It’s that time of year when everyone makes their 2021-22 NHL season predictions. While some things may seem easy to predict, it’s always fun to shoot a little outside the box on predictions that few people will agree with.
The Minnesota Wild took a massive step forward last season. That’s not a prediction. That’s a fact. This season, they will look to do the same. Here are three hot takes for them ahead of their season opener against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.
Talbot is a Vezina Candidate
Last season was Cam Talbot’s first with the Wild, and he lived up to every cent of his three-year, $11 million contract, signed as a free agent. He had a 19-8-5 record with a .915 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.63 goals-against average. He was instrumental in the team’s success last season and even raised his level of play in the postseason with a .923 SV% in seven games.
Despite losing top-four defenceman Ryan Suter in the offseason, the Wild still have one of the best defensive groups in the NHL. The acquisition of Alex Goligoski will help replace Suter, and additions like Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill, and Jordie Benn will help round out the bottom pairing. It looks like Talbot will have a steady group of veteran defensemen in front of him all season. Add in a couple of the best defensive forwards in the league in Joel Eriksson EK and Marcus Foligno, and Talbot won’t be left stranded on most nights. If he can stay healthy and put up 35-plus wins and an SV% between .915 and .920, which he has done many times before, he could become a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Rask Is Traded at the Deadline
The Wild will be faced with a cap crunch this offseason. So, if they can, they will likely try to bolster the roster at the deadline for a playoff push. However, they will need to clear cap space to bring in a player or two. Heading into the regular season, the Wild project to have just a sliver over $3 million available. They will gain space throughout the season, but as we have seen time and time again, you can never have enough money to work with.
Victor Rask is still an NHL-caliber player, but with a $4 million cap hit, he isn’t worth his contract. The Wild would likely be comfortable moving him for little in return given his price tag. The actual return would be raising the cap space available to acquire players.
Rask is on the last year of his deal, so if he was included in a package for an impactful player, the team acquiring him would have no commitment after this season.
Wild Win the Central Division
Most fans have the Colorado Avalanche winning the Central Division written in pen, not pencil. I’ll give credit where credit is due. The Avs are a fantastic team and were dynamite last season. Looking at their roster, it’s easy to see why so many people have them not just winning the Central but also the Presidents’ Trophy.
However, the NHL is nothing if not unpredictable. The Avalanche lost some key pieces over the offseason, including Philipp Grubauer, Brandon Saad, Ryan Graves, and Joonas Donskoi, and they might still be rattled after being swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round of the 2021 Playoffs, which could fester into this season.
On the other hand, the Wild are no longer going to catch people by surprise. Everyone knows how good Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, and Eriksson Ek are. They know they have changed from their typical style to play with much more speed and skill. The team knows they will have to be at their best for every single game this season to improve on last season.
It’s not going to be easy. Despite the subtractions, Colorado still has Stanley Cup aspirations. Sometimes, though, that can hurt a team in the regular season as their minds start to focus on the playoffs too early. The Wild still have a lot to prove and the talent to try to dethrone the Avalanche as the top team in the division.
It’s possible all three of these hot takes come true. It’s also possible none of them do. All we know for sure is that hockey is back, and it’s unpredictable, which is what makes it so much fun.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.