An NHL team’s primary goal is to have as many fans as possible so they can make as much money as possible, that is just the nature of how major sports leagues work, because without fans there is no team. The Minnesota Wild have never been known for their high marketability through 21 seasons in the NHL, as they have never really piqued the interest of many viewers outside of their home state with their propensity for low-scoring games and defense-first play. It is hard to draw in views and fans when you are consistently in the middle of the pack and being outperformed by other teams.
It was a shock to most long-term Wild fans then, when the schedule came out for U.S. nationally televised games and the team was at the top of the list with 15 games for the 2022-23 season. Other people are beginning to enjoy watching the Wild, players are starting to get recognized in conversations with the best in the league, and, perhaps most importantly, more players are seeing the Wild as a contending team they would like to be part of. So, how did this drastic change happen?
Kaprizov’s Star Power Lights the Way
The air of conversation around the Wild took a sharp turn with the arrival of the news that Kirill Kaprizov would finally be coming over to North America. For most of their history, the team has been without a true star that people immediately correlate with the organization and Kaprizov has delivered that.
When the Wild are brought up in conversation, the No. 1 topic is always Kaprizov and how having a top-five player in the league has elevated the rest of the team around him. His skill has been crucial in dragging the Wild out of the mediocrity loop they were stuck in and firmly placing them in contender status. More and more fans are watching the Wild knowing that Kaprizov has given them the ability to win against any team on any given night.
As if having the best left wing in the NHL wasn’t enough, the Wild added a Vezina Trophy-winning, former Stanley Cup champion, and future hall-of-famer goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury’s pedigree as an elite goaltender over the course of his NHL career has given him a loyal fan base that has followed him to the Wild. His style of play is dramatic, entertaining, and effective, all things that draw in a bigger audience. Every single hockey fan has tuned into a game at some point to watch Fleury flash his glove in an exaggerated windmill save at a key moment, even if it was against the team they cheer for.
Pace and Offence Are King
Long gone are the days of the Wild trying to grind out a win by smothering their opponent (and their viewers) with a boring defense-based play style. Speed and skill are the key components of their game plan now and they have them in droves. Players up and down the current roster can grab the puck and go end to end with a speed that draws you into the game. The knowledge that each and every line can score makes the game enticing as fans maintain hope that every game can be won. The Wild were second in the NHL in comeback wins in 2021-22 and it truly felt like you needed to watch down to the last buzzer because anything was possible.
Most fans are watching a hockey game with the hopes of witnessing a few key items: goals, fights, big saves, and wins. Those highlight-worthy plays are the fuel that feeds the hockey addiction, and a game without them leaves fans with an empty feeling unlike any other. The rollercoaster of emotion that comes with a good hockey game finds its peaks and valleys with those events, and without that emotion, the game usually isn’t worth watching. The 2021-22 Wild showed they were fully capable of all of those on any given night with new team records of 53 games won and 283 goals, and there is no reason to believe it won’t continue in the upcoming 2022-23 season.
Future Intrigue Is Led by the Rookies
While the goal of an NHL team may be viewership, the goal of the players on the team is to win the Stanley Cup. The Wild having the top prospect pool is key to them succeeding in both of those endeavors, as not only will the players themselves play vital roles on the ice, but their success may be a deciding factor in negotiations with other free agents. A star player looking to compete for a Cup will be much more likely to move to a team loaded with high-end talent, and currently the Wild look like they are only going to improve in the upcoming seasons as more and more of their talented young prospects like Marco Rossi and Jesper Wallstedt make the transition to the NHL.
With 15 nationally televised games the Wild are going to be extremely visible to all hockey markets this season, and it is about time. People unfamiliar with the team’s roster will be in for a treat watching some of the most underrated players in the NHL, and will likely be seeing more of them as the Wild are only beginning their rise to the top.