The Minnesota Wild eliminated the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was an impressive win for the Wild. For most of the series, the Wild were the better team and looked faster and more skilled than the Blues.
Wild fans were excited about their second round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. Then reality hit, the Wild’s season came to an abrupt end. The Wild were bounced with relative ease by the Blackhawks in four games. For a third year in a row, the Blackhawks had beaten the Wild in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Wild didn’t play well against the speedy Blackhawks. The Wild had trouble with their zone entry. The Blackhawks forecheck took away the Wild’s time and space. When the Blackhawks had the puck, the Wild chased them around the rink and had trouble containing their skilled players.
During their second round matchup, the Blackhawks surgically took the Wild apart. When the Wild made a mistake in the defensive zone, the Blackhawks cashed in on the Wild’s miscues. In the end, the Wild looked slow and out-of-place.
When the Wild’s 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff run was over, the numbers were very telling. The Wild’s 30-somethings didn’t produce. They barely registered in the final box scores. Some, Wild fans wanted to put their faces on milk cartons.
During the season-ending game four press conference, Wild coach Mike Yeo had this to say.
“Right now we’re a good team,” Yeo said. “We have to find a way to be the best team.”
That’s easier said than done, especially when four of the Wild’s top forwards are aged 30 or higher and locked into expensive long-term deals. None of these players will be easy to move. There aren’t a lot of teams that want to trade for an ineffective player with a huge contract.
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t have a lot of salary cap to work with. Wild beat writer Michael Russo broke down the numbers in his latest blog post. The Wild’s cap situation it’s kind of bleak.
As a refresher, the salary cap ceiling is expected to be around $71 million leaguewide next season. Before offseason moves, the Wild’s cap for next season is already around $61.9 million for nine forwards, five defensemen and two goalies including Niklas Backstrom next season. (Russo’s Rants)
The Wild are hoping that some of their 20-somethings are going to step up and make a bigger contribution. Some of these players are really close to breaking out.
Wild’s 30-something forwards were ineffective
During the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 30-something forwards were highly ineffective. In ten playoff games, the four highly paid 30-somethings scored (8g-16a—24pts).
What’s more troubling, the Wild scored eight goals against the Chicago Blackhawks. In the series against the Wild, Blackhawks All-Star forward Patrick Kane scored six goals. In the end, the Wild’s high-end players didn’t produce. They were missing in action. Nobody can win a series with anemic goal scoring.
Here are the Wild’s top forwards and their final numbers from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I included the player’s age and the number of games played.
Zach Parise, 30, 10 GP (4g-6a—10pts), Jason Pominville, 32, 10 GP (3g-3a—6pts), Mikael Granlund, 22, 10 GP (2g-4a—6pts), Nino Nederreiter, 22, 10 GP (4g-1a—5pts), Mikko Koivu, 31, 10 GP (1g-3a—4pts), Thomas Vanek, 31, 10 GP (0g-4a—4pts). These number are telling and they paint a troubling picture. TheWild’s 30-somethings forwards were ineffective.
Earlier in May, Thomas Vanek was asked about his postseason performance.
“It wasn’t great,” Vanek said. “I mean, I didn’t score a goal,” he added, “so obviously when you don’t produce and you lose, you’re going to take some heat, and that’s part of this business. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses why. I should have been better.”
While Vanek has been the focus of Wild fan’s anger, he isn’t the only reason for the Wild’s unceremonious dismissal from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The problem is that the Wild’s top-line players were nowhere near as effective as the Blackhawks top players. Here’s the numbers for the Blackhawks top forwards through the first two rounds of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Wild’s high-end players weren’t producing
Looking back on the 2014-15 season, there’s a lot of blame to go around for why the Minnesota Wild didn’t get out of the second round. Moving forward, Wild fans may need to be patient, especially with the team’s salary cap situation. There’s probably no magic trade coming that can right the ship.
Below are three of the Wild’s high-end players. This is how they’ve performed during the last two Stanley Cup Playoffs. I also included their cap hit. Looking at those numbers, it’s going to be very hard to move any of these players, so I would count on them being with the Wild next season.
Mikko Koivu 23 games (2g-9a—11pts) and -8, cap hit 6.750 Million
Thomas Vanek 27 games (5g-9a—14pts) and -11, cap hit 6.50 million
Jason Pominville 23 games (5g-10a—15pts) and -4, cap hit 5.60 million
Based on these numbers above, the Wild’s younger players may have to step it up if the Wild want to get out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Make no mistake about it, someone will need to pick up the slack because the Wild’s high-end players weren’t producing.
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.