Written By Giles Ferrell (ZoneCoverage.com)
Panic has engulfed the State of Hockey™ as the Minnesota Wild are off to an 0-3 start for the first time in franchise history. Even in the Wild’s early years, they never had a team to lose their first three games in regulation until now, when there was supposed to be renewed optimism after Bill Guerin was brought in as general manager to right a ship that was headed off a waterfall under Paul Fenton.
Sitting directly at the bottom of the league standings are the Wild, and with their stretched out schedule in October, this slow start might keep them there for a while until they start to play games consistently. Not a sight anyone involved wants to see.
With that said, what does recent history exactly say about teams that have the types of start the Wild have had? It’s actually a bit more favorable than you think.
Running a search of post-2004-05 lockout seasons where you have a team that has scored six or fewer goals and allowed 14 or more goals – Minnesota presently has six goals for and 14 goals allowed this season – you find just eight teams that have had this happen. Only two teams had actually won a game while having the ghastly goal differential with the rest losing all three.
The question remains though, did those teams rebound from their poor start to find success in the regular season? The answer is yes, most of them actually did.
2008-09 Anaheim Ducks: Finished season with 91 points, 2nd in Pacific, lost in 2nd round of West playoffs
2009-10 Florida Panthers: Finished season with 77 points & last in Southeastern Division. Missed playoffs.
2010-11 New Jersey Devils: Finished season with 81 points & 4th in Atlantic Division. Missed playoffs.
2012-13 Washington Capitals*: Finished season with 57 points, 1st in Southeast Division, lost in Eastern quarterfinals
2013-14 New York Rangers: Finished season with 96 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division, lost in Cup Final
2014-15 Buffalo Sabres: Finished season with 54 points and last in Atlantic Division.
* denotes not a full season played due to lockout
There should almost be an asterisk next to the 2014-15 Sabres on that list, as that was the season they “tanked” for the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel draft sweepstakes. But as you can see, everyone else outside of Florida was able to rebound and have some kind of success to the regular season.
It is also fascinating to see this season’s Devils on that list, as the Devils were offseason darlings with acquisitions of Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban. That is a team that should be seemingly a lot better.
Those other teams were equipped to turn it around. Are the Wild able to do so with all their question marks on the roster?
With scoring as a main point of emphasis of the Wild’s problem, they have several prominent players who have not found the scoresheet in the first three games. Again, we look at recent history to see if there is any hope from these sluggish starts.
The table above outlines players who have scored 0 points for the Wild since 2012-13 in the first three games of the season while averaging 13 or more minutes per game. That ice time requirement took Ryan Donato from this year off the list, meaning there would have been a sixth player from the current roster to make that list had he played another 1:15 per game.
As for the previous seven players on that list, the success after poor starts did not exactly translate like the teams did above. Here is how those seven Wild players prior to this season finished the year points wise.
Matt Cullen: 27 points in 42 games*.
Dany Heatley: 28 points in 76 games.
Erik Haula: 34 points in 76 games.
Mikko Koivu: 48 points in 80 games.
Daniel Winnik: 23 points in 81 games.
Nino Niederreiter: 32 points in 63 games.
Mikael Granlund: 49 points in 63 games (traded at deadline).
*denotes lockout shortened season
Matt Cullen rebounded well for the Wild in the lockout shortened season before leaving the team as a unrestricted free agent that summer. The only two players to hit the 40-point mark were Koivu and Granlund, and Granlund could have hit the 60-plus point mark had he not been traded at the trade deadline last season. You could make the argument Nino Niederreiter would hit 40 as well in his injury shortened season, but with his moving up and down the lineup during his time here you can’t exactly say that for sure.
Five players – Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin – on the current roster currently fall into that list of zero points in three games with 13 or more minutes of ice time per game. All are definite concerns.
Zuccarello was the team’s prized free agent signing this summer as the 32 year old signed a five year, $30 million deal to help boost up the offense. Staal has been a main source of offense from the center position for Minnesota since signing here in 2016. At the age of 34 – soon to be 35 on Oct. 29 – is this the beginning of the decline for Staal, as age finally catches up with him?
As mentioned before the season, the success of the team would greatly hinge on the likes of Fiala, Greenway, Kunin, Donato, and Joel Eriksson Ek taking big steps forward offensively. Not a good sign for the season with Eriksson Ek – one assist against Winnipeg Thursday night – is the only one to be on the scoresheet in three games.
If those players do not start picking up the load offensively that Granlund, Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle left behind, the Wild will continue to struggle offensively and finding wins will be an extreme challenge for them. They can’t win every game 2-1. Not unless the defense tightens up and Devan Dubnyk becomes otherworldly again.
Or maybe you just need to give Jacques Lemaire and his neutral zone trap a call again.
However you want to take it, but history is and isn’t on the Wild’s side when it comes to this absolutely poor start. It remains up to them how they come back – if they comeback – from this.
If they don’t comeback, they might finally get that high lottery pick that is highly desired by a good portion of the fan base.