Around this time last year, the Minnesota Wild had high hopes that they were about to see a new era begin with their franchise. Longtime star Marian Gaborik was dealt to New York, speedy sniper Martin Havlat was brought in to help Mikko Koivu ascend to stardom with the club and defensive mastermind Jacques Lemaire was finally removed from behind the bench. Not much went according to plan, though, as Gaborik exploded for 42 goals with the Rangers and played in 76 games, while the Wild floundered their way out of the playoff picture.
*Offense:’ Mikko Koivu is the real deal, and if Havlat were to live up to expectations that could be a dangerous tandem. However, 18 goals and 54 points in one of his least productive seasons during the first year of a 6 year deal worth $30 million isn’t going to make very many people happy. Matt Cullen and John Madden are both good additions that make the overall team better but don’t necessarily add much in the way of offense. Guillaume Latendresse looked very good last year, scoring 25 goals and 37 points in 55 games after being brought over midseason in a trade with Montreal. The Wild didn’t have a single 30 goal scorer last year, and in today’s NHL that’s just unacceptable.Grade: D+’'’Defense:’’’ For a team that used to preach defense, the Wild certainly forgot alot of things quickly last year, as they gave up 246 goals, 3rd worst in the Western Conference. A full season of work from Brent Burns, who missed almost half the year, will definitely help, as will the presence of Cam Barker. Barker may have been a huge steal for the club as the Blackhawks had to unload Barker to keep their cap situation manageable. With Barker and Burns, Zidlicky and Zanon on the top two pairings, the Wild have a capable third pairing as well with Nick Schultz and 6’3, 225-pound Clayton Stoner. The penalty kill was actually surprisingly efficient last year, finishing with the highest success rate in the division at 82.7%.Grade: B+’'’Goaltending’’’: With Jose Theodore coming off a much-needed winning season in Washington where he again was yanked in the playoffs, the Wild probably grabbed themselves a pretty capable backup after an injury sidelined Josh Harding. Harding and Anton Khudobin are the future in net for this franchise, but for now, the puck unquestionably stops with Niklas Backstrom.The 32 year old Finn posted just 26 wins and a 2.72 GAA in 60 starts last year, and while it can’t all be placed on his shoulders, his leash will be short. Don’t get me wrong, Backstrom is a talented goalie, but in an era where teams are riding cheap young goalies to Stanley Cups, a mediocre 32 year old won’t last long. His numbers definitely took a hit from the Wild’s change in defensive style, so this year will be telling for him.Grade: B’'’Key Additions’’’: Matt Cullen, John Madden*Key Losses’: Eric Belanger