Parise Suter 2

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

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-by Thomas Drance

Added: Keith Ballard, Nino Neidereitter, Matt Cooke.
Subtracted: Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Gilbert.

The Wild are Going to be Good

Forget Matt Cooke, Nino Neidereitter and Keith Ballard: the biggest addition the Minnesota Wild made this off-season was the calender flipping from 2012-13 to 2013-14. This is a young team on the rise after all, with a handful of quality young players who will only improve with age.

Jonas Brodin was a legitimate first-pairing defenseman in his rookie year. So how good will he be this season? Charlie Coyle is an emerging power forward, and the NHL experience he got last season will help him adjust as he moves back to his natural position at center. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella aren’t just quality, young NHL defenseman, but they’re locked up and cost controlled for several seasons.

Beyond internal improvements from the young guns and Dany “best shape of my life in a contract year” Healtey, the Wild managed to deal Cal Clutterbuck for value (Nino Neidereitter) while also upgrading their third-line with the addition to Matt Cooke. Between Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and whatever winger earns the other spot on that third-line – the Wild are going to have a dynamite checking line to back up one of the league’s best top groups.

The Parise, Koivu, Pominville line? One of the league’s best already. If they’re not already in Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams territory – and they’re not in terms of reputation – then they’re close in actual quality. You want a top-group that can control 55% of shot attempts against tough competition while shooting an elevated percentage? Look no further.

The Wild are Going to be Bad

The Wild were weak in net already. They were in the bottom third in the league in even-strength save percentage last season. Oh and Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding? They’re only getting older.

Sure the Wild blue-line looks superficially improved (well, except for the likelihood that Tom Gilbert is better than Keith Ballard) but that’s not going to help them if their old goalies can’t stop any rubber.

Charlie Coyle had a nice rookie seasons, no doubt, but he also spent most of his time with Koivu and Parise. Koivu and Parise are probably good enough to make Steve Bernier into a twenty-five goal guy, so how much do we really know about Coyle yet?

Without Koivu, the Wild controlled just a tick over 40% of shot attempts with Charlie Coyle on the ice (a roughly 120 minute sample, which is tiny). There’s some reason to suspect that Coyle isn’t ready to be centerpiece on a helpful secondary scoring line, and he’s supposed to be Minnesota’s second line center. Good luck with that!

Fact is, the loss of reliable veterans like Pierre Marc-Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck hurt Minnesota’s depth. It hurt it a lot. The Wild are expecting a lot out of Mikael “can’t check his coat” Granlund, Jason Zucker and Nino Neiderietter’s skating stride if they think that group can reliably support the Koivu line.

Minnesota is better than they used to be sure, but that’s what happens when you sign two free-agents to twin 100 million dollar contracts. But beyond Suter, Koivu, Brodin and Parise, Chuck Fletcher simply hasn’t put a good enough supporting cast around his prized acquisitions. What a waste.

Flippant barstool prediction

The Wild will be the single best special teams club in the league this season, and it still won’t be enough to get the Wild past the Blues and Blackhawks in the postseason.

The Numbers:

No one hates numbers more than Minnesota Wild fans do.

Seriously though, this was a team that posted a winning record last year despite a negative goal differential (-4 without the shootout). They were good at home (14-8-1) because the faithful at Xcel are loud and obnoxious (and math challenged), and weaker on the road (12-11-1) because the team’s goaltending was sub-average and they have no depth.

The Wild generated shots for on the power-play at a solid clip (7th best in the league) and were probably better than their power-play conversion rate suggests. Also the Wild managed to legitimately outshoot opponents last season – by 1.6 shots per game -  thanks largely to their power-play. Considering the 2011-12 Wild were outshot by five that’s a pretty significant difference. Let’s call it the Parise/Suter effect and move on.

Okay, but seriously:

Its been a long time coming for the Minnesota Wild, but they look like a safe bet to be a playoff team this season. That top-five group (by which I count both their first pair and top-line) is as good as any in the league, and their third-line will be tough to play against. Beyond that, their depth took a hit this offseason and young players like Coyle, Spurgeon, Scandella and Zucker are going to be hard-pressed to make up the difference.

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