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Season 5 Preview - Minnesota Wild Written by habsfan93 - November 30th, -0001

Last season, the Wild missed the playoffs for the 2nd time in 4 years, a year removed from winning the Northwest Division in Season 3. GM matsson will look to improve on last seasons output but in a very tough division and an even tougher conference, achieving that goal will certainly be a challenge. Rather, this is a team in the early stages of a rebuild where the outlook is on the future and not the present. But that doesn't mean they can't play with the big boys. Minnesota will win their fair share of tough battles against Western powerhouses.

Offence

10 of the top 11 scorers from last year's team have moved on to other cities. Highlighting that group are the likes of Jeremy Roenick, Daniel Sedin and Tood Bertuzzi. In their wake, at first glance, it appears that the collective group in Minnesota has not gotten any stronger. Leading this year's offence will be Keith Tkachuk, who should easily match his typical 70-80 point output, if not surpass that. He will be hard-pressed to match his career-best 95 points though with this supporting cast. Flanking him on the right is the lone returnee from last year's top 11, Marek Svatos. He posted a career-best 57 points last season and he will be counted on to improve that number if this offence is to go anywhere. On the left side will be Martin Straka who will be enjoying his swan song in the CMHL. Straka has publicly announced that this is his last season before he returns home to Europe and he wants to make it a big one.

Beyond them lies a rag-tag mix of veterans and youngsters, such as Wayne Primeau, Dan Hinote, Brad Richardson, Steve Reinprecht, and Jason King. King is an under the radar offensive threat who has put up 50 points in each of the last 3 seasons. Will teams ever realize the potential goals he represents or will they continue to neglect him. I'm sure he'd like things to stay just the way they are.

Defense

The Minnesota defensive strategy can be summed up in 2 words - old and wise. Leading the charge are Sandis Ozolinsh, Sergei Zubov, and Steve Staios and between them, the combined age is 109 years. One thing we do know is that Ozo and Zubov haven't forgotten how to put up the points and they will be counted on for big-time support from the back end. Younger players like Jeff Schultz, Shawn Belle and Jim Vandermeer will look to absorb some of that combined wisdom as they vie for the opportunity to prove the worth on the big stage.

Goaltending

Goaltending is the sole reason this author knows the Wild won't make the playoffs. Big-time goalies equal big-time results and while some teams have seen success with lesser goalies, one look at the Cup winners tells you all you need to know - Giguere, Kiprusoff, Esche and Belfour - these are guys that could and in some cases, still can, steal a game. Minnesota is dropping the ball on Jason Labarbera and Yann Danis. Labarbera has a career record of 0-5-2 in 24 games, but this season will represent a big development year for him and a chance to significantly improve his worth. Danis has a little more experience with 117 games under his belt but scouts will tell you they like Labarbera better. Look for these two to split the season 50/50 in front of the pipe (dream).

Prospects

The prospects situation is promising in Minnesota. James Sheppard is knocking on the door and all expectations are that he will be front and centre on this squad come Season 6. The Wild had 3 first round picks this summer and took three solid prospects in Mikael Backlund, Colton Gillies and Jim O'Brien. One of these three could be ready by Season 6, and the others shouldn't be far behind. The weak spot here has to be goaltending though - there really is no potential #1 goalie in this system and with Labarbera up in the show now, that's a little scary.

Playoffs

This year is all about development for the Wild. Put up 30-35 wins, get lots of ice time for a guy like Labarbera and then look forward to Season 6. But if you're a Minnesota Wild player, you can start shopping for golf club memberships early.

Quick Hits

Best Bargain: Marek Svatos – Still 2 more years at $750,000, that's a lot of bang for your buck considering he could be hitting 70-80 points.
Overpaid: Martin Straka – For a guy who's barely averaged a point per two games in his career, he's committing highway robbery at over 5 million a season.
Breakout Player: Brad Richardson - Showed flashes of brilliance on a downright bad Toronto team for 2 years. Can a better team equal more points?
Overrated: Sandis Ozolinsh - Sure, he'll put up 40-50 points, but he's downright scary when he's not on the power play. In fact, that's probably the only time Ozo is really worth playing.

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