12. Minnesota Wild
Third place in the Central, 45-26-11
Why they can win – The Minnesota Wild may not be the most exciting team the hockey world has ever seen, but they are deep, talented and well-rounded. Those types of teams are always dangerous in the playoffs, because the goals can come from any player. Sure, they have Eric Staal, who’s had a great season and led the team in points (not to mention he eclipsed 40 goals for the third time in his career). Their top scoring forwards are rounded out by Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker. They have a plethora of quality forwards like captain Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederretier.
The Wild are one of the teams in the postseason whose defense is a large part of their offense. Three of their top six point scorers are defenseman, led by iron man Ryan Suter. He averaged close to 27 minutes of ice time during the regular season, but the Wild were dealt a crushing blow when he broke his leg about a week ago. Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin round out the top four and they will be formidable for opposing offenses. Devan Dubnyk is a competent goalie who may not be the best but shouldn’t be a weak spot, either.
Why they can’t – They might be a rock solid team but it’s also hard to point to the thing the Wild do well that will carry them through the rough spots in the postseason. This holds especially true without Suter. Before his injury, they were set to be higher in the ranks. Most Cup champions have a major identifiable trait, and Minnesota doesn’t exactly have that. They aren’t as good defensively as they have been in the past but aren’t a big high octane offensive team either. They may not be able to lean on coach Bruce Boudreau either as he has never made it past the conference finals. His teams have made the playoffs nine times and he’s made it past the second round exactly once.
X Factor – Zach Parise: It’s been a rough season for Parise. He signed a megadeal with Minnesota a few years back and he’s been a bit of a disappointment so far. He had back surgery and missed the first half of the season. The 40 games he did play have been uninspiring to say the least as he’s only totaled about 19 points. All that can be forgotten if Parise can bring his “A” game during the postseason. He’s still capable of being an above average offensive talent in the NHL. Now would be a great time to show it for the Wild.
First Round Matchup – Winnipeg Jets; Jets won regular season, 3-1
This series would have been a lot more fun if Suter was able to play. As it stands, the Wild look like they’re going to struggle. Winnipeg scored more goals and allowed fewer during the regular season. Minnesota will need a major effort from Eric Staal and others to pull this upset off. This sets up well for the Jets to move on with the Wild missing such a key component to their team.
Prediction – Jets in 5