After years of being known as one of the stingiest defensive teams in the game but one who had trouble scoring, the Minnesota Wild changed their stripes upon the arrival of Bruce Boudreau. They still finished seventh in goals against but only the Pittsburgh Penguins (282) scored more goals in 2016-17 and their goal differential was second to the Washington Capitals. Impressive to be sure but injuries may force them to turn back the clock to start 2017-18.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 13, 2017
It is true, nearly every team in the league will have to deal with losing “X” amount of man games over the course of a season but Minnesota currently has a regular MASH unit on their hands and we are a week into the schedule. How bad can it be you ask? Well, let’s start with the guy who has yet to dress for a single game and that would be none other than Zach Parise.
Injury Bug Hits Hard
As the veteran winger ages, health continues to be a concern and while he has finally started to skate with his teammates, there is no official word on when his debut will be nor what ailment he is suffering from. Last year’s leading scorer Mikael Granlund hurt his groin during the season opener against the Detroit Red Wings and if all goes according to plan, he should return to action when the Vancouver Canucks come to town on October 24.
Now if that were it, no big deal. Unfortunately, it got a whole lot worse on Thursday night in Chicago and it will make Boudreau’s life rather difficult over the coming weeks. In what shockingly still ended up being a 5-2 Minnesota victory, the Wild lost not one, not two but three more key forwards and all will be sidelined indefinitely. Yes, it is that bad.
Charlie Coyle fractured his fibula, had surgery Friday and will be out of action at least six to eight weeks. Nino Niederreiter suffered a high ankle sprain and is scheduled to miss three weeks and anyone who is familiar with high ankle sprains will tell you it likely won’t be fully healed until next October. When you include Granlund into the equation, Minnesota is now down three of their top five scorers from a season ago.
Three of Five Top Scorers Sidelined
Add free agent signing Marcus Foligno into the mix, who broke a facial bone courtesy of a massive right hook from Blackhawks forward John Hayden and you have another body that will be on the sidelines for at least week. In case you lost track, that is five key pieces to the Wild’s puzzle that Boudreau will not have at his disposal and it will undoubtedly force his hand into approaching things in a different manner.
Luckily, they have been able to remain healthy on the backend and will look to the quartet of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter to limit scoring chances and try to win as many low scoring games as possible. If that doesn’t work, the plan of action will solely shift to what many teams across the league employee…lean on your goaltender and hope for the best.
— Star Tribune Sports (@StribSports) October 3, 2017
Despite putting together what was a Vezina-worthy campaign through much of 2016-17, Devan Debunyk saw his level of play slip over the final two months of the year. In the minds of some, that was a potential red flag for the coming season and while he was merely just ok in the season opener against the Red Wings, the 31-year old was fantastic in leading a badly shorthanded Wild squad to a win over Chicago.
Dubnyk Will Likely Be the Key
In order for Minnesota to keep their head above water, Dubnyk will have to be at his best and outside of the aforementioned brief hiccup last spring, his body of work since arriving in The North Star State suggests there is a good chance he will do exactly that. Thankfully, after tonight’s home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets, this group will have five consecutive days off to try and heal before heading to Western Canada.
By no means is it an ideal situation but this is the hand the Minnesota Wild has been dealt. Simply put, if they can find a way to scrape together a handful of goals on a nightly basis, fully commit to a defence first approach and have their goaltender play at or near the level he has shown in recent seasons, chances are this group will be able to hold their own. Accomplish that and everything else becomes that much easier.
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Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.