and you can never tell what can happen in a hockey game with a bounce or two. A fact that the Hawks know all too well.