Is It Now Or Never For the Minnesota Wild?
In most walks of life you’re still relatively young at the age of 32. But in the NHL you’re considered something of an elder statesman since the league is getting younger year after year. For the Minnesota Wild, the fact the team is the second-oldest in the league with an average age of 30.45 it leads to the question of is the time now or never for this squad to win a Stanley Cup?
According to Elite Prospects, nine of the team’s current 23-man roster is aged 31 or over.
This includes some of the side’s top players such as forwards Eric Staal (34), Zach Parise (34), Mikko Koivu (35), defenseman Ryan Suter (33) and both goaltenders Devan Dubnyk (32) and Alex Stalock (31).
This of course means the team has plenty of experience and that’s one of the reason’s the Wild has made the playoffs for the past six years, but the core of top talent won’t be around forever. Their window for winning the Stanley Cup appears to be a pretty narrow one compared to several other clubs since their best players are in the twilight of their careers.
The Detroit Red Wings may be the oldest NHL outfit this year, but the Red Wings aren’t expected to make the playoffs as the team is in a rebuilding mode and grooming its youngsters for future success. They’re also expected to shed some of their veterans by the time the trade deadline arrives.
The Wild is in a different boat though as the franchise believes it’s a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season. In fact, the side could get even older before the postseason faces off if general manager Paul Fenton adds a veteran or two for playoff experience and help.
As of mid-December, Parise, Staal, Suter and Koivu were all sitting in the top-six scoring parade on the team with 29-year-old blue liner Jared Spurgeon ranking eighth. Therefore we can see the veterans are all highly depended on for their on-ice contributions night after night. They’ve been doing a pretty good job of it too as the Wild were sitting in fourth place in the Central Division and just one point out of the playoffs in the Western Conference.
But where would they be without their veteran production?
This isn’t to suggest the Wild will suddenly plummet to the bottom of the standings once their veterans hang up their skates. They do have some good young prospects in junior hockey such as forwards Connor Dewar, Alexander Khovanov and Ivan Lodnia along with defenseman Simon Johansson. There are also some fine youngsters already up in Minnesota including 25-year-old Nick Seeler and 24-year-old Matt Dumba on the blue line along with 21-year-old forwards Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson. And let’s not forget their leading scorer Mikael Granlund is just 26.
The key player here though could very well be Dumba, who’s already developed into one of the NHL’s top defenseman. After 31 outings this season he led all rearguards in goals with 12 and had also chipped in with 10 assists and is on pace for 32 goals this year. He’s not the biggest defenseman around as he’s just six feet tall and about 185 lbs, but he’s got a knack for playing with the puck, which is what defending seems to be all about these days.
However, he also plays a physical game, is an excellent open-ice hitter, has a rocket of a shot from the point and plenty of speed to burn and that’s why he’s making an average of $6 million per year until the end of 2022/23.
The native of Regina, Saskatchewan was taken from the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the seventh-overall draft pick by the Wild in 2012. He showed offensive promise in junior with 59 goals and 151 points in 225 regular-season games with Red Deer and a late stint with the Portland Winterhawks with another 24 points in 41 playoff contests.
Dumba’s been a regular in Minnesota since 2014/15 and has improved on his offensive numbers with each passing year. He racked up career-bests 14 goals, 36 assists and 50 points last season and entered 2018/19 with 44 goals and 128 points in 310 games. He’s headed for another career best this season and should have a legitimate shot at the Norris Trophy as the league’s best blue liner if he can improve on his plus/minus numbers.
Dumba and Granlund should be around long after the older Wild players have ended their careers. And with Minnesota’s best prospects still in junior they’ll suddenly become the team’s elder statesmen and will continue to be depended upon to produce at an elite level.
The Wild definitely aren’t a lock to make the playoffs this season and there have been plenty of trade rumors flying around with Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Nino Niederreiter, Nate Prosser and J.T. Brown being mentioned as the most likely to be shipped out. If they do make the postseason and challenge for the Stanley Cup they’ll have to depend on their veterans to lead the way once again. But sooner or later the day will come when the Wild realize their veterans have passed their prime. It’s likely if they don’t challenge for the cup now they may have to wait awhile for another shot at it.