Minnesota Wild season preview: Dubnyk looks to dazzle again
Plus: Goaltender Devan Dubnyk provided an immediate return for Minnesota after the Wild traded for him midseason last year; he posted a scintillating 27-9-2 record with a 1.78 goals-against average in 39 appearances for Minnesota. The Vezina Trophy finalist cashed in after the season by signing a six-year, $26 million deal. Zach Parise, who inked a 13-year, $98 million contract in 2012, has also provided plenty of bang for the buck by increasing his goal total in each of his three seasons with the Wild, and he potted 33 tallies in 74 games last season.
Minus: While Parise performed well on the power play with 11 goals last season, the rest of the team struggled mightily on the man-advantage. Minnesota ranked 27th in the NHL on the power play last year, converting on 15.8 percent of its opportunities. Veteran Jason Pominville could be in line for another dip in production after his power-play goals (three) and overall goals total (18) fell from the seven power-play tallies and 30 even-strength goals he recorded the year before.
X-Factor: Thomas Vanek
Vanek’s first season in Minnesota wasn’t a banner one, as the veteran forward’s 21 goals and 52 points were his lowest totals for a full campaign in his career. The 31-year-old Austrian admitted a pair of hernias and a detached left groin contributed to his troubles as well as a constant rotation of new linemates. Vanek said he believes a 30-goal season — a plateau he has reached on four occasions — is possible this season, but his most recent 30-goal performance came in 2010-11 with Buffalo.
Prediction: The smart aleck answer is Minnesota will be eliminated in the playoffs by Chicago, a scenario that has played itself out in each of the last three seasons. But as far as the regular season goes, the Wild will spend the majority of the year contending for the Central Division title before settling for one of the wild cards in the Western Conference.