Rambling On is your home for Minnesota sports talk for the common fan. Check out our daily content, and join the conversation, on Twitter or Facebook.
We release weekly articles on the Twins, Vikings, Wolves, and Wild when they're active, and off-season content when news breaks. Our current Twins blog is released every Thursday. Check out our archive from the 2018-2019 Vikings, Wolves, and Wild seasons here.
Disappointments, silver lining, speculation about if the Wild didn't have injuries, thoughts on Boudreau, what the Wild should focus on in the off-season, Stanley Cup predictions, and more in this edition. As usual, Wild analysts Jeff Hartfiel and Peter Ripka answer questions from Rambling On god-king Erik Ritland.
Thanks for your support!
Although they beat the Winnipeg Jets handily, the Avalanche 6-2 victory over the Oilers on Tuesday knocked the Wild out of the playoffs.
What were the most disappointing parts of the season? What was most disappointing?
Peter: The complete lack of finish and not being competitive for extended periods of time, as well as not taking advantage of teams that weren't playing well.
The most disappointing of those two was the lack of being competitive. I can understand a flat game here and there, but when you get one win in a five-game home stand, that is completely unacceptable at any level.
Jeff: The most disappointing parts of this season is easily the players you expected more from, especially after contract extensions.
Zucker was a big part of that. Yeah, he was a 20 and 20 guy this year. But with last year and the chemistry he seemed to have with Staal and Granlund (who is now gone, I know), I expected between 30 and 40 goals from him. That line itself was disappointing in general. Staal's game seemed to be off all year, and we all saw what happened to Granlund.
The Pateryn signing looked good at first, but he slowly faded away as the season progressed, especially once and he had to play more minutes due to the Dumba injury.
I did like the Fehr signing, but was not to big on bringing Brown in, and his performance proved me right. I understand you want some grit on the forth line, a guy who doesn't mind throwing his body around, but he just didn't seem to fit well with the team.
Some of the trades, especially in terms of what we got back, were disappointing. Donato and Fiala will probably work out, especially Donato. Fiala has his turnovers, but hopefully that can be remedied. It just would have been nice to get a pick in that trade for Fiala.
Aberg, Rask, and Bitetto do nothing for me and have helped the Wild in no way.
As for the season itself, their overall play, especially the lack of heart and urgency, were distressing. They often seemed to just be going through motions. That, by far, is the most disappointing part about the whole season in general. Hence why we are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs.
What silver linings were there?
Peter: The emergence of Greenway and Erickson Ek. They both took big steps forward this season. Hopefully they continue to grow and have a strong season next year.
Jeff: Seeing Parise back on the ice and healthy for a majority of the season and producing at a good clip was nice. Watching Dumba elevate his game more was great to see before he got injured.
We also saw some of the younger guys develop there game a bit. Greenway, Kunin and even Ek showed improvement.
Spurgeon seemed to bring his game to another level, which was fun to watch. He could go down as this teams MVP in all honestly.
Fenton's youth movement is something to look forward to. Not all his moves panned out, but the team is getting younger and faster, which is what the Wild need to do to keep up with the rest of the league.
You can never know, but do you think the Wild would have made the playoffs had they stayed healthy?
Peter: Yes, without a doubt in my mind. The Dumba injury completely derailed the defense. It forced the moves for Hunt and Bitetto to try and fill that void, and moved Pateryn up to the second pair, where he got exposed.
Jeff: This was just such an off season for so many players on the Wild, so I'm not sure if they would have made the playoffs, even with a healthy Dumba and Koivu. Even when they were in the lineup, the Wild weren't exactly lighting up the win column.
Do I think they may have accounted for a couple more wins? Yes. But you can play what ifs with every team. What if the Avalanche played better all year? What if Arizona would have played better, or even the Blackhawks? Would the Wild still be on the outside looking in?
It would have helped if they would have been healthy all year, but that is the nature of the game. You need to have guys who can step in and take more of that burden on. That is what Fenton is doing with signing these college free agents.
Now that we've had some time to digest them, are the trades that the Wild made this year looking like good deals?
Peter: The only one that looks good as of now is Coyle for Donato.
The other trades didn't go as well. I expect them to not qualify Aberg this offseason and move on from him. Rask has had a tough go of it, considering the way his season started in Carolina then getting hurt shortly after being traded here, so that one will require a bit more time.
Jeff: The Donato trade has looked great so far. He came in and hit the ground running. He is something to look forward for next year for sure.
The Fiala trade hasn't looked as great, there is no denying that. But Fiala's mistakes are fixable and can be worked on in off-season through training camp to pre-season, especially if you find a could mix of line mates to pair with him. It will be nice to see Fiala grow with this team and hopefully get better.
Hunt has had good and bad games, but the good appears to outweigh his bad. I'd like to see him on the team next year, maybe being paired with Dumba. Having two big shots from the blue line would be great.
As for Aberg and Rask, I don't like their game, not that they have shown much. I understand that Rask is young, and maybe an off-season with the Wild would improve his game. Aberg just seems lazy and uninterested, so I wouldn't want him back under any circumstances.
Will Bruce Boudreau keep his job?
Peter: Boudreau should not be fired. None of the blame should be placed on him for how this season ended. Look at the roster he had to deal with because of the moves the GM has made.
With that being said, it wouldn't surprise me if Fenton wanted to get his own guy in here, similar to the scenario that the Twins had. I would like to see him back for at least next season. I've always liked him as a coach, even when he was with other teams.
Jeff: As I have stated before, unfortunately I think Bruce will be out as coach after the season. Would I like for him to stay? Yes. I'd love to see what he can do with the influx of youth that is coming in next year.
Fenton might want to bring in his own guy though. I predicted that Tim Army will be that guy, with Adam Oates coming in as and assistant and special teams coach, and I stick by that.
I'd give Bruce a 35% chance of returning as the Wild's coach next year, but I wouldn't mind being wrong.
What do you think of Fenton signing college free agents? Is it a sign of things to come in the off-season?
Peter: Every team tries to sign college free agents to get them in. Their latest signing is only projected to be a bottom-six forward. He's good at draws. It is a good thing, because this team has been notorious the last few seasons in paying $3-4 million for a fourth line player in free agency.
The college free agents don't mean anything for this off-season. It is pretty common for teams at this time of year to try and get them in for a look.
Jeff: I like that Fenton is going after and signing these free agent college players. Both the Iowa and Minnesota Wild could use some replenishing.
And he's certainly not done. The players he has brought in look good on paper, but we'll have to see what they look like on the ice. I will surely be attending some of the free practices and scrimmages that they hold at the X to see what they look like. This should be one of the most interesting off-seasons the Wild have had in some time.
What should be the Wild's priorities in the off-season? Do you think they'll make any trades?
Peter: They need to bring in scoring depth, a player not past his prime that can bury the puck, and a bonafide playmaker as well. I don't think they'll make any big blockbuster trades. they don't need to, considering that they are expected to have around $18 million in cap space to sign RFAs and UFAs.
Jeff:The first priority should be adding someone who can score. The Wild's biggest downfall for years has been lack of scoring, and that is exactly where Fenton should put a lot of his focus.
Defense would be next. Yeah, we have Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin and Dumba, but they need a third pairing they can rely on. They have Seeler and Hunt, but can you put those two together? What if Fenton decides to part with a Brodin or Spurgeon?
I do see Fenton making a few more trades. I can see Zucker on the move, as well as one of the defenseman.
Finally, goalie is something else that should be looked at. Stalock is not what I want as a backup. I respect his game and his veteran presence, but the Wild need a goalie for the future. Will Fenton bringing up Kaapo Kahkonen to back up Dubby? What does the future hold for Mat Robson? Is he backing up Dubby or taking over down in Iowa? Like I said, it should be very interesting off-season.
What is your Stanley Cup prediction?
Peter: Tampa Bay will beat either the Flames or the Blues. The Flames goaltending scares me, and the Blues could revert back to the team that started year dreadfully and had talks of trading their big stars away.
Jeff: The obvious choice is the best teams in the East and West: Tampa Bay and Calgary. It's tough to not pick them, as both teams have looked great all season.
But I am going to have fun with this and say Islanders versus Sharks, with the Islanders in seven.
What will probably happen? Tampa Bay versus Calgary, Tampa in 6.
Peter Ripka is the original Rambling On podcast co-host and has been a contributor since its inception. He’s currently a Wild and Twins analyst, a position he’s held for several years. A Wild and Twins season ticket holder, his writing combines the passion of a fan and the insight of a beat writer.
Jeff Hartfiel is a Minnesota sports analyst specializing in the Wild and Vikings. He's been a part of Rambling On since 2018.