2008/09: 40-33-9 – 89 pts (3rd in Northwest, 9th in East)
Arrived: Martin Havlat (CHI), Petr Sykora (PIT), Greg Zanon (NSH), Wade Dublielewicz (CBJ), Kyle Brodziak (EDM), Shane Hnidy (BOS)
Departed: Marian Gaborik (NYR), Dan Fritsche, Peter Olvecky (NSH), Stephane Veilleux (TB)
The Wild came painfully close to making their third straight playoff appearance (and first round exit), but finished just short even after winning their last three regular season games. The biggest change this off-season happened in management, as they pried Harvard grad Chuck Fletcher away from the Penguins and made him their new General Manager. Fletcher was quiet in his first off-season in charge, with the only major on ice move being letting talented but injury prone winger Marion Gaborik walk and replacing him with… talented but injury prone winger Martin Havlat. At least they will be paying Havlat less than they would Gaborik to sit in the press box. Signing Petr Sykora as insurance was a temendous decision. He also hired Todd Richards to replace the only man who had ever coached the Wild, Jacques Lemaire.
Minnesota’s defensive style under Lemaire worked well for winning games, but was a nightmare for fantasy managers. Mikko Koivu was the only Wild player to score more than 50 points last year, and he is not even the most famous NHL player in his own family. It will be interesting to see if Richards lets the Wild open up a bit offensively this year, and they should compete for a playoff spot in the West.
FANTASY WORTHY FORWARDS
Martin Havlat (RW) – In his contract year, Havlat broke the 70 game barrier for the first time since 2001-02. Something smells fishy. Do not expect a repeat of last year when Havlat benefited from a potent Blackhawks offence. If he plays a full season, I think 65 points is a reasonable projection for Havlat, although he will provide great production in the plus minus department.
Mikko Koivu (C) – After a red-hot start last year, Koivu showed his true colours and faded badly down the stretch. From February 6th to April 7th he recorded only one multi-point game, good for 13 points in 28 games and a -7 rating. Another 65 point season is realistic if Havlat stays healthy, but if not I would not count on Koivu for more than 55 points.
Owen Nolan (LW) – In what has become a common theme among Wild forwards, Nolan is an effective player… when healthy. He scored 45 points in 59 games last season, which is reasonable per game production for a winger. At his advanced age I would not bank on Nolan staying healthy for an entire season.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard (C, LW, RW) – If memory serves correct, by the end of last season Bouchard was eligible at all three forward positions. This is where his value lies. He is a good choice as the last forward on your team because he is versatile and can get you an extra game or two every week.
Keep an eye on: Antti Miettinen, Petr Sykora
DRAFT WORTHY DEFENCEMEN
Marek Zidlicky – Zidlicky quietly had another good season last year, scoring 42 points and putting up 76 penalty minutes. Like most Minnesota players he flies under the radar because they play such boring hockey, and could be a good deal on draft day.
Brent Burns – The man crush that everyone seems to have on Burns has yet to lead to fantasy success, but he did put up 27 points in 59 games last year, although his -7 rating was quite uncharacteristic. If you are confident in a Wild defenceman putting up consistent points, he is not a bad pick.
Keep an eye on: Marc-Andre Bergeron
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Niklas Backstrom – Backstrom was a fantasy dynamo last year. He was 5th in the NHL in wins, tied for 3rd in GAA, 4th in SV% and 3rd in shutouts. It will be interesting to see how the departure of Lemaire’s lock-down defensive system affects Backstrom. It is my personal opinion that he is an above-average goalie who benefitted tremendously from Minnesota’s system, and he is definitely one of the players with the most to prove this year.
Bonus: Minnesota does not deserve a funny comment because they make me want to not watch hockey. Hopefully Richards changes that… and cuts Derek Boogaard.